The colon is a common cause of bellyache. The semicolon can leave people dazed and confused. But rather than cutting them completely from your punctuation diet, refer to the following guidelines and youâ€™ll soon find just the right dosage for all your writing needs.
The colon is very useful for introducing things, for example:
* bullet points
* lists within your text, eg I learned three things from this article: how to use colons, how to use semicolons, and that the writer liked extended metaphors.
* long, indented quotes.
It can also act like an arrow, pointing the reader on from a statement to the reason for, or outcome of, that statement. For example: she was elated to know what those two little dots were for: she started using them with confidence and glee.
The system here always implies a link between the two sections, and can be generally summed up as:
* cause: effect, or
* fact: explanation.
In UK English, always use lower case after a colon. (American style guides usually recommend the opposite.) The only exception is if you are introducing bullet points that are each full sentences.
Think of the semicolon as the â€˜super commaâ€™: they act in a similar way, but indicate a longer pause. They can also be used to show a link between parallel ideas.
Use them to separate long phrases in a list when at least one of the phrases contains a comma, eg My favourite mediums for writing semicolons are: crayons; 2B pencils; fountain pens, in blue or black; and, obviously, huge magic markers.
Semicolons are also good for linking two related clauses. In this way, the semicolon replaces the word â€˜andâ€™ or â€˜butâ€™ eg I prefer the explanation about colons; Denise prefers the semicolon section.
So donâ€™t be afraid: used fairly sparingly, these two punctuation marks can bring much more clarity and variety to your documents. Bon appÃ©tit.
If you have any more questions about how to use them, ask the experts on our forum by clicking here.