Colons and semi-colons – Know the difference
If you are unsure about when to use colons and semi-colons, you are not alone. In fact, getting colons and semi-colons muddled is one of the commonest mistakes I encounter when editing books.
Yes, the two are similar – both occur midway through a sentence – but they should be used in very different places.
Here are my simple rules to guide you…
- main useage – Where you want to explain or give an example of something you have just written. Hence, academics use them quite a lot. They can be ‘translated’ into the words namely/that is to say, i.e. they expand on the prior sentence. For example, The business has had its best year ever: profits are up 45%.
- other uses – in ratios (2:1), in some film/book titles (e.g. Business Writing Skills: Everything you need to know), but also to introduce long quotations, and (sometimes) lists and direct speech.
- NOTE: either side of the colon is dependent on the other, which is not the case with semi-colons.
- main useage – For example, They are used to instead of full stops; they connect two clauses that are so connected there is no need for a full stop, but a comma would provide too short a break (as in that sentence!). They can be ‘translated’ into the words and/but.
- other uses – used instead of commas in lists of items where the items take several words to describe. And if you are using ‘nevertheless’, ‘furthermore’ or ‘moreover’ midway through a sentence, you will need a semi-colon beforehand to provide a longish break from what preceded it. For example, It has been a great financial year; moreover, sales forecasts for next year look very strong
I hope that helps.
Not too difficult was it!