The Squiggles of Punctuation: Colons and Semicolons

Don’t be afraid of punctuation marks! They are just squiggles on a page that are special tools made just for you: the writer. Two punctuation marks seem to be a particular bug-a-boo for writers.


A colon allows writers to complete or answer something stated in the first half of a sentence. This can be a single word, a list or sometimes a complete or incomplete sentence. For instance:

1. Note that I just used a colon above which is now followed by a list of these four items.
2. Also note that I used it in the second sentence of this post which was completed with the words “the writer.”
3. Here is an example of using it for a list:
Several punctuation marks are misunderstood and misused by writers: ellipses, long dashes, commas, colons and semicolons. 

4. And here is an example of completing or answering the first half with another sentence:
Good punctuation is invaluable for an important reason: it provides clues to readers about the meaning. 


Semicolons usually are used to separate two complete sentences that are closely related in some way.

For example:
        Punctuation marks are not meant to perplex writers; they are tools that can help writers polish their skills in communications. 

When are sentences “closely related”? When should two sentences be connected at all? This could be debated endlessly and that isn’t the point of any punctuation; providing clear meaning to readers is what punctuation marks are all about. Just grasp the general concept of using a colon and semicolon and you can improve your manuscript’s readability—for nonfiction AND fiction.

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