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My friends call me Elldee. And breaking the half century mark has been highly motivating: happy wife, mother, writer, teacher, day dreamer.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Semicolons and colons: easier than you think

Write down these simple rules.
Colons and semicolons are probably the most misused punctuation there is, and it is not because they are complicated.  The rules for the semicolon and the colon are both few and easy.

To make things simple, let's establish some terminology.  Sentences are words placed in sequence with a capital letter at the start, end punctuation at the end and a complete thought in the middle.
Examples:  
I cried.
I cried buckets of tears that flowed down my face, dropping off my chin in rhythmic pats on my slacks.
Before I cried buckets of tears that flowed down my face, dropping off my chin in rhythmic pats on my slacks, I visited my father's grave.

All of these are sentences.  Each one of them contains an independent clause which can stand alone.  I have underlined the part of the sentence which is the independent clause.

So when I refer to a sentence, I mean the whole kit and caboodle.   When I say independent clause, I mean the part that has a complete thought and can stand alone.  Now let's talk about these rules.

SEMICOLON:

Rule #1
Use semicolons to combine independent clauses that are highly related.
Examples:
Dogs are the ideal companion; they will forgive their owner just about anything.

Mondays I remind myself the week will be over before I know it; I don't always believe myself.

Rule #2
Use semicolons in lists of items that have internal punctuation.

First I will show you a list with the standard "items in a series" comma in use.
Example: I dropped by my neighbor to ask for two cups of sugar, two cups of flour and a pat of butter.

Look what happens when I add some details to my list.

Example with internal punctuation: I dropped by my neighbor to ask for two cups of sugar, one brown, one white; two cups of flour; and a pat of butter.
I needed the semicolons because I added information regarding the sugar that needed to be separated from the flour.  The information added would have become part of a list of items, and a rather unclear list at that.  It only takes one addition of internal punctuation to require the semicolons to be present, and they follow through the entire list.

Rule #3
Use semicolons when combining clauses with conjunctive adverbs and transitional expressions.
Examples:
Conjunctive adverb - I intended to get home before my husband to organize his birthday party; however, he left work early.
Transitional expression - My husband thought I was planning a surprise birthday party; on the contrary, I was much too exhausted to contemplate the endeavor.

COLON:

Rule #1
Use a colon after independent clauses when what follows is an appositive, a list or a quotation.
Examples
Appositive - There are days of the week when I can't wait for the weekend: Monday thru Friday.
List style #1 - There are three things I must remember to buy: potatoes, red food coloring, and a bandana.
List style #2 - You must bring the following to the senior parade float party: potatoes, red food coloring and a bandana.  (The word "following" is a clear hint.)
Quotation - Who hasn't heard of Hamlet's famous quote: "To be or not to be, that is the question"?

Rule #2
Use a colon after independent clauses when what follows is an explanation or summary.
Examples
My brother can be such a ninny: he told my new boyfriend I was allergic to flowers when I am actually only allergic to carnations, and he brought me roses.

Rule #3
Use a colon after the salutation in a formal letter.
So not for the following:
Dear Aunt Sally,

But after the following:
Dear Mayor Sindsey:
How bad is that?  Three simple rules each.  The key is knowing when you are dealing with independent clauses, which I underlined in each sentence.
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