Grammar Lesson: The Colon and Semicolon

By — John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Updated on Dec 15, 2010

The Colon

  1. Use a colon (:) to introduce a list or series of items.
      You should have the following books and supplies with you on the first day of class: Roget's Thesaurus, two pencils, a dictionary, and two notebooks.
      These are the eight parts of speech: noun, pronoun, adjective, verb, adverb, preposition, conjunction, and interjection.
  2. Note: A colon should not follow directly after a verb or a preposition. The following two sentences include incorrect uses of the colon.

      The two days of the weekend are: Saturday and Sunday.
      We saw our dog run into: the woods, the house, and the neighbor's backyard.
  3. Use a colon after the salutation of a business letter.
      Dear Sirs:
      Dear Madam:
  4. Use a colon between the hour and the minute of time.
      It is now 4:22.
      The train is due here at 5:08.
  5. Use a colon between a title and a subtitle.
      Mary Shelley wrote the novel Frankenstein: or, the Modern Prometheus.
      Did William Shakespeare write Twelfth Night: Or What You Will?

Activity 1

Place colons where they are needed within these sentences.

  1. Please bring the following items with you watch, ring, cell phone, and pen.
  2. Dear Madam (as the salutation of a business letter)
  3. The following students have been selected for the varsity debate team Matthew, Hillary, and Sophia.
  4. My grandfather saw the movie Superman The Movie in 1979.
  5. Were you there at 440 that afternoon?

The Semicolon

  1. Use a semicolon to join two independent clauses. In this case, a conjunction is unnecessary. The two independent clauses should be closely related.
      Isaac is a champion discus thrower; he holds the state record. (This is an acceptable use of the semicolon.)
      Isaac is a champion discus thrower; his dad is a baker. (This is an unacceptable use of the semicolon.)
      The concert was not just good; it was fantastic! (This is acceptable.)
  2. Use a semicolon between a compound sentence's clauses that are joined by certain transitional words. Use a comma after these transitional words and phrases. See the sample sentences below.
    • The new tools are great; besides, they were perfect gifts for Dad. Your dance score was one of the highest in this early competition; consequently, you will now move on to the next round.
  3. Use a semicolon between items in a series—if the items in that series contain commas.
      This movie's special people include Missy Swit, lead; Kate Lewis, director; Morty Mulis, producer; and Freida Ling, cinematographer.
  4. To eliminate confusion, use a semicolon before the coordinating conjunction that joins two independent clauses.
      At the beach we collected shells, wood, and seaweed; and then we barbequed, walked the shore, and made a campfire.
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