Which punctuation marks are colons/semicolons?
This is the first of three lessons about Colons and Semicolons. To complete this course, read each lesson carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.
– Introduce the concept of punctuation in academic writing
– Explore the differences between colons and semicolons
– Introduce the 15 functions of colons and semicolons
Learning how to punctuate an English sentence correctly can be a challenging task for both native and non-native speakers of the language. Not only are there a large number of rules surrounding how and when to include apostrophes, brackets, commas and full stops, for example, but these rules and uses tend vary from country to country and culture to culture. For informal communication in English – such as through text messages or emails to friends, it’s not so important to be correct with your punctuation every time. However, for academics conducting research or for anyone that wishes to publish their writing, it’s critical that every punctuation mark is comprehensively understood and consistently used.
This short three-lesson course focuses specifically on the correct usage of colons and semicolons. This first lesson aims to introduce the basics of colons and semicolons and to briefly describe their many uses and functions in academia. Lessons 2 and 3 then focus on these functions in detail, offering examples and rules for accurate and grammatical usage. Once these three lessons have been read carefully, students may then wish to bookmark this course for future reference. You may also wish to check your understanding of these concepts by downloading and completing our related beginner, intermediate and advanced worksheets.
What is a colon?
Unlike the frequently used comma (,) or full stop (.), the colon is a more sparsely used punctuation mark that’s often overused or incorrectly applied by students of academic English. As can be seen in the image below, the colon (:) is a mark that’s comprised of one full stop (or period) stacked above another full stop:
Although punctuation is grammatical in rule, each punctuation mark in the English language also is said to indicate a pause of varying lengths – with colons being described as having some of the longest or strongest pauses. By indicating to the reader that some kind of important example is about to follow, colons are also considered to be a useful tool for creating suspense. Roughly meaning ‘for example’ or ‘that is to say’, colons are generally used to highlight something important to the reader, to connect ideas or related information together, or to present explanation.
How are colons useful to academics?
Aside from the fact that academics must be especially careful of submitting work that has correct grammar and punctuation, colons have a number of academic uses that go beyond general proofreading and precision. The following ten functions exemplified below are described in comprehensive detail in Lesson 2:
Semicolons are generally used to highlight or offset two closely related concepts, and to clarify a series of items. Though this punctuation mark doesn’t provide a pause that’s quite as long as the colon, the semicolon falls somewhere between the comma and the full stop in strength – although it’s probably a little closer to the full stop. The pause that the semicolon offers, however, is usually enough to encourage the reader to think more deeply about the connection between ideas and clauses.
How are semicolons useful to academics?
As will be explained and explored in more detail in Lesson 3, semicolons have five functions that may be useful when writing academically:
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