Colon versus SemicolonColons and semicolons have different functions. A colon is like a "literary equals sign" (as opposed to mathematical one), and a semicolon is like a half full stop or half period. (The semicolon is badly named. Given its function, it should have been called a "semi-full stop" or a "semi-period.")
Outlined below are the functions of the colon and the semicolon.
The Function of a ColonA colon is used:
To expand on something already mentioned in the sentence.
- He blamed his divorce on one thing: beer. (A colon is like an equals sign. In this example, one thing equals beer.)
- His fingerprints were found in two rooms: the kitchen and the bedroom. (In this example, two rooms equals the kitchen and the bedroom.)
- During the inspection, I saw the following: a dead rat, a live rat, dozens of cockroaches, and countless ants. (When a colon is used after an introduction, it is often bullet points that follow.)
In references, times, and titles
- Read Genesis 1:1 before 07:30.
- He said: "Curiosity killed the cat, but for a while I was a suspect."
The Function of a SemicolonA semicolon is used:
In lists when the list items contain commas.
- Simon, the officer in charge; Daniel, the guide; and Ollie, the cameraman
To create a smoother transition between sentences, particularly when the second starts with a phrase like however or as a result.
- In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock. (Thomas Jefferson, 1743-1826)
- The wind was creating waves up to three feet high; as a result, we had to cancel the swim.
- Rather surprisingly, the majestic pike is hardly used in cooking today; but in Victorian times, pastry-topped pike was a very common dish. (Using a semicolon to outrank the commas in the independent clauses is an outdated practice.)
Here is a list of lessons about semicolons:
- Semicolons before Words Like However and Consequently
- Semicolons in Lists
- Semicolons for Smooth Sentence Breaks
- Semicolons before Words Like And and But
Here is a list of lessons about colons: