When to use Colons and Semicolons

Updated: Jul 8, 2021

I can't be the only person who's been stumped by the infamous colons, and semicolons. Sometimes, I'm not sure when to use them, how to use them, or why I use them if they aren't needed there. After lots of research, I've finally distinguished the various uses of punctuation in an easy, simple manner that has really helped my writing. To learn about the appropriate place and time to use colons, and semicolons, don't go anywhere, read on and enjoy.



According to Wordvice (scroll down for the original link!), "A colon is used to make lists and tell the reader, “This is what I mean.” Essentially, a colon is used for the following:

  • Introducing a series of items

For example, Lilly had five things in her backpack: pencils, erasers, a ruler, books, and a laptop.

  • Separating independent clauses when the second sentence explains or expands on the first one

For example, Emily uncovered her brother's biggest secret: he travelled across the country all by himself last year.

✄ The information after the colon describes Emily's realization in the form of an independent clause.

  • Following the salutation in a formal letter

For example, To the Governor General of Canada:

Do's and Don'ts:

Do: introduce multiple sentences with a colon, instead of a comma.

In Chapter 3, the author explains his theory: “Dogs have dreams, but they don’t dream as humans do. Their dreams reflect a primal desire for pleasure, whereas humans are preoccupied with the ego and self-image. This is equally true in wakefulness and sleep.”

Do not: capitalize the first word after the colon unless it's a proper noun, part of a quote, or the first in a series of sentences.

I have to do three things after school tomorrow: wash the dishes, feed the dog, and finish my homework.

Do: even use a colon after a single word or phrase. It isn't always necessary for a colon to be after a complete, long sentence.

There is one mantra that can sum up our position towards climate change: urgent action.

Do not: overuse the colon.

As Wordvice explains, "Think of [the colon] as a stop sign that calls readers’ attention and says, 'Hey! Pay attention to this. This is important.' If there are too many stop signs on a street, you won’t be able to drive very smoothly or quickly. This is the same effect colons can have upon readers."

✄ It's best to use colons when introducing a main argument or supporting evidence, since they grab enough attention to clearly tell the readers which information is significant and which information is not.


Now, a semicolon is a little different from a colon, and that's owing to the fact that it's used to separate two independent clauses, two sentences can be expressed on their own as well, but are closely related enough to be interconnected with a semicolon. It's pretty much a comma with higher value, or a colon with more wiggle room and flexibility. A semicolon is used for the following:

  • Joining two or more equally ranked ideas in a sentences

The universe has always called to human beings; there could be no more final frontier than space.

  • Joining two independent clauses connected by transitional phrases

Sam thought David was inviting him to the picnic to enjoy a nice day out; as it turned out, David was planning a surprise birthday party.

  • Presenting items in a series if there are commas within the items, or if they're long and complex

Our family members came all the way from Denver, Colorado; Rochester, Minnesota; and even Paris, France.

  • Connecting independent clauses joined by a conjunction in coordination

My main research objective is to isolate the cause of the disease, as well as to contribute to the existing literature; for this will bring an end to starvation across the continent, create new study designs related to epidemiology, and change the very paradigm of my research field.

Do's and Don'ts:

Do: use a semicolon instead of colon in these scenarios...

Wrong:The specimens were treated properly, however, they were not stored properly.

Right:The specimens were treated properly; however, they were not stored properly.

✄ “However” displays a link between the two independent clauses; do not use a comma to connect two independent clauses without a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor, etc.).

Wrong:The sun is wonderful: it produces light, which plants need to survive, it gives us warmth, which is useful for most life, and it makes a sad day happier, which is obviously a positive trait!

Right:The sun is wonderful: it produces light, which plants need to survive; it gives us warmth, which is useful for most life; and it makes a sad day happier, which is obviously a positive trait!

✄ With commas, it's not clear what items are being listed exactly. Semicolons help divide listed items that each contain commas.

Don't: Separating two clauses that have equal rank or unrelated information:

Wrong:Sarah and her friends loved spending time on the mountain: nature always held a special meaning for them.

Right:Sarah and her friends loved spending time on the mountain; nature always held a special meaning for them.


Thanks for tuning in to my grammar lesson XD I hope this helped anyone who had even the slightest bit of confusion when it came to semicolons and colons. Let me know what type of posts you'd like to see next, and as always, I'll see you in the next post. Until next time, Honey Scribblers! <3

credit goes to: https://wordvice.com/when-to-use-commas-colons-semicolons-and-dashes/

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