Posted by: WITP | 20 November 2011

Technical Tips Series: Colons and Semi-colons

Anyone can write, but your actual sentence construction, the proper use of grammar, and punctuation marks are a whole technical ball game.  With that in mind, and the fact that we all want to become better writers WITP presents a series of articles written by Suzanne on the more technical aspects of our craft:

How to… use a colon and semi-colon

Other than in smileys http://paul.merton.ox.ac.uk/ascii/smileys.html, when was the last time you used a semicolon http://www.answers.com/semicolon&r=67 or a colon http://www.answers.com/colon&r=67; what do you mean, you never have?  Well, we can change that.

Semi-colons

Exactly as it looks, a semi-colon is half-way between a full stop and a comma http://www.tiscali.co.uk/reference/dictionaries/english/data/d0082780.html.  Semi-colons are used to link two ideas in a less abrupt way than a full stop.  For example:

  • Rather than ‘The cat sat on the mat.  The mat was blue.
  • We can use ‘The cat sat on the mat; it was a blue mat.’, which flows a little better.

You can often use ‘and’ or ‘or’ instead.

Semi-colons can also make complicated lists http://www.englishforresearch.com/writing/punctuation.htm a bit easier to follow.  As an example:

  • Taking a cat on holiday can be as complicated as taking a child (or more so).  We packed three bags of cat food; two bags of cat litter; a cat harness and lead; a blanket and box; a water bottle; dishes; and of course, the cat.

Colons
I will avoid any references to toilet jokes here.  Colons are mostly introductory, and there are four main uses: to introduce a list (see what I’ve done there?); to introduce a quote; to introduce an explanation; and to separate titles and subtitles.

  • To introduce a list
    A list of animals: cats, dogs, rabbits and wildebeest.
  • To introduce a quote
    We asked a vet about keeping wildebeest as pets: “I would not advise it”, she said.
  • To introduce an explanation
    Why not keep wildebeest as pets: they are too big, they smell, and they don’t come when called.
  • To separate a title and subtitle
    Keeping wildebeest: Pros, cons and insurance necessities.
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