Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Posts Tagged ‘semicolon

The colon#3

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The library of the Nautilus.
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Use a colon if you want the second part of your sentence to explain, illustrate, or elaborate on the first part of your sentence. For example:

There are 5,000 books in the library: half of them are in need of repair.

He is determined to overcome his greatest fear: public speaking.

The result was inevitable: nobody survived.

The colon can also be used to throw new light on what you have already said, sometimes in an unexpected or comical way. For example:

Life’s a beach: wet, gritty and cold.

When using a colon in this way, the first part of your sentence will usually be able to stand alone. In other words, it would still make sense if you deleted everything after the colon and replaced the colon with a full stop.

Using the colon for lists

When not to use the colon for lists

User-friendly info about punctuation

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The colon#2

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A header for the "Meals" infobox tem...
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The colon is an excellent punctuation mark to use when writing lists.

However, sometimes you shouldn’t call upon its services when writing lists.  This is when a particular word takes the place of the colon in your sentence. Examples of such words are:

  • include
  • any form of the verb ‘to be’ (‘are’, ’is’, ‘was’, or ‘were’).

For example, the following sentence uses the colon incorrectly:

I have eaten several meals today, including: breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper. ×

You can see that the word ‘including’ does the work of the colon and so the colon isn’t needed.

Similarly, the following use of the colon is wrong because the word ‘were’ does the work of the colon:

The members of the Beatles were: John, Paul, Ringo and George. ×

The colon simply isn’t needed, and the sentence should read:

The members of the Beatles were John, Paul, Ringo and George.

Similarly, the colon isn’t needed in the following sentence, because the word ‘are’ is used instead:

The cake’s ingredients are: eggs, flour, sugar and butter. ×

This should be:

The cake’s ingredients are eggs, flour, sugar and butter.

Using a colon in sentences

 More user-friendly info about punctuation

The colon#1

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This mini-series is all about learning to love your colon.

Just a quick note: don’t put a dash after the colon (:-). The colon is a tough beast and can stand alone.

The colon and lists

First, we’ll look at how to use the colon when writing lists. In this case, the colon is workhorse semicolon’s best friend. For example:

You will need the following on this course: your laptop; your mobile phone; warm clothing for the outdoor session; and your pre-prepared presentation.

Note that this would look even clearer on the page if you use bullet points:

You will need the following on this course:

  • your laptop;
  • your mobile phone;
  • warm clothing for the outdoor session; and
  • your pre-prepared presentation.

Simple lists

Simple lists need only a colon followed by commas (rather than semicolons) to separate the various things listed:

Peter had studied many different subjects: architecture, medicine, law and history.

Find out when not to use a colon with lists

Using a colon in sentences

More user-friendly info about punctuation

The semicolon and certain words

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When I'm cleaning windows
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This is just some easy stuff to add to your growing knowledge about semicolons.

A semicolon must always be used before certain words in a sentence. These include:

consequently

hence

however

nevertheless

therefore

For example:

The windows are very high; therefore I need a ladder to reach them.

These items are slightly damaged; hence the price.

I am very tired; however, I’ll soldier on.

He is a very rude man; nevertheless he got the job.

The workhorse semicolon – lists

The beautiful semicolon – writing sentences

More user-friendly guides to punctuation

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