Skip to main content
Humanities Libertexts

17.3: Semicolons and Colons


A semicolon is can be used in three different types of sentence structures.

  • To join two independent clauses.
    Example: Several environmental organizations recognized the treaty; few endorsed it.
  • To join two independent clauses when a conjunctive adverb is used.
    Example: Several environmental organizations recognized the treaty; however, few endorsed it.
  • To separate items in a list if the items in the list already necessitate a comma.
    Example: She has a son, Mike Nach, of Arizona; a daughter, Emily Rosa, of Colorado; and a sister, Sara Evans, of Minnesota


Colons are used to draw attention to certain words. They are used after an independent clause to direct attention to a list, appositive, or quotation. They are used between independent clauses when the second clause summarizes or emphasizes the first clause or after the greeting in a formal letter.

Case Example Note
  • I have three sisters: Catherine, Sarah, and Mary.
  • The sandwich requires several ingredients: bread, butter, cheese, ham, and tomatoes.
Appositive My mom just won an award: Mom of the Year.  
Answers the question There was only one possible explanation: The train had never arrived.  
Quotation Homer Simpson is famous for his grunted expression: "Doh!"  
Between independent clauses Life is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you're going to get.  
Introduction of a definition Hypernym of a word: a word having a wider meaning than the given one. Is a special case of appositive.
After business salutation Dear Sir or Madam:  
In a dialogue
  • Patient: Doctor, I feel like a pair of curtains.
  • Doctor: Pull yourself together!
Separation of title from subtitle Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope  
Separation of the chapter and the verse numbers of religious scriptures
  • John 3:14–16 (or John III:14–16)
  • The Qur'an, Sura 5:18
Separation within time of the day
  • The concert finished at 23:45.
  • This file was last modified today at 11:15a.m.
Standard time vs military time
  • Was this article helpful?