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How To Use Colons And Semi-Colons

How To Use Colons And Semi-Colons

Stop being confused about colons and semi-colons, and learn how, when, and why to use them with VideoJug's help. This film explains the conventional way of punctuation English with colons and semi-colons to VideoJug users.

Step 1: Colon introduction

A colon introduces an explanation or elaboration of what has come before it: like this. To use a colon, you should be satisfied that the two sections of your sentence aren't complete sentences in their own right, and the information in one section explains the other section:
Africa is experiencing a terrible problem: perpetual drought.
Or:
Perpetual drought, poverty, corruption: these are all terrible problems Africa is experiencing.

Step 2: Titles

Colons are also used to separate a book title and sub-title, as in:
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead mans chest.

Step 3: Ratios

You can use a colon to indicate a ratio, "The man/woman ratio is 1:4!!" In formal writing this isn't normally acceptable. So the sentence would be written as:

There are four women to every man here.

Step 4: Semi-colon introduction

A semi-colon links two complete sentences which work as sentences on their own; it indicates that there is some sort of relationship between them.

Step 5: Stylish semi-colons

Using a semi-colon is always a literary (stylistic) choice, for instance:
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.
Could also be written as:
It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times.
Or:
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

Step 6: Complete sentences

To use a semi-colon, you should be satisfied that the sentences are too closely related to be separated by a full stop, and one sentence isn't a direct explanation of the last.
You can do this in list form too:
1. The sentences are too closely related to be separated by a full stop;
2. One sentence isn't a direct explanation of the last.

Step 7: Marking important breaks

There is one circumstance where you can use semi-colons to break up a very long sentence, to help it be understood. Consider the following sentence:

In Chad, where the famine still continues, western aid workers, in spite of their efforts, are unable to operate, and the people, starving, and desperate, are flooding to refugee camps.

You can use a semi-colon instead of comma to mark the most important breaks in the sentence, just to aid comprehension, like so:

In Chad, where the famine still continues, western aid workers, in spite of their efforts, are unable to operate; and the people, starving, and desperate, are flooding to refugee camps.

Step 8: Joining words

Some words require a semi-colon before their use. It is important to remember though that certain joining words are more appropriate to commas:
Women's conversation is cooperative, while men's is competitive.
Or:
Women's conversation is cooperative; however men's is competitive.
Words like however, thus, therefore, consequently, nevertheless and meanwhile should all be preceded by a semi-colon, while words like and, but, yet and while should be preceded by commas.