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.