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  • Raghav Sand

English Essentials: Colon and Semicolon

Last week, in the first installment of English Essentials, we got an overview about ‘Comma‘. In the second installment its the turn of Colon and Semicolon. The significance of punctuation is shared below for a quick recap.

Significance of Punctuation

Punctuation is an aspect of written English. We cannot use or not use a comma or semicolon because we like it or do not feel like using it. Perhaps people use commas merely because they might pause there in speech. Improper punctuation makes it difficult for the reader and ultimately the essence of message may get lost. In spoken English, we can use all sorts of tricks to make our meaning clear. Even if everything fails, we have the option of repeating what we have said. Through these series of articles, readers will be given a brief outline of common punctuation, and hopefully we can together get better at using them in our everyday written communication.

The Colon

The colon (:) seems to puzzle many, but it is fairly easy to use correctly. It has one major use: to explain a topic in more specific terms. Colon is used to indicate that what follows is an explanation or elaboration of what precedes it. A colon is nearly always preceded by a complete sentence. What follows the colon may be a list or even a single word. A few examples given below shall bring clarity on the colon.

  1. The world is facing a pandemic: Covid-19 [Explains what the pandemic is]

  2. We reached the destination easily: the markings on highway were perfect. [Explains why we reached the destination easily]

  3. Harish was sure of one thing: he will set up his own restaurant. [Explains the one thing Harish was sure of.]

Occasionally, the colon may be used inversely, with the specifics coming first and the general summary afterwards. Amul, Maruti, Hawkins: all these have revolutionized their industries in innumerable ways. This inverted form should be used rarely. The colon and semicolon are never preceded by a blank space, but they are always followed by a single white space in normal use.

The Semicolon

The semicolon (;) is used to join two complete sentences into a single sentence. The following conditions need to be satisfied for using the semicolon:

  1. The two sentences are closely related and cannot be separated by a full stop;

  2. There is no connecting word which would require a comma, such as and or but;

  3. The conditions for using the colon are absent.

The semicolon must be preceded and followed by a complete sentence. If a suitable connecting word is used, then joining comma is required.

Comparing the colon and semicolon

What may seem like a simple application of the colon and semicolon, sometimes may create confusion in the mind of anyone dealing with written form of communication. Let us consider the following two sentences:

E-commerce sales are showing an upward trend in the last six months. The pandemic has confined people inside their homes.

Using two separate sentences do not suggest a particular connection between the two facts: they are just true at the same time. Now let us see what happens when a semicolon is used:

E-commerce sales are showing an upward trend in the last six months; the pandemic has confined people inside their homes.

The semicolon suggests that the two sentences are related in some way. It may be concluded that rising e-commerce sales and people being confined to their homes are related. Now let us try the same sentence with a colon:

E-commerce sales are showing an upward trend in the last six months: the pandemic has confined people inside their homes.

This time the colon shows that confinement of people inside their homes is the reason for rise in e-commerce sales.

Topic for next week

In the third installment of English Essentials we shall cover full stop (.), question mark (?), and exclamation mark (!).

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