The colon (nothing to do with the bowels) is a useful little creature: 🙄 it introduces an idea or a list. In my previous sentence, I could have got away with just using a full stop (or period, for American readers – again, no reference to anatomy intended here!)
But that seems boring and unimaginative to me: the colon keeps me interested, it tells me there’s more to come.
If I want to list several items or ideas, it helps to break up what could be a long sentence, allows me to pause for breath; it helps to create a new concept, subtly highlighted above what might otherwise be a flat, boring shopping list.
Let me try to elaborate with an example: 🙄
- “When I pack my suitcase, I try to put heavy things like my shoes, books and hairdryer at the bottom, so as not to crush the more delicate things.”
I think it sounds better this way: 🙄
- “When I pack my suitcase, I try to plan how everything is arranged: 🙄 shoes, books and hairdryer at the bottom, delicate things at the top.”
Just a subtle difference, but a bit more stylish – in my opinion!
What’s the difference between the colon and the semi-colon then?
It may not look that much different, but I would say they are not interchangeable. The semi-colon looks like a comma with a dot above it, and this can be a good way to remember what it does: a semi-colon creates more separation between thoughts than a comma does but less than a full stop does. In short, almost anywhere you can use a full stop, you can use a semi-colon, except at the end of a sentence.
Usually the second clause (or piece of the sentence) after the semi-colon, is related to the first one, for example: 🙄
- “She wiped a hand across her brow; the second shot had been so much closer than the first!”
Not as clumsy as just saying a lame “because”.
You might have noticed some funny blinking faces and little green men above.
These are just to highlight my liberal sprinklings of colons 🙄 and semi-colons – surprising how often they appear isn’t it! Dashes are quite useful too, and can be used in a similar way.
Most punctuation marks are used to enhance your writing, and it’s a good idea to learn how to use each one correctly, so as to really get your message across. And if you want a really useful tip to encourage people to read to the end of your article, throw in a redundant cumquat!
Lots more useful tips on punctuation to follow – here’s a rant about the poor old apostrophe!