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Grammar: Semi-Colon and Colon Use

Semi-colons and colons sound intimidating, but they are actually really simple to use. Learn how to use them here.

Semi-colon and colon

Semi-colon (;) Read the example sentence and then answer the questions.

The hill was covered with wildflowers; it was a beautiful sight.
  1. What are the verbs?
  2. What are the subjects?
  3. Does the second sentence directly relate back to the first?
  4. Can "The hill was covered with wildflowers" be a complete sentence* by itself?
  5. Can "It was a beautiful sight" be a complete sentence by itself?
*If you have difficulty determining a complete sentence, refer to the SVC sentence construction by clicking here.

So, we use a semi-colon to connect two __complete / incomplete__sentences that directly relate.

Check answers.  

Colon (:) Read the example sentence and then answer the questions.

He bought three things from the store: shoes, milk, and bread.
  1. What are the verbs?
  2. What is the subject?
  3. Can "He bought three things from the store" be a complete sentence by itself?
  4. Can "shoes, milk, and bread" be a complete sentence by itself?

So, we use a colon to connect a __complete / incomplete_ sentence to an _complete / incomplete_ sentence.

Check answers.   

Semi-colon or Colon? Correct these sentences by inserting a semi-colon or colon.

  1. The artist preferred to paint in oils he did not like watercolors.
  2. I can see only one thing the old lighthouse.
  3. You asked for forgiveness he granted it to you.
  4. The American flag has three colors red, white, and blue.

Check answers. 

Colon (:) and Semi-colon (;) in a list. Read the example sentence and then answer the questions.

Three people sat next to me: Thomas, who smelled really bad; Jill, who wore an odd hat; and Justin.
  1. Can "three people sat next to me" be a sentence by itself?
  2. Can "Thomas, who smelled really bad; Jill, who wore an odd hat; and Justin" be a complete sentence by itself?
  3. Did Thomas smell bad? Did Jill wear a hat? How does the semi-colon help the reader understand the list?

So, when a list contains many commas that may confuse the reader, we use a___________ to make the list clear.

Check answers.   

Final Remarks

Grammatically, a semi-colon (;) can be used anywhere a period (.) is used; however, semi-colons are typically used to highlight really strong connections between sentences and are best used sparingly. Colons, on the other hand, are typically used to introduce lists or elaborate on ideas. Both, though, are useful to help the reader understand your writing.

Continue to advanced semi-colon and colon exercises & common mistakes for further practice.  

As always, feel free to leave comments and questions in the comment section below. 


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