Dot-dot or dot-comma? When to use colons and semicolons

Colleen Trolove | November 30, 2018

What’s the difference between colons and semicolons, and when should you use them?

The dot-comma — the semicolon

The semicolon’s first job is to show that two ideas, though separate, have a close relationship.

Imagine you’ve just written two sentences. But they’re closely related ideas and it doesn’t feel right to separate them. Swap the full stop for a semicolon.

I slept well last night; I’m bursting with energy and enthusiasm.


The semicolon’s second job is to separate items in a list that already has commas. Notice how you’d get confused if only commas were used in the lists below.

Meet Jayne, my manager; Lynda, the chief executive; Reece, our coordinator; and Inez, a consultant.

Lucy’s three grandmothers are Nana Trina; Nana, who should really be ‘Nana Josie’; and Nana Coll, who’s actually Lucy’s great aunt.


The dot-dot — the colon

You’ve written an idea, but then you want to explain or illustrate that idea. Put a colon before your explanation.

Lucy told me yesterday she has three nanas: Nana Trina; Nana (Josie); and Nana Coll, who’s actually Lucy’s great aunt.

I’ve come along with four of my workmates: Jayne, Lynda, Reece, and Inez.

I like colons: they allow you to expand on your ideas.


That same concept of explaining or illustrating applies when colons introduce lists.

I like colons because they:


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