Semicolons and Colons

Hello, Write Owls. Welcome to Day 11 of Grammar 110. Today we’re talking about semicolons and colons.

Semicolons are used in three different situations. The first is when you have a compound sentence and don’t use a coordinating conjunction (see my previous lesson on sentence types here). The second is when you have a compound sentence with a coordinating conjunction, and one part of the sentence has a series, or list. The third is when a series has words in it that already require commas.

Here are some examples:

She wants to be a doctor; she wants to study pediatric cancer. (This is a compound sentence that doesn’t have a coordinating conjunction. It could also be written as “She wants to be a doctor, and she wants to study pediatric cancer.”)

He wants to study music, dancing, and theater; so he can perform in musicals. (The first independent clause has a list in it, which has to be separated by commas, so the second independent clause is set off with a semicolon. This clarifies that the second clause isn’t part of the list.)

Dave, the archaeologist; Susan, the geologist; and Mark, the forensics specialist, all worked together at the ancient tomb. (The things in the list require commas, so for clarity, the individual people are set off with commas. Otherwise the sentence would read, “Dave, the archaeologist, Susan, the geologist, and Mark, the forensics specialist, all worked together at the ancient tomb.” In this version, readers can’t tell how many people there are.)

Colons have three main uses. They introduce some lists, they separate two closely related sentences, and they separate words in specific situations. Don’t use colons to introduce lists when the list immediately follows a verb.


Correct: Archaeologists need the following basic tools: trowels, brushes, and buckets.

Correct: Archaeologists need these tools:

  • Trowels
  • Brushes
  • Buckets

Incorrect: Archaeologists need: trowels, brushes, and buckets.

College applications are due Friday: they will be reviewed next week. (There’s a debate about whether or not you should capitalize the first word after the colon. I personally prefer not to capitalize them.)

She fears one thing above all others: fire. (When you refer to something and then name it, you use the colon to separate the name.)

There was one thing he knew about her: he didn’t want her in his life.

That’s all I have for today. If you have any questions, leave them in the comments down below, and I’ll answer them either as a reply, or in my Q&A on Saturday.

For practice, try determining where the punctuation goes in these sentences (commas, semicolons, and colons). You can leave your answers in the comments if you want me to check them.

1. I love reading I write my own books.

2. Writers need the following items paper pens or pencils and a computer.

3. James who writes romance Mary who writes horror and Casey who writes fantasy are at the writing conference.

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