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  • Writer's pictureBeth Linton

Punctuation Made Easy: Semicolons & Colons

Updated: Jul 3, 2021

The purpose of this #writerssupportingwriters blog is to run through the rules of two advanced punctuation types: the semicolon and the colon. Below you can find the rules with examples and tips for use.

Semicolon (;)

The semicolon has three uses:

  • A semicolon is used to link two independent clauses that are closely related in thought. The two independent clauses are complete and could be divided by a full stop (or with a connective like 'and' or 'but') as they are sentences in their own right, but an author may choose to link them with a semicolon to show their connection. The two independent clauses have equal rank; one clause is not dependent upon the other. (See what I did there 😉.);

  • A semicolon can also be used within a list (see this list for an example);

  • A semicolon is used before conjunction adverbs.

Example: A semicolon used to connect two related independent clauses.

Here I have used Dickens as a starting point. Dickens wrote “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” to open his novel A Tale of Two Cities, but could a semicolon have made it better? This opening could have been written as ‘It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.’ Or, ‘It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.’ The use of a semicolon between these two independent clauses would connect these two contrasting ideas, suggesting the best and the worst times were happening simultaneously. In the first version it sounds more like a contradiction.

Example: semicolon used before conjunction adverbs

A conjunctive adverb (however, instead, therefore, meanwhile, consequently, accordingly, also) connects ideas in a sentence.

‘Susan spent several hours in the library; however, she couldn’t find the book he wanted.’

Tips for using the semicolon

A word of caution about using the semicolon as an author: While the semicolon may have rocked in the nineteenth century (you can’t read Bronte or Dickens without being bombarded by them), they are more sparingly used in the twenty-first. In fact, my publisher has a policy of not using them. I used to use semicolons in my writing but now I leave them out. As a reader of contemporary romance books, I rarely encounter them, although they do still seem to have a place in historical romance books – which makes sense if the semicolon is judged as being slightly archaic and historical romance is set in the past…

Common mistakes = the overuse of the semicolon/placing a semicolon where a comma should go. If you need a refresher of comma rules you can find it here: Punctuation Made Easy - Commas | Beth Linton

Colons (:)

Colons are used to:

  • Introduce an explanation. The phrase that comes after the colon to explain or expand on what came before it;

  • Introduce a list, quotation, answer;

Example: introduce an explanation.

'Life is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you're gonna get.'

In this example from Forrest Gump, the phrase before the colon introduces an idea (life is like a box of chocolates). The phrase that follows the colon explains why life is like a box of chocolates.

Example: Introduce a list, quotation, answer.

Three novels are assessed in the exam: Pride and Prejudice, Emma and Dracula.

I wish the #writingcommunity all the best and would love to hear from you are embarking on writing your first romance book. You can contact me via the contact form on this website or via the social media links below.

Happy writing!

Beth xxx

If you found this blog helpful you might also like:

Punctuation Made Easy: The Ellipsis | Beth Linton

You can find @bethlintonauthor on Instagram and also on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.

  • To find out about my novels click here and visit my books page where you can find the blurb for the first five books in the romance series.

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