Writing student in the Vancouver Film School's writing lab

Tampa English Tutor’s Secret Guide to Using Colons and Semicolons

Posted on 22nd April 2011 in Tampa Writing Tutor

Secret Guide to Using Colons and Semicolons

You may be a little apprehensive about the rules for using colons and semicolons. Let the Tampa English Tutor share a few of the ways to use each mark of punctuation. If you are struggling with the comma, check out our previous post on comma rules

Using Colons

A colon can be used to introduce a list.

To use a colon to introduce a list, you should have a noun that stands for the list directly before the colon.

Cal has three things on his mind: gold, silver and CD’s.

Notice how three things on his mind stands for the list.

Ideally, you want to have the word right before the colon be a noun that stands for the list. However, don’t tie yourself in knots if you can’t get the last word before the colon to be that noun.

On his mind, Cal has three things: gold, silver, and CDs does not sound as natural to me, even though it has the noun things in the proper place right before the colon.

Wal-Mart beats its competitors in two areas:  price and service.

Areas stands for the items on the list, so this example has the noun in the right place.

Writing student in the Vancouver Film School's writing lab

This student writer image licensed under CC BY 2.0 and part of the Vancouver Film School's Flickr Photostream. See more of the school's pictures at http://www.flickr.com/photos/vancouverfilmschool/

Tip: Don’t use a colon directly after a verb.

She said: she loved me and she would never leave me.

Revise that sentence to read: She told me that she loved me and that she would never leave me.

A colon can also be used to connect two sentences. The second sentence should provide additional explanation of the first.

Mr. Erlbaum hated doing yard work:  every summer, he let his grass grow tall and his garden boxes fill with weeds.

Using Semicolons

Use semicolons between items on a list when those items contain one or more commas.

I have lived in Port Jefferson, New York; Dover, Delaware; and Tampa, Florida.

The stronger break provided by the semicolon makes the list easier to read.

Use a semicolon to connect two closely related sentences.

To err is human; to forgive is divine.

I said I would take you to the mall; I didn’t say what time I would do it.

Use a semicolon to connect two sentences when the second sentence contains commas.

The boys like to watch baseball on television; however, they love to play baseball in tournaments.

However is not a FANBOY (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so), so a comma is not enough to separate the sentences. The stronger break provided by a semicolon is perfect.

Knowing the rules for colons and semicolons will make you a more confident writer.

This guide created by Tampa English Tutor Eric Anderson and freelance blogger Gracie McRae. If your son or daughter needs to learn to write better or needs help with an essay, contact Eric at 813.787.8959 or by e-mail at eanderson at Tampa bay dot rr dot com.

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