Correct use of colons

This article is published in the Tuesday  issues of Deccan Chronicle .

Micmanz Lanugage Improvement series

The colon and the semicolon are very often misused or overused. The colon is used in a variety of different ways. It acts to connect what precedes it with what follows.

Example: Seema got all the shopping done for her mother: vegetables, meat, fish and milk.

The rule here is to think of the colon as an equals to sign.

The shopping = vegetables, meat, fish and milk. However there are a few of exceptions to this rule. One is the use of the colon between the chapter and verses of a Biblical citation.

Example: Mark 2:3.

The other is the separation of minutes from hours in the time.

Example: Seema looked at the kitchen clock and saw that it was 5:15 pm.

The semicolon implies separation. So if you are writing a sentence that is made up of two distinct parts and you need to emphasise a point you can do it with a semicolon.

Example: Seema moved house; she was being harassed by the landlord.

You also use a semicolon when a compound sentence contains commas within one or more of its clauses. Here you need to use the semicolon to separate the clauses.

Example: It was a cool, pleasant and utterly beautiful day; so Seema decided to take a leisurely walk in the park.
You use a semicolon to separate one series of long items from another. Example: Seema’s work table needed several things: a flower vase; a mug that she could keep her pens in; files and blue, green, yellow and white paper clips; and a planner.

if the phrases, which make up the series, contain commas they must be separated by semicolons.


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