Resources for Semicolons & Colons

Rules for Semicolons & Colons

Use a semicolon

1.  To separate independent clauses that are not joined by a coordinating conjunction

Example:  I understand how to use the comma; the semicolon I have not yet mastered.

2.  To separate independent clauses connected by a conjunctive adverb

Example: He took great care with his work; therefore, he was very successful.

3.  To combine two independent clauses connected by a coordinating conjunction if either or both of the clauses contain other internal punctuation

Example: Success in college, some maintain, requires intelligence, industry, and perseverance; but others, fewer in number, assert that only personality is important.

4.  To separate items in a series when each item has internal punctuation

Example: I bought an old, dilapidated chair; a table, which was in beautiful condition; and a new, ugly white rug.

Example: Call one of the mortgage offices for more information: Florida, 1-800-552-2923; Georgia and Alabama, 1-800-205-5509; Mississippi, (209)878-6449; and Louisiana, 1-800-323-3366.

5.  To separate individual items listed vertically

Example: To help us decide which programs to include in the next publication on curriculum development, we need the following current information:
background information on the development of your program;
philosophy behind your program;
descriptive literature on your current activities;
course syllabi; and
faculty development in this area.

Do not use a semicolon

1.  To separate a dependent and an independent clause

Incorrect:  You should not make such statements; although they are correct.

2.  To separate an appositive phrase or clause from a sentence

Incorrect:  His immediate aim in life is centered around two things; becoming an engineer and learning to fly an airplane.

3.  To precede an explanation or summary of the first clause

Weak:  The first week of camping was wonderful; we lived in the cabins instead of tents.

NOTE:  Although the sentence above is correctly punctuated, the use of the semicolon provides a miscue, suggesting that the second clause is merely an extension, not an explanation, of the first clause. The colon provides a better cue.

Better:  The first week of camping was wonderful: we lived in cabins instead of tents.

4.  To substitute for a comma

Incorrect:  My roommate also likes sports; particularly football, basketball, and baseball.

5.  To set off other types of phrases or clauses from a sentence

Incorrect:  Being of a cynical mind; I should ask for a recount of the ballots.

Incorrect:  The next meeting of the club has been postponed two weeks; inasmuch as both the president and vice president are out of town.

NOTE:  The semicolon is not a terminal mark of punctuation; therefore, it should not be followed by a capital letter unless the first word in the second clause ordinarily requires capitalization.  However, usage concerning whether a capital letter should follow a colon is divided.  The colon gives the reader a different cue from the semicolon--it tells the reader to look ahead and directs his attention to what follows.  You may use a capital letter after colon so long as you are consistent with the instances.

Use a colon

1.  To introduce a list (One item may constitute a list.)

Example: I hate this one course: English.

Example: Three plays by William Shakespeare will be presented in repertory this summer at The University of West Florida: Hamlet, Macbeth, and Othello.

2.  To introduce a list preceded by as follows or the following

Example: The reasons he cited for his success are as follows: integrity, industry, and pleasant disposition.

3.  To separate two independent clauses, especially when the second clause is a summary or explanation of the first one

Example: All of my high school teachers said one thing in particular: college is going to be difficult.

4.  To introduce a word or word group which is a restatement, explanation, or summary of the first sentence

Example: These two things he loved: an honest man and a beautiful woman.

5.  To introduce a formal appositive

Example: I am positive there is one appeal which you can't overlook: money.

6.  To separate the introductory words from a quotation which follows, if the quotation is formal, long, or paragraphed separately

Example: The actor then stated the following: "I would rather be able adequately to play the part of Hamlet than to perform a miraculous operation, deliver a great lecture, or build a magnificent skyscraper."

NOTE:  The colon should be used only after statements which are grammatically complete.

Do not use a colon

1.  After a linking verb even though the verb precedes a list

Incorrect:  The high school I attended was: old, centrally located, and small.

2.  After a preposition even though it may precede a list

Incorrect:  The University Theater will present the 1984 Playwright's Repertory Festival, featuring rotating performances of: Major Barbara, You Never Can Tell, and Heartbreak House.

3.  Interchangeably with the dash

Incorrect:  Mathematics, German, English: These gave me the greatest difficulty of all my studies.

NOTE:  Information preceding the colon should be a complete sentence regardless of the explanatory information following the clause.

4.  Before the word/words for example, namely, that is, or for instance even though these words may be introducing a list

Incorrect:  We agreed to the plan: namely, to give him a surprise party.

Incorrect:  There are a number of well-known African-American female writers: for example, Nikki Giovanni, Phyllis Wheatley, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, and Maya Angelou.