What’s the difference between the semicolon and the colon?

How can you tell the difference between a colon and a semicolon ?

Image: iClipart

Well, here’s how you use these two pieces of punctuation:

A semicolon is used to join two complete sentences which are very closely related in meaning.  Example:  Mark my words;  you’ll learn a lot in her language arts class!  In this compound sentence, the two pieces need each other because without the explanation, “you’ll learn a lot in her language arts class,” the statement “mark my words” wouldn’t make any sense.  The two connected sentences are depending on one another.

A colon is used after a salutation in a block or semi-block letter.  It can also be used between numbers, to indicate the time of day.  Sometimes it is used to introduce a list.  Example:  The following authors have eBooks available for purchase: Rick Riordan, Nicholas Sparks, Suzanne Collins, Becca Fitzpatrick, and Lauren Kate .  Another example:   Dear Webmaster:    Or Dear Customer Service Manager:  And don’t forget this:  It’s 9:12 a.m.

I tell my students to take a good look at what a colon looks like. The prefix semi- means only partly. So a semicolon only has the top half of the colon. That seems to help my students identify the two pieces of punctuation by sight. But it’s still a long stretch to get seventh graders to understand how to use semicolons in a sentence they might create themselves.


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