Punctuation involves intonation. The speaking expression involves pauses, emphasis, questioning or stopping the conversation. Appropriate punctuation involves clarity and writing precision.

Intonation is the melodic utterance pattern which conveys differences in over-expressive meaning and serves a grammatical function. Some examples of intonation are – delight, anger or surprise.    

A writer uses these punctuation over a specific sentence to include clarity and precision in writing. First, let's look at the contrasting comparison –Semicolon vs. Colon.

The Colon

The colon is punctuation used to place an example or offer comprehensive information in the sentence.

Let us consider these two sentences –

  1. A teacher should be gifted or skilled in such areas as patience, self-reflection, and humour.
  2. A teacher should be gifted or skilled in such areas as patience, self-reflection, and humour.

You can use a colon after expressions like – as follows, following and the

But you must not use a colon after the following terms – "that is", "for example", "such as", and "including".

The colon comes into play after a dependent or independent clause.

Colons may link two different phrases or clauses, moving one step ahead from the first clause to the second.

You might use a colon between two independent clauses if the second clause changes the first one.

Colons are also helpful to indicate a formally announced quotation.

You can also use a colon before a definition, an explanation or a list that precedes a clause.

Colons are also applicable in the following situations –

  • Post-salutation within a formal correspondence
  • Between the hour value and the minute value in time
  • On introducing a lengthy formal question

The Semicolon

The purpose of a semicolon is to join relatable concepts with a similar grammatical structure.

Let’s look at this incorrect example –

This homework is additional credit only, but we still need to hand it in.

Although the pair of clauses is related in the above sentence, using a semicolon is pointless since the coordinating conjunction "but” joins these clauses.

In this case, you can either use the semicolon or the conjunction, but you cannot work on both.

A semicolon joins a pair of independent and related clauses substituting a comma and a coordinating conjunction. Let’s look at the following example –

This homework is added credit only, but we still need to hand it in. (without a semicolon)

This home task is extra credit only; however, we still need to hand it in. (with a semicolon)

  • Semicolon with Independent Clauses

You can join a pair of independent clauses with a semicolon. You substitute a comma and a coordinating conjunction (like and, or, for, but, nor, yet, so). While using the semicolon, ensure that the connection between the pair of independent clauses remains clear without a coordinating conjunction. For example

John finished all his assignments, but Kathleen did not finish hers.

You can write this same sentence like the following –

John finished all his assignments; Kathleen did not finish hers.

However, you should never use a semicolon between a dependent and an independent clause. You cannot write –

Although Fiona is a kind employee, that new guy is not.

You can use a semicolon to replace a period between two related sentences. The second sentence should begin with either a transitional expression or a conjunctive adverb. Some of these expressions are –however, furthermore, besides, therefore, accordingly; thus, that is and otherwise.

Conjunctive Adverb examples

  1. Kathleen worked for many hours on all her homework; nevertheless, she was unable to finish all of it.
  2. Harvey is a good driver; moreover, he is a friendly one.

Transitional Expression example

Harold completed reading three novels this week; in contrast, Joan finished only one novel.

Using Semicolons to Replace Commas

While using a coordinating conjunction, you can use a semicolon to replace a comma. However, these coordinating conjunctions can make the independent clauses hard to read due to other commas present in these clauses.

Incorrect usage – My dog is sick. It won't eat, run around, or jump, nor will it go for a walk with me.

Let's look at another example where semicolons can enhance readability, such as –

Certain classes need students to write essays, research papers, or reports, but others focus more on group projects.

If each item within the series is lengthy or includes commas, you can use semicolons to replace those commas.

You can see that the individual elements within the list of the above sentence are complex and include several commas. You'll find it is hard to identify where one element ends, and the other one begins.

However, placing semicolons in-between long sentences can help readers understand the content better with clear separations.

Let's look at the more preferred example, such as –

Angela loves many breeds of dogs, including small dogs, such as terriers and beagles; medium dogs, such as border collies and cocker spaniels; and large dogs, such as Great Danes and mastiffs.

Now, these are the basic comparison between colon and semicolon.

Also Check: What Are Modal Verbs?

Application of Colons and Semicolons

You can use punctuation like colons in sentences to express something that follows, such as a quotation, an example or a list.

However, semicolons are useful to join a pair of independent clauses. You can also use these semicolons to join a pair of separate thoughts that form complete sentences. Let’s look at the below example –

He kept repeating: “I will not return home”. (Using a colon)

They faced many troubles, so they couldn't make it further.

Now, let’s look at some examples to clarify your doubts on “when to use semicolon vs. colon?”

You can use colons to start a list, like saying, “Here’s what I mean.”

The sentence that follows the colon should describe the matter discussed before the colon.

Let’s check the following examples –

You use colons while working with lists such as -

  1. There are two options before you: face your fears or keep hiding.
  2. They were aware who will take the trophy: the Poland.
  3. She desired to roam three destinations: Missouri, Mysore and Mumbai.
  4. The hotel is equipped with the necessities: a comfy bed, delicious meals and a bar.
  5. You can get multiple genres of books to read: fantasy, mystery, crime, love and real-life facts.
  6. I had purchased several types of meat from the store, including beef, pork and chicken.

Quotations also use colons to describe words spoken by someone else,

  1. Shakespeare spoke this: “To thine own self be true.”
  2. The hero of the film said: “Fight hard, celebrate harder”.
  3. The beggar went beyond his capability to express, "Caring exceeds nice words".

You can use colons to separate a pair of independent clauses which stand alone as a pair of wholesome thoughts. Let’s check the examples carrying a pair of clauses –

  1. He wants you to know: that he hadn't received it on time.
  2. Express your true character: in both public and private.
  3. Do not cross the border territory: or you’ll die.

Now you must have a clearer idea about when to use semicolon vs. colon.

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