Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Semicolon and Colon

Colon vs Semicolon

The colon and the semicolon are two types of punctuation. They look very similar, have similar names, and they can both be used as a pause in a sentence or to combine different parts into a single sentence.

The colon is the one composed of two vertical dots, like so ‘:’. Colons are used more often in the English language, because they are more versatile. They are most often used to connect a sentence with a related sentence or a related fragment. It’s most often used just before a reason or explanation.

We were planning to go to the zoo: they just got some tigers.

It can also be used before lists.

We were planning to pick up a few things at the store: bread, eggs, and breaded eggs.

The semicolon, also known as a ‘semi’, looks like a comma with a dot on top, like this ‘;’. Semis are used to connect two complete sentences.

I like the color pink; he likes the color green.

While colons can be used just before lists, semicolons can be used to separate items in lists, like commas do. This is most often used when the items in the list contain commas, such as when naming a city and the country, state, or province it is in.

We were planning to head to Brisbane, Queensland; London, England; Detroit, Michigan; and Toronto, Ontario.

If this sentence were written with commas instead of semicolons, it would be harder to understand.

Because colons and semicolons can both separate two complete sentences, there is the question of why they would be used when a period could be used instead.

I was hoping it would be sunny today: I don’t want rain to ruin the picnic.

I was hoping it would be sunny today. I don’t want rain to ruin the picnic.

The sentence could even be written without the punctuation if the word ‘because’ was added.

I was hoping it would be sunny today because I don’t want rain to ruin the picnic.

Part of it is that the colon and semicolon imply closeness. By using one of the two to put the parts of the sentence together, it shows how the two are connected. However, there is another reason.

In speech, colons and semicolons both represent pauses in speech, like commas and periods do. Commas are the shortest pause, which is only a split second. Periods, as well as exclamation marks and question marks, end the sentence and often represent pauses of a second or longer. Colons and semicolons are as long as or shorter than periods, but they continue the sentence because they have a different tone than ending punctuation does.

When ending a sentence, the speaker tends to take a tone that says that the sentence is over. Questions are slightly different, as the speaker raises their tone at the end of it. This is why some questions end with periods: they show that the speaker did not take the questioning tone at the end.

Colons and semicolons do not have the ending tone that a period has. Thus, when a colon or semicolon appears in a sentence, it means that it is said without that tone.

I was hoping it would be sunny today: I don’t want rain to ruin the picnic.

What this sentence means is that the speaker said two complete sentences without using the ending tone, because they are related.

The point of punctuation is partly to help people understand the meaning of a sentence, but it is also partly to explain how the sentence is said. Both of these are the case with colons and semicolons.

To summarize, colons are used when making lists and giving explanations. Semicolons are used between two related clauses that could be complete sentences, and sometimes between items in a list. Both of them represent pauses in speech, but have different meanings in writing.


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