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Matt Hart on Colons and Semicolons

Punctuation: Colons & Semicolons

by Matt Hart


Source: Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 4th ed. (New York: MLA, 1995). Semicolons:

  • Use a semicolon between independent clauses not linked by a conjunction.

    Eg.: The coat is tattered beyond repair; still, Akaky hopes the tailor can mend it.


  • Between items in a series when the items contain commas.

    Eg.: Present at the symposium were Henri Guillaume, the art critic; Sam Brown, the Daily Tribune reporter; and Maria Rosa, the conceptual artist.


  • Between individually loonnng (very long) items in a series.


  • Use a colon to introduce a list, an elaboration of what was just said, or the formal expression of a rule or principle.

    Eg. [list]: The reading list includes three American novels: Moby Dick, The Country of the Pointed Firs, and McTeague.

    Eg. [elaboration]: The plot is founded on deception: the three main characters have secret identities.

    Eg. [rule or principle]: Many books would be briefer if their authors followed the logical principle known as Occam's razor: Explanations should not be multiplied unnecessarily. [A rule or principle after a colon should begin with a capital letter.]


  • Before a quotation that is not formally introduced.

    Eg.: Shelley held a bold view: "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the World" (794).



Punctuation and quotations:

  • Commas and periods: Place all commas or periods inside quotation marks.

    Eg.: "Read 'Kubla Khan,'" he told me.


  • All other punctuation marks (; : ? !): Place outside of closing quotation mark, except when they are part of the quoted material.

    Eg.: Did he attack "taxation without representation"?
    Eg.: He declared, "I believe taxation without representation is tyranny!"