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 after the word “creature” (or period, for American readers – again, no reference to biology 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 over and 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 shoes, books and hairdryer at the bottom, to avoid crushing 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!
So what’s the difference between the colon and the semi-colon?
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 lame as just saying “because”.
You might have noticed some little green men and funny blinking faces and 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 kumquat!
Lots more useful tips on punctuation to follow – here’s a rant about the poor old apostrophe!