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