Dina Friedman's Monthly Writing Advice
Vol. 1 # 8, February 2002 - Semicolon vs. Colon
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Thanks for the info on semicolons, but what the heck is the
difference between a semicolon and a colon?
Confounded by Colon Confusion
I'd like to say the only difference between a colon and a semicolon
is in its name, but that wouldn't be the total truth. While the colon
is mostly used at the end of a salutation for a business letter or to
introduce a quote, it also can be used between two independent
clauses, just as a semicolon can. The big difference is that you use
a colon to set up reason, evidence, or justification in the second
clause. For example,
The price of gas keeps going up: it's currently $1.40 per gallon.
A colon can also be used after an independent clause to introduce a
list. The words before the colon *must* be an independent clause,
but the items after the colon do not.
These are my favorite movies: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone,
Chocolat, Gone with the Wind.
*Never* say my favorite movies are: Harry Potter, Chocolat, Gone With
the Wind, because "My favorite movies are" is not a complete
Hope this sheds some of the light on colons and their difference from
semicolons. Remember, there's always a choice here, and when in
doubt, consult a stylebook.
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Dina Friedman, M.S.W., has worked with
individuals and groups on issues for thirteen years. A
published fiction writer, poet, playwright, and journalist
and winner of several awards and honors, she coordinates
academic writing workshops for Mount Holyoke College. She
has taught rhetoric, English Comp, and creative writing at
the University of Massachusetts, Holyoke Community College,
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