How to use a semicolon

In all languages, not just English, writers use punctuation marks (or punctuation points as they are also called) to indicate things like pauses and full stops, to convey or demonstrate emotion, the ask questions or declare statements, and even to separate items in a list.

The reason they do this is because writing, unlike speaking, does not have the same natural cues. Void of punctuation marks, sentences would run together, making them difficult to read and even harder to understand. There are fourteen different types of punctuation marks commonly used in English grammar. They are:

  1. The period
  2. The question mark
  3. The exclamation mark (also called the exclamation point)
  4. The comma
  5. The semicolon
  6. The colon
  7. The dash
  8. The hyphen
  9. The parenthesis
  10. Brackets
  11. Braces
  12. The apostrophe
  13. Quotation marks, and
  14. The ellipses

Two punctuation marks that are most frequently used incorrectly are the comma and the semicolon.

All too often, people shy away from using the semi colon, largely out of fear because they do not understand how it is supposed to be used or because they wrongfully believe that a comma and a semi colon are interchangeable.

Learning how to properly use a comma and a semi colon will help you to improve your writing and result in writing that is more concise and polished. Get to know the rules for comma vs. semicolon, as you write, you will experience several occasions where a comma simply isn’t strong enough and a semi colon is needed.


In summary, think of the colon as a way of pointing the reader’s attention forward.

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The most common use of a colon is to introduce a bulleted list.

This chapter covers:

  • Causes of the problem
  • Solutions for the problem
  • Recommendation

Some writers use a colon to introduce a list within a sentence, but you don’t need a colon if your sentence has a verb such as include or starts with for example or such as.

The ingredients: hazelnuts, bananas, flour, sugar and eggs.The ingredients are: hazelnuts, bananas, flour, sugar and eggs.

The ingredients are hazelnuts, bananas, flour, sugar and eggs.

Quotes, dialogue and question-and-answer formats

The colon is used after a clause to introduce explanatory information, give examples, introduce a quote, and in dialogue and question-and-answer formats. A comma is often used instead of a colon in dialogue, particularly for short quotes.

The managing director said: ‘We’re all in this together. It is irrelevant who made the initial mistake.’

Colons and capital letters

Use lower case after a colon unless the following words are a quote, question, or proper name.

The question is: Who will be the winner?

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