Colons (:) and semicolons (;) have distinct uses. A colon should be used when a statement is made and then explained or expanded upon – particularly if a list is involved. For example:
- Campbell edited three theses last month: one on the semiotics of Google, another on the molecular physics of cheese, and a third on the psychology of birds.
- Writers often mistakenly use a colon instead of a semicolon: they do this because they don’t understand their separate purposes.
A colon is ‘stronger’ than a semicolon: it separates two parts of a sentence more distinctly. Semicolons are used to separate independent clauses (parts of sentences) that could almost be sentences in themselves; they correspond to a pause in speech. For example:
- Colin mostly eats cheese after school: in contrast, Brian usually eats a sandwich.
- There’s no way to stop me eating chocolate; if I feel like eating chocolate, I go right ahead.