Semicolons and Colons


Use a semicolon between two clauses of a compound sentence when they are not joined by a conjunction unless they are very short and are used informally:

The rain came in torrents; we did not know what to do. (This may be punctuated as two sentences.)
He came, he saw, he went away. (Main clauses are short; hence, commas can be used.)

The semicolon is used between clauses of a compound sentence which are joined by conjunctive adverbs, such as therefore, hence, however, nevertheless, accordingly, on the other hand, thus, then:

The day was very cold; therefore, we did not go for a ride.

I had studied every night this week; consequently, I did well in Biology 1010.

The semicolon is often used between clauses which are joined by conjunctions if the clauses are long, or if the clauses have commas within the group of words, phrases or clauses set off by commas:

John arrived last night, I am told; but because his plane was late, he could not come to the party.

We invited Don Webb, the captain of the team; Sue Mills, the president of our class; and Joe Wynn, the chairman of our group.

We invited the following members of the orchestra: John, a clarinetist; Sue, a bassoonist; Maria, a percussionist; and LeFay, a cellist.

The semicolon usually precedes asnamely, or thus when used to introduce examples:

Four boys were mentioned; namely, Henry, Clarence, Merle, and Clyde.


The colon is used to introduce formally a word, a list, examples, a statement or question, a series of statements, or a long quotation. An expression such as as follows or the following usually precedes the list:

He brought the following fruits: apples, peaches, nectarines, bananas, plums, cherries, and pears.

A colon is used to introduce the subtitle of a book or article:

Humor and Laughter: Theory, Research and Applications

“A World of New Questions: From ‘Why?’ to ‘How?’

A colon suggests a balance, a symmetry, or an equivalence between items on either side of the colon:

In order for Dixie to gain permission to offer four-year degrees, the administration must convince three groups: the Board of Trustees, the Board of Regents, and the Utah State Legislature.

A colon is used after the salutation of a business letter and is used between the parts of a number denoting time:

Dear Sir:

He came at 6:15 this morning.

Copyright (C)1999 by Ed Reber. All rights reserved.This document may be distributed as long as it is done entirely with all attributions to organizations and authors. Commercial distribution is strictly prohibited. Portions of this document may be copyrighted by other organizations.