Semi-colons and Colons


  • Semi-colons can be used to separate two complete sentences (complete thoughts) that are closely connected by theme or idea. These should not be overused, and the link between the two sentences should be clear and strong:
    • Examples:
      • I knew she was going to find out; it was unavoidable.
      • The results of the study confirmed my hypothesis; however, further research was necessary.
      • I doubted John’s sincerity; nevertheless, I gave him the benefit of the doubt.
      • The coat seemed beyond repair; still, Bill attempted to do his best to mend it.
  • Use a semi-colon to separate a list of items that already include commas:
    • Example:
      • When I cleaned out the fridge, I found a chocolate cake, half-eaten; a can of tomato, blue fungus growing on the sides; and meat loaf, itself an experiment gone awry.


  • Use a colon when setting up a list:
    • Example:
      • Please pick up the following items: milk, bread, and cheese.
  • Use a colon when the first part of a sentence clearly anticipates, even requires, a second part (also called a “call and response” or “amplification” construction):
    • Examples: 
      • The plot of the movie was simple: boy meets girl, boy falls in love, boy marries girl.
      • I'll tell you what you are: a wonderful friend and constant companion.
    • Follow this rule: Less is more.  (If an independent clause [complete sentence] follows the colon, capitalize the first word after the colon.)
  • Use a colon to introduce a quotation that is independent of the main sentence structure:
    • Example: 
      • In Moby Dick, the narrator introduces himself immediately, and with great effect: “Call me Ishmael.”
Use a colon for these other specific situations:
Time: I'll pick you up at 3:15 pm.
Biblical citations: My pastor instructed me to read John 8:15.
Formal salutations: Dear Dean Sojka:
Titles or subtitles: Backlash: The Undeclared War of Attrition in the Middle East
URL (web) addresses:

Note: Having a list of items in a sentence does not automatically mean a colon is necessary:

  • Example: The book includes a preface, an introduction, and a table of contents. They packed different items, such as sunglasses, hats, and food. (No formal pause to set up these lists is necessary.)