Which punctuation marks are colons/semicolons?

This is the first of three chapters about Colons and Semicolons. To complete this reader, read each chapter 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

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This topic now has an interactive task: Colons
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Chapter 1

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-chapter reader focuses specifically on the correct usage of colons and semicolons. This first chapter aims to introduce the basics of colons and semicolons and to briefly describe their many uses and functions in academia. Chapters 2 and 3 then focus on these functions in detail, offering examples and rules for accurate and grammatical usage. Once these three chapters have been read carefully, students may then wish to bookmark this reader 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 Chapter 2:

What is a semicolon?

Used in different ways to the colon though just as selectively used, the semicolon is a punctuation mark that resembles both a comma (,) and a full stop (.). The semicolon is, in fact, a combination of both of these marks:

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 Chapter 3, semicolons have five functions that may be useful when writing academically:

Much like colons, semicolons also have a number of rules for how they should be grammatically used. For more information about colons and semicolons, continue reading on to Chapters 2 and 3 respectively.

1 of 3 Chapters Completed


Once you’ve completed all three chapters about colons and semicolons, you might also wish to download our beginner, intermediate and advanced worksheets to test your progress or print for your students. These professional PDF worksheets can be easily accessed for only a few Academic Marks.

Our colons and semicolons academic reader (including all three chapters about this topic) can be accessed here at the click of a button.

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Our colons and semicolons advanced worksheet with activities and answer keys has been created to check a sophisticated understanding of this reader’s chapters

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Spring 22-23