Punctuation — The Colon and Semicolon

The Colon

  1. The colon introduces the following:
    1. A list, but only after “as follows,” “the following,” or a noun for which the list is an appositive:Each scout will carry the following: (colon) meals for three days, a survival knife, and his sleeping bag.

      The company had four new officers: (colon) Bill Smith, Frank Tucker, Peter Fillmore, and Oliver Lewis.

    2. A long quotation (one or more paragraphs):In The Killer Angels Michael Shaara wrote: (colon)
      You may find it a different story from the one you learned in school. There have been many versions of that battle [Gettysburg] and that war [the Civil War].

      (The quote continues for two more paragraphs.)

    3. A formal quotation or question:The President declared: (colon) “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” The question is: (colon) what can we do about it?
    4. A second independent clause which explains the first:Potter’s motive is clear: (colon) he wants the assignment.
    5. After the introduction of a business letter:Dear Sirs: (colon)Dear Madam: (colon)
    6. The details following an announcementFor sale: (colon) large lakeside cabin with dock
    7. A formal resolution, after the word “resolved:”Resolved: (colon) That this council petition the mayor.
    8. The words of a speaker in a play:Macbeth: (colon) She should have died hereafter.
  2. The colon separates the following:
    1. Parts of a title, reference, or numeral:Principles of Mathematics: (colon) An IntroductionLuke 3: (colon)4-138:(colon)15 a.m.
    2. The place of publication from the publisher, and the volume number from the pages in bibliographies:Miller, Jonathan, The Body in Question. New York: (colon) Random House, 1978.
      Jarchow, Elaine. “In Search of Consistency in Composition Scoring.” English Record 23.4 (1982): (colon) 18–19.

The Semicolon

  1. Semicolons can join closely related independent clauses which are not joined by a coordinating conjunction.Since the mid-1970’s America’s campuses have been relatively quiet;(semicolon)  today’s students seem interested more in courses than causes.
  2. Semicolons punctuate two independent clauses joined by a conjunctive adverb.On weekdays the club closes at eleven; (semicolon) however, on weekends it’s open until one.
  3. Semicolons punctuate clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction when the clauses have commas within them.Today people can buy what they need from department stores, supermarkets, and discount stores; (semicolon) but in Colonial days, when such conveniences did not exist, people depended on general stores and peddlers.
  4. Semicolons punctuate items in a series when there are commas within the series.At the alumni dinner, I sat with the school’s best-known athlete, Gary Wyckoff;(semicolon) the editor of the paper; (semicolon) two stars of the class play, a fellow and a girl who later married each other; (semicolon) and Tad Frump, the class clown.

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