Ahem… Here’s the Right Way to Use Colons and Semicolons

Even the biggest content geeks probably struggle to get excited about colons and semicolons. They’re not inherently interesting. (I mean, exclamation points they’re not!). And, unfortunately, they’re often misunderstood. Acclaimed author Kurt Vonnegut summed it up well when he confessed to one audience that “All [semicolons] do is show that you’ve been to college.”

Luckily, you don’t need an advanced degree to use these particular punctuation marks. And while that may not make them any more exciting, at least after reading this short post, you’ll be able to use them correctly.

The 411 on Colons and Semicolons

Colons and semicolons are designed to alter sentences, improving their readability by letting readers know that the movement of the sentence is changing. The biggest mistake budding grammarians make is using these two punctuation marks interchangeably. Make no mistake about it — the semicolon and colon can’t be used in each other’s place because they have entirely different uses. Let’s take a closer look at each:

Colons

Colons are used to introduce and underscore directly related ideas that won’t be presented as a complete sentence. Here are a few examples:

  • When he woke up hungover late that morning, he had two primal needs: to find his phone and to check it for clues about what exactly had happened the night before.
  • For true culinary masters, there’s only one kitchen utensil that’s indispensable: the chef’s knife.
  • As she pulled into the driveway, Sarah quickly came to a saddening realization: some hooligan had heartlessly vandalized her favorite lawn gnome.

Semicolons

Use semicolons to inform the reader that an additional, related thought is being introduced in the form of a complete sentence. Note that otherwise, ending your sentence with a period and starting a new sentence to share the additional information may be preferable. Here are some examples:

  • She had a deep love for music; it wasn’t uncommon for her to catch herself singing along in coffee shops, clothing stores, and even while walking down the street.
  • The juggler had an innate ability to captivate the crowd; it didn’t hurt that he could juggle countless balls at once.
  • It’s quite clear that he was the most talented dog in the kennel; he’d learned to walk on his hind legs at just five months of age.

Want a deeper dive on colons and semicolons? Check out this in-depth guide.

And if you’re interested in learning how to create better content overall, check out our new 9 ingredients guide to better content.

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