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Learning Punctuation: Colons and Semicolons

Updated: Nov 24

Keys on a laptop keyboard - the colon and semicolon.

Introduction - Learning English Punctuation

In this article, I want to explain two punctuation marks: the colon and the semicolon, the difference between them, when you should (and should not) use them and, finally, some examples. Using them properly is a way of improving your English writing.

If you are observant, you would have noticed that I used a colon in that first sentence.

If you cannot see it, this is what the colon looks like:

Colon (:)

and this is what the semicolon looks like:

Semicolon (😉 …and you notice that it makes a smiling, winking face if you put ; inside ( ).

So here is the semicolon on its own: ;

And again, I used a colon.

By now, you should be understanding, from the examples I have given you, the use of the colon.

The rule is that when you want to show that something is following, such as a quotation, an example, or a list, use a colon.

By the way, the plural of colon: colons.

See, I have just used a colon.

An important point to remember is this: Do not use a colon in a sentence after phrases such as "such as", "including", and "for example".

Phrases like these already indicate to the reader that a list of examples will follow, so there is no need to introduce them with a colon, which would merely be redundant/not needed.

Never introduce a list using a semicolon (explained below).

Sometimes, a list will be introduced by a sentence ending in a full stop rather than a colon.

And it might look like this. (A colon could have been used here, instead of the full stop.)

These are the countries that have signed up to the agreement.




Great Britain.

Semicolons, on the other hand, replace commas. I explained commas in another article.

A semicolon is used to join two independent clauses, which means two clauses as two complete thoughts that could stand alone as complete sentences.

This is a blog article; you can read many other articles on punctuation here.

So, if you are still confused when to use a colon and when to use a semicolon, as you are writing, here is a good rule of thumb:

If the two clauses are merely related, not necessarily sequential in thought, use a semicolon. Use a colon, however, if the two related clauses follow a clear sequence of thought.


Good luck with your written English and if you are still confused, please come back here to refresh your understanding of these very similar but very different punctuation marks.

If you are keen on learning other punctuation marks to acquire better written English, see the other posts I have written here.

Finally, if you enjoyed this article, please share it on your socials with your friends. It's easy: just copy the URL and post.

(c) Apex English Tutoring Dec 2020 - Updated Nov 2023

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About the Author

Michael Finemore, an experienced English Teacher, is the Owner-Operator of Apex English Tutoring.

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