punctuation-787593_1280The mighty colon – and why is it different to a semi-colon?

It may sound like an unsavoury part of the digestive system, but a colon is actually a useful piece of punctuation kit to help your writing flow …


A colon: and a semi-colon;

They seem very similar, but they are very different.

Does the difference matter? Yes!

Mastering them can make your writing much more effective.

Simply put here, the colon is used to provide a pause before introducing related information, while the semi-colon is just a break in a sentence (that is stronger than a comma but not as final as a full stop).

A semi-colon has been described as a “hard comma.”


Colons are excellent for listing (avoiding and, and, and).


Britain consists of England and Scotland and Wales


Britain consists of: England, Scotland and Wales.


Her impressive list of GCSEs included: English, maths, literature, science, IT, art, sociology, history, geography and French. 

Though we might add a semi-colon here where we add something slightly different to the list:

Her impressive list of GCSEs included: English, maths, literature, science, IT, art, sociology, history, geography and French; her sports instructor qualification was an additional bonus. 

They are also brilliant for introducing a statement: (so many press releases get this wrong and use a semi-colon which, to use the vernacular, ‘does my head in’),

 The Councillor said: “We are pleased that lower car parking charges are to be introduced.”

And, finally, for introducing an explanation….

Heathcliff was a tragic hero: dark, brooding, a product of his own flawed passions.


The most common use of the semicolon is to join together two clauses that could each be separate sentences — creating a longer sentence.

Rob likes IT; however, he also enjoys creative writing.

I know; I understand. 

Fiona adored the flowers; the purple ones were especially attractive.


Linking with Connectors

You can use the semi-colon as a link in sentences that use connector words, like otherwise, however, and therefore.

Technically known as conjunctive adverbs (though you do not really need to know this for everyday purposes) there are other connector words that can also be used with the semi-colon: accordingly, besides, consequently, hence, instead, moreover, nevertheless, thus.

Sharon married young; consequently, she had many children.

Susan was very bright; hence, she gained five really good A levels.

Jo liked to travel; moreover, she liked to travel far.

So, let’s get a little exciting now and play some more……


Using both, plus commas…

If you’re feeling really confident, then you can play with all three: colons, semi-colons and commas…..

Sara likes all sorts of pet animals: dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters; even horses and pigs.

Colon precedes the list. The usual pet list is separated by commas, but then we introduce large animals, unusual pets, separated by a semi-colon. 

Article  first written for Writing IT Better.