Using Commas, Semicolons, and Colons Within Sentences The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

To correct this, add the subject again or remove the comma. There’s also a smaller, yet important, role that semicolons play. That is, they stand in for commas in lists when commas alone would be confusing. Each item in the list contains commas itself, so using commas to separate the items would lead to ambiguity.

  • On the SAT, a sentence may include an introductory dependent clause or phrase, and you have to select the proper punctuation that follows the introduction.
  • Following an introductory phrase, a comma is placed to separate the phrase from the rest of the sentence.
  • Now, it’s unclear whether sausage, egg, and cheese biscuits are three separate items, or if egg and cheese biscuits are one item, or if sausage, egg, and cheese biscuits are one entire item.
  • Use a semicolon in a list of terms that already includes commas.
  • If a sentence is constructed in the form of a question, it usually begins with a question word, such as is, are, did, does, do, where, who, why, when, what, was, were, would, could, or how.
  • Colons introduce a list, a quote or formal statement, a restatement, or an explanation.

Using a comma instead of a semicolon in the sentences above would result in a comma splice. Here are the rules for using semicolons correctly; we hope you’re taking notes. However, there are other ways to use this word could be better as There are, however, better ways to use this word depending on who you ask. I learned to avoid using however as the first word, but if you do, a comma and an independent clause must immediately follow. I might use a colon to introduce a list, or I might use a semicolon to divide a statement from its explanation.


A common error on SAT punctuation questions is to randomly place a comma or semicolon within a sentence, especially in sentences in which there are other commas. In this sentence, answer choice D is the correct answer. Remember that if punctuation isn’t needed, you should leave it out.

Using Commas, Semicolons, and Colons Within Sentences

Such writing is more like creative writing, so it is possible you would use exclamation marks in this context. Just as there are writers who worship the semicolon, there are other high stylists who dismiss it — who label it, if you please, middle-class. The dash character is used in French writing too, but not as widely as the semicolon. Usage of these devices (semicolon and dash) varies from author to author. The plural of semicolon in English is semicola or semicolons.

Punctuation: Colon and Semicolon

Thus programming languages like Java, the C family, Javascript etc. use semicolons to obtain a proper structure in the respective languages. You don’t have to worry too much about using dashes for this type of sentence. If a dash is the correct answer in a similar sentence, then you’ll be able to eliminate the other answer choices because they’ll be obviously incorrect.

  • You can think of the semicolon as a “connector” between two independent clauses.
  • Unlike introductory phrases, commas can separate transitional phrases at the beginning, middle, or end of a sentence.
  • There is some debate about whether it is grammatically acceptable to use however to start a sentence when it is being used to mean nevertheless.
  • In this instance, think of colons as saying, ”Here’s what I mean.” What’s about to come after the colon is meant to further illustrate whatever was mentioned before the colon.
  • It’s best to avoid sarcasm at work, so don’t use exclamation marks in an ”ironic” way.

Punctuation within sentences can be tricky; however, if you know just a few of the following rules, you will be well on your way to becoming a polished writer and proofreader. Be careful when using exclamation points at work, even in instant messages and email. In the workplace, exclamation marks can be seen as too casual or as unprofessional. It’s best to avoid sarcasm at work, so don’t use exclamation marks in an ”ironic” way. This is when additional questions are added onto a direct question. Because of this more casual and, perhaps, artful situation, you have a little more leeway with capitalization.

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Separating two independent clauses with only a comma does not make a complete sentence. To make this correct, either add a coordinating conjunction after the comma or add a semi-colon. In this case, writing the independent clauses as two sentences separated by a period is correct. However, using a semicolon to combine the clauses can make your writing more interesting by creating a variety of sentence lengths and structures while preserving the flow of ideas. Semicolons (;) separate independent clauses that are related in meaning, and they separate items in a list when those items themselves are long or include commas.

Use a semicolon to join two related independent clauses in place of a comma and a coordinating conjunction. This may leave you wondering if you should use a colon or a semicolon to connect two independent clauses. If the two clauses are merely related, not necessarily sequential in thought, use a semicolon. However, if the two related clauses follow a sequence of thought, use a colon. Capitalize the first letter following a colon for a proper noun, the beginning of a quote, or the first letter of another independent clause.

Further reading

Colons are also commonly used to initiate a quote when the first clause is an independent clause (or a complete sentence) or when the quote itself is an independent clause. To mark “bonus phrases.” Phrases that add information or clarify but are not necessary to the meaning of a sentence are ordinarily set off with commas. But when the phrase itself already contains one or more commas, dashes can help readers understand the sentence. When a comma separates two complete sentences joined by a conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, so, or yet) the comma and the conjunction can be replaced with a semicolon. Exclamation marks show excitement or emphasize emotion.

  • There is no comma before the appositive in answer choice B, and answer choice D places a comma within the appositive unnecessarily, and there isn’t a comma at the end of it.
  • When incorporating dates, addresses, or portions of an address in your writing, it is important to know how to punctuate them correctly.
  • Semicolons help the reader distinguish between items in the list.
  • You can use a colon to draw attention to many things in your writing.
  • Semicolons are required when you create a list or series within a sentence, and each part of the series uses a comma.
  • Tag questions are questions that are ”tagged on” to a declarative statement.

Unlike parentheses (which tend to de-emphasize the information contained between them), dashes are more emphatic than commas. And dashes are particularly useful for setting off items in a series that are already separated by commas. Semicolons help you connect closely related ideas when a style mark stronger than a comma is needed.

Generally, non-hyphenated words are given hyphens in this situation to show the reader that the word continues on the next line. When the word already has a hyphen, a second one is added to show it’s both hyphenated and split across two lines—and that second hyphen creates the double hyphen. This is part of the same rule; the conjunction in question is but instead of and. When the preceding clause cannot stand alone, you cannot use a colon.

Using Commas, Semicolons, and Colons Within Sentences

In the example sentence above, the list of supplies adds detail to the statement about having art supplies in the basement but doesn’t change its meaning. The examples above are each made up of two complete, grammatically correct sentences glued together. A colon is used to give emphasis, present dialogue, introduce lists or text, and clarify composition titles. As the previous sentence indicates, when however is at the end of a clause, a semi-colon and not a comma must come directly after it. There is some debate about whether it is grammatically acceptable to use however to start a sentence when it is being used to mean nevertheless.

Directed Learning Activity: Commas and Colons

Because there are three items, there are commas after the first two. The last comma in the list before “and,” known as the oxford comma, is Using Commas, Semicolons, and Colons Within Sentences technically optional, and you won’t be tested on whether or not to use it. However, every list question I’ve seen uses the oxford comma.

How do you connect two complete sentences?

You have four options for combining two complete sentences: comma and a conjunction ("and," "but," "or," "for," or "yet") semicolon and a transitional adverb, like "therefore," "moreover," or "thus"

If a quotation is in the middle of a sentence, there must be a comma before the quotation (outside quotation marks) and after the quotation (inside quotation marks). Commas separate nonrestrictive clauses from the rest of a sentence, highlighting the additional information. Commas separate transitional phrases from the rest of a sentence. Unlike introductory phrases, commas can separate transitional phrases at the beginning, middle, or end of a sentence. You can sometimes use a dash to help readers see that certain words are meant as an introduction or conclusion to your sentence.