Today’s topic comes to us via request from Derek: the proper use of colons and semicolons! (aren’t you excited!?)
Semicolons are most often used to connect two closely related independent clauses:
I could have gone on and on about the fund raiser; the charity it benefits is near and dear to my heart.
It’s too late to back out now; I’ve already given my promise that I’d be there.
In both cases, one can put a period where the semicolon resides. Using the semicolon, though, helps to reinforce that the two ideas connected by it are very closely related.
The other use of the semicolon -though one I admit to not using very often- is to separate related thoughts in a series when one or more of those thoughts contains an internal comma:
There are several reasons why Jess should go back to college: she’s gone as far as she can go in her current job; because of her experience in the business world, she’s already got a lot of good time management skills; and, at thirty five, she knows what she really wants to be when she grows up.
The colon, on the other hand, is used in several different ways:
To introduce items in a list – note that the words that come before the colon must be a complete sentence:
The songs sung by the choir were varied: Christmas carols, show tunes, and commercial jingles.
To introduce a quotation if it follows a complete sentence:
My grandmother had a favorite saying when my mother complained about my father: You get what you settle for.
To introduce an appositive at the end of a sentence (though I almost never use this, myself):
I opened it: my finger! (nods to Carol Burnett here…)
Of course, to separate a title from a subtitle and to separate hours from minutes in expressions of time:
When Beanie wrinkles her nose, she looks like Kira from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
My brother-in-law’s flight lands today at 5:05.
Make sense? Let me know if you’ve got any questions; this one stymies a lot of people: myself included!