Where and whether to use commas, semicolons and colons can be difficult to understand – even for a professional at times! So I am here to help.
Below are some rules for using commas (,), semicolons (;) and colons (:).
Rule: Use a comma between two long, independent clauses when conjunctions such as and, or, but, for, nor connect them.
Example: He had painted the entire house, but she is still working on sanding the floors.
Rule: If the clauses are both short, you may omit the comma.
Example: He painted and she sanded.
Rule: If you have only one clause (one subject and verb pair), you won’t usually need a comma in front of the conjunction.
Example: He had painted the house but she still needs to sand the floors.
This sentence has two verbs but only one subject, so it has only one clause.
Rule: Use the semicolon if you have two independent clauses connected without a conjunction.
Example: I have painted the house; I still need to sand the floors.
Rule: Also use the semicolon when you already have commas within a sentence for smaller separations, and you need the semicolon to show bigger separations.
Example: We had a reunion with family from Southampton, Hampshire; Betchworth, Surrey; and Bath, Somerset.
Rule: A colon is used to introduce a second sentence that clarifies the first sentence.
Example: We have set this restriction: do your homework before watching television.
Notice that the first word of the second sentence is not capitalized. If, however, you have additional sentences following the sentence with the colon and they explain the sentence prior to the colon, capitalize the first word of all the sentences following the colon.
Rule: Use a colon to introduce a list when no introductory words like namely, for instance, i.e., e.g. precede the list.
Example: I need four paint colours: blue, grey, green and red.
I hope this helps you! If not, please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and ask me anything you need to know about the English language.
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