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Basic Grammar and Punctuation: Semi-colons/Colons

The tutorials below address basic grammar and punctuation errors writers routinely have. Use these guidelines to proofread and correct errors in your papers before submission. For hands-on help, see a tutor in your campus Learning Support Commons.

About Semi-colons and Colons

A semi-colon is used to join two sentences when they are very closely related and a conjunction becomes too wordy.

In place of a coordinating conjunction:

For example:

She loves me; she loves me not.

They say it's your birthday; it's my birthday too! - Paul McCartney

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things. - Peter Drucker

Along with a conjunctive adverb:

Sometimes mistaken for a FANBOY, a conjunctive adverb actually joins two sentences with a semi-colon AND has additional punctuation inside the second sentence.

For example:

I hate spinach; however, I love broccoli.

I want to graduate with honors; furthermore, I want to go to law school.

I don't want to go out tonight; besides, I have homework to do.

Some common conjunctive adverbs include accordingly, also, however, furthermore, nevertheless, consequently, finally, likewise, and meanwhile.

Semi-colons are also used to separate items in a series when the items themselves contain commas.

Some important dates in US history are July, 4, 1776; December 7, 1941; and September 11, 2001.

A colon emphasizes what comes after it. It is used only when a comma isn’t enough to set off the next part of the sentence.

  • To introduce a long list:

The baker gathered supplies for the competition: flour, sugar, eggs, butter, and milk.

  • To introduce a long or formal quotation:

The preamble of the Declaration of Independence guarantees these rights: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

  • To introduce an explanation:

My sweetie canceled our date for a really stupid reason: to go to the game.