Welcome to Writing Tip Tuesday, the Colons & Semicolons edition. This is the eighth in a series of posts pulled from my free guide “On Not Writing Badly.” You can download the whole thing by filling out this form, or, if you’d rather not subscribe to my email list, you can simply check back here over the next several Tuesdays for a regular dose of word nerdery.
Colons & Semicolons
Rule 1: Colons can be used after a phrase (of one word or more) to indicate that
something more is coming.
Rule 2: Colons can be used to introduce a series of items. They should generally be
preceded by a complete sentence. When used accurately, they could be replaced with a comma and “namely.”
We need an assistant with office skills: typing, inputting data, and completing
We need an assistant with office skills, namely typing, inputting data, and
completing tax forms.
Rule 3: When a complete sentence comes after a colon, the first word in that sentence should be capitalized.
For example: This is a complete sentence.
Rule 1: Semicolons separate complete sentences that are closely related.
Mary ate dinner; the food was delicious.
Note: The word after the semicolon is not capitalized unless it is a proper noun.
Rule 2: Semicolons can be used in complex sentences where commas would be
The conference has people who have come from Sand Point, Idaho;
Springfield, California; and other places as well.
Colons and Semicolons Together
Though it is often easier to use bullet points, or break a longer thought into multiple sentences, you can use a colon to introduce ideas, and semicolons to separate them.
We believe there are many reasons to move forward with the project:
Julie and her partner, the executive director, have lined up the funding;
the participants, all 15 of them, have blocked out the time on their
calendars; we’re tired of waiting.
Note: The words between each semicolon create a complete sentence, and the first
word after each semicolon is not capitalized.