The Grammar Rodeo: Colon-oscopy…Not as Gross as it Sounds

Ok, so now we are getting into a little bit of the hardcore grammar nazi type stuff. Punctuation can be a tricky thing at times, but colons and semicolons seem to intimidate some non-grammarians. The most use these punctuation pals get now is as the eyes in your emojis. But they are so much more than that. Well, they are a little more than that. Like all forms of punctuation they serve a purpose, and here it is:



Colons are used after independent clauses to introduce a list, an appositive, an amplification/emphasis, or an illustrative quote. Colons break up sentences to let the reader know that what follows (after the colon) is important and closely related to the clause that precedes it.

If we are talking about lists, colons work in this regard: “A master chef need three tools: a sharp knife, a hot pan, and the right ingredients.”

Colons can also be used to join two independent clauses. Strunk and White offer this example: “But even so, there was a directness and dispatch about animal burial: there was no stopover in the undertaker’s foul parlor, no wreath or spray.”

Finally, colons can be used to introduce a quote that adds to the meaning of your words, as I did when I introduced the quote by Strunk and White (see what I did there? Two birds with one stone).


Then what the hell are semicolons for? Well like colons they are used to break up independent clauses. The difference is that the information the comes after a semicolon is often equal to what precedes the semicolon. In fact, sometimes it is merely a restatement; a rewording, if you will (see that example I just dropped on you? Boom).

Here is an example for semi-colons:

“The Simpsons is my favorite animated series; in fact, it is my favorite comedy.”

Semicolons can also be used to break up lists that already have commas, such as: “I have visited Phoenix, Arizona; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Charleston, South Carolina.”

So why do you need to know this? So that you don’t look stupid when breaking up your independent clauses while updating your status or tweeting. Duh. Take a look at the video to see an example of how not to use semicolons and consequently how to use colons.


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