Colons and semicolons — they sound similar and look similar, but they each serve a different purpose. People are often confused about the difference between a colon and a semicolon and when each is appropriate.
There are rules as to when colons should be used in a sentence. The most common use for colons is at the end of sentences that introduce a list, such as a list of steps, as shown in the following example:
The following steps describe how to open a new Microsoft Word document:
- Click Start.
- Point to All Programs.
- Point to Microsoft Office.
- Click Microsoft Word.
Semicolons are often referred to as “super commas.” Semicolons are used to join together two independent clauses that are not joined together using a coordinating conjunction (such as but or yet). Another situation in which a semicolon should be used is in place of the word and plus a comma. Finally, semicolons are also used between two independent clauses that are joined using a transitional expression.
The following sentences provide examples of how semicolons should be used:
- Our dog always gets off her leash; we had to fence the backyard.
- The semester was finally finished; we were glad it was spring break.