Colons and Semi-Colons – The Ones That Need To Be Learnt!

Okay, so your teacher is asking you to write an extended piece of writing. She asks you to stretch those sentences and use semi colons and colons wherever you can, to make your writing more structured and get you into the A-C grades.

You sit there in your classroom and most likely think one thing; what the hell is a semi colon?

Well, if you look at the second paragraph of this blog piece [the bit underlined on purpose for you], you will see an answer to that question. I typed 12 words ending with the word “thing.” At that point I could have added a full stop or a comma and carried on. The full stop of course, would have ended the sentence. Then I typed 7 more words, beginning with “what” and ending with “colon.” I added the question mark because that is what the last half of that sentence is all about. In other words, a semi colon is used for the extension of meaning in a sentence. The first part of the sentence is about you sitting there in a class room. The second is about you thinking what a semi colon is.

Does that make sense? The two halves of that sentence need to be related to each other! That is the simple rule to remember.

Then we get the colon. Now the Science geeks amongst you will say “ah, I know where the colon is. It is in your gut” and you would be right, for there is a colon in the stomach and intestinal area of the human body. However, there is a colon used when writing as well. But, what is it and why is it used?

Generally speaking, a colon is used where there is a list involved. For example, if you was to write about my favourite football team and say who played in a match, you would do so like this.

In the match against Sunderland, these were the City players who took part in the game: Hart, Zabaleta, Boyata, Demichelis, Clichy, Jesús Navas, Touré, Fernandinho, Jovetic, Milner, Nasri, Pozo, Agüero and Lampard.

In that example, you have the explanation of what the list will be [the players who took part]. Then you get the colon and then you get the list. Easy!

Now, as a way to remember which is which, I refer to 1974 or thereabouts and to the one and only Mr Smith, my Science teacher; Chemistry to be exact. He would every now and again dictate notes to us so we got everything written down and copied accurately. Sadly, he passed away whilst I was there and the way I remember him is that he looked like the bossy teacher in Dead Poet’s Society as well, but was a pussy cat at heart. Lovely man!

He used to be dictating and then he would come to a colon in the text and he would say, out loud, to us all, “then add a colon, for the ignorant, two dots, one above the other” and before too long, we of the more cheeky variety of student would say it out loud in a chant. God bless him, wherever he is, for 40 years on I still remember that chant.

So now you know the difference between the two. Use them wisely.