This month’s punctuation lesson is on semicolons and colons, the use of which can cause many students to tremble! The proper use of semicolons and colons just screams sophistication, erudition, and grammatical prowess, so make sure you know when to use these marks! Note: I am including only the rules for the semicolon and colon that are assessed on the SAT; there are additional rules for using these marks.

The Semicolon

Rule: A semicolon connects two independent clauses when they are not connected by a conjunction (and, but, so, for, nor, or, yet) and are closely linked.

An independent clause is a complete sentence.

Incorrect: I am taking the SAT tomorrow morning, I cannot go see the movie with you tonight.

Incorrect:  I am taking the SAT tomorrow morning; my dog’s name is George.

Correct: I am taking the SAT tomorrow morning; I cannot go see the movie with you tonight.

While the second incorrect sentence contains two independent clauses, they are not related.  My taking the SAT tomorrow has no relevance to my dog’s name.  You would not, therefore, use a semicolon to connect these independent clauses.

The Colon

Rule: The colon comes after an independent clause and introduces a list, an explanation, or explanatory quotation.

Example #1: I need the following items from the grocery store: eggs, sugar, butter, and flour.

Example #2: I need these items for one reason: I am going to bake a cake.

Example #3: As a baker I enthusiastically agree with the saying: “You can have your cake and eat it, too!”

 

Practice Exercises

Determine if you would use a semicolon or colon in the following sentences:

a.  Each morning, I bring exactly what I need for class ___ my laptop, my books and my graphing calculator.

 

b.  I had pasta primavera for lunch ___ Victoria had steak.

 

c.  I took my umbrella ___ it looked like it was going to rain.

 

d.  This is what I told him ___ “Buy a printer, so you don’t have to borrow mine!”

 

e.  There are two things I find endearing about my dog ___ her unbridled enthusiasm and her loyalty.

 

 

 

 

 

Answers

a.  colon

b.  semicolon

c.  semicolon

d.  colon

e.  colon

 

 

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