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Review the rules for the semi-colon, a separation punctuation mark.

This packet contains explanations for how to use both the colon and semi-colon in a sentence, as well as other, more minor, uses. The packet contains two text explanations and one video for colons; and one text and one video for semi-colons. I tried to text these in a way that would show how colon punctuation relates to other colon punctuation; and how semi-colon punctuation relates to commas and periods. These are all forms of separation punctuation. Please search SEPARATION PUNCTUATION on Sophia to read about other types.

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The grammatical colon is not to be confused with the anatomical colon.

All-l-l-l-l-l righty, then.

The colon has three main functions:

1. to introduce identifications,

2. to introduce examples, and

3. to introduce quotations.

The colon separates two units; the second unit expands on the first. The first unit is a sentence or clause, which sets up the second unit. the second unit is a quotation, or a list, or an identification of the first unit.

1. Identification: second unit identifies what the first unit is talking about.

A. Today they face a further treat to their survival: starvation.

B. There are numerous variables that can contribute toward an increasing totalitarianism within a new religious movement: one obvious one is physical isolation.

2. Examples: when phrases such as for example, as follows, namely, and for instance are not used, a colon is used.

A. There were three reasons for his failure: laziness, ill health, and lack of training.

(If the verb of the first unit directly precedes the list, no colon is used. Ex: The three reasons for his failure were laziness, ill health, and lack of training.)

B. To install the application:

   1.   Put the OED2 CD in the CD drive.

   2.   Run Windows.

   3.   Double-click on the program file SETUP.EXE.

   4.   Follow the instructions on the screen.

3. Quotations: a colon is used to introduce a long or formal quotation. Direct quotations after a colon begin with a capital letter.

A. The goal was clearly stated: "[T]o discover an architectural form that can accommodate all these functions at once."

B. One broker said: "Even as late as yesterday, I suppose the market had a 90% belief in war."

Source: The Oxford English Grammar, by Sidney Greenbaum, 1st Ed.; The Elements of Grammar, by Margaret Shertzer, 1st Ed.


OK, we covered the three main functions. There are lesser functions. To wit:

4. After a formal salutation in a business letter:  Gentlemen:  To Whom It May Concern:  Dear Madam:

5. To separate a title from a subtitle:  Jazz Lives: Portraits in Words and Pictures

6. Preceding the restatement of an idea:  The sentence was poorly constructed: it lacked both unity and coherence.

7. Separating hours and minutes:  2:30

8. In biblical references, separating chapter from verse: Genesis 11:1-9

9. Separating units of a ratio:  2:1   3:1:1

10. In some abbreviated forms, to separate the heading from the accompanying information.

     PS: I forgot to mention that . . . . 

     Admission: Members $5, Guests $7

     1st Prize: . . . .

Note: Punctuation varies for items in a list; questions should end with question marks. For example:

Before you leave on a long road trip, ask yourself:

1.  Have you packed everything you need?

2.  Do you have emergency road supplies?

3.  Have you had the car checked?

If the list isn't a group of questions, you may use a period after each list item, or a period after the last item only, or no punctuation at all.  Formal business documents use a semi-colon after each item, and a period after the last item.

Source: The Oxford English Grammar, by Sidney Greenbaum, 1st Ed.; The Elements of Grammar, by Margaret Shertzer, 1st Ed.


Woman in front of a whiteboard briefly explains colon usage.

Source: YouTube

SEPARATION PUNCTUATION: the SEMI-COLON. Prerequisite: "Types of Sentences."

I always thought the semi-colon was easier than a colon, because it's basically used to separate clauses in a compound sentence, if there's no conjunction there. (Otherwise, use a comma.)  There are variations on that theme, but that's the bottom line.  Here are some variations:

1. A. If there is no coordinating conjunction between the clauses of a compound sentence, put a semi-colon there. EX: Johnny whistled and ran after the bus; the bus driver still didn't stop. 

1.B.  Also, in "A," if there is a quoted word or phrase just before the next clause, then the semi-colon comes after the quotation. EX: The bus driver's name was "Lawrence"; he preferred "Larry."

2. If any of the clauses themselves have commas in them, put a semi-colon between the clauses. (Makes it easier to read, instead of having commas everywhere.)  EX: Johnny whistled and ran after the bus; but the bus driver not only didn't stop, he sped up. 

3. If you have three or more clauses with no conjunctions, that is likely a list, and the clauses are separated by semi-colons.  EX: We are a nation of softies: we ride instead of walking; we take an elevator instead of the stairs; we spend our free time in front of a television or computer.

4. Situation: You have two clauses. The second one is dependent (doesn't make sense without the first), and there's a conjunctive (connecting) adverb, like consequently, therefore, however, also, moreover, and so on. Put a semi-colon before the connecting adverb (and a comma after it).  EX: Johnny saw the bus coming; however, he made no attempt to run to the bus stop.

5. If you have a name with a title (like a job title: Frank Jones, CEO), then the name will be separated from the job title by a comma.  But if you have a list of names and titles, the name-title combinations are separated by semi-colons. Think about it: without the semi-colons, you'd have commas all over, and you'd have a hard time figuring out which name goes with which title. EX: The newly-elected student council officers were: Johnny, president; Judy, vice-president; Jimmy, secretary; and Jessica, treasurer.

6. In a footnote or bibliography reference, where you have a series of book or article names, authors, and page numbers, use a semi-colon between each reference.  EX: Hart, American History Told by Contemporaries, 2nd Ed., pp. 493-499, 523-530; and Elson, History of the United States, 3d Ed., pp. 101-114.

5. If a list when the list is preceded by introductory phrases such as for example, for instance, to wit, i.e., and so forth, then put a semi-colon before the phrase.  EX: Johnny didn't have any of his athletic gear with him; that is, neither his shoulder pads, his cleats, his helmet, nor his brain. (NOTE: the list may or may not be in sentence form.)

Source: The Oxford English Grammar, by Sidney Greenbaum, 1st Ed.; The Elements of Grammar, by Margaret Shertzer, 1st Ed.


The ubiquitous Paige Carrera explains the use of a semi-colon when two clauses are joined by a conjunctive adverb, such as HOWEVER or THEREFORE. Relates to #4 in the preceding text explanation.

Source: YouTube