How to Use Punctuation

Colons, Semicolons and Apostrophes

How To Use Punctuation explains the use of another common set of symbols in English: the colon (:), the semicolon (;) and the apostrophe (‘). There are many errors in English writing that occur due to a wrong use of one of these symbols, most probably because these can get a bit confusing sometimes.

The Colon - (:)

A colon is used for an introduction. You can use it to introduce lists, quotes, a single item, examples and explanations.

Example 1: We went shopping for various grocery items: cheese, okra cuts, spinach, bananas, and breakfast juice.
Interpretation 1: This is an example of using a colon for introducing a list. The items in the list are separated using comma as a punctuation symbol.

Example 2: Mr. Smith will tolerate every thing but one: unpunctuality.
Interpretation 2: The sentence introduces, even emphasizes, the quality of “unpunctuality” with the use of a colon. The colon can be used to introduce a single quality, noun, verb, and so on, basically, a single item.

Example 3: As Mark Twain said: “A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.”
Interpretation 3: A direct quote by Mark Twain is introduced with a colon. It can be a direct speech or a quote by any one, retained just as they said it in double quotes with a colon that precedes it.

Colons, Semicolons and Apostrophes

Example 4: The Foresters had to postpone the event: it was raining too heavily.
Interpretation 4: Some event got canceled, and the reason or explanation is heavy rains. A colon is used to introduce that reason or explanation.

Example 5: A colon is used to introduce a quotation in reported speech:

• The minister spoke: “Welcome all. Today we
have gathered here to discuss a very important matter.”
• As Mark Twain said: “A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.”
Interpretation 5: As you can see, a colon is used in the "Example" sentence after the word “quotation” to introduce examples.

The Semicolon: - (;)

A semicolon serves multiple purposes. Learning how to use punctuation marks correctly here is very important because it is one of the most common student errors. Often, students mistakenly write a sentence with a comma when a semicolon is required.

A semicolon can be used in place of a period (or a “full-stop” in British usage) to connect two closely related sentences that could be independent ones.

Example 6: Isaac likes football; Joseph likes basketball.
Interpretation 6: The sentences are grammatically independent on their own, however, are related in some way. A semicolon is used just before the next sentence begins. A contrast in the tastes of Isaac and Joseph is reflected well using the semicolon.

Remember: It is incorrect to use a comma in place of a semicolon in the above sentence structure.

Another usage is to have a semicolon serve as a “super-comma”. A comma is used to separate items, right? Okay. But how about items that are complex and mixed up? An example will make things clearer.

Example 7: Robertson Publishing House is setting up its offices in tentative new places such as Hawthorn, Melbourne; London; and Mumbai, India.
Interpretation 7: The publishing house wants to expand, but the places are yet to be confirmed. Hawthorn is a suburb of Melbourne, Australia. The exact parts of London, England and Mumbai, India haven't been chosen yet. The three items do not follow the same pattern so we use the semicolon. Understanding how to use punctuation here can save a great deal of explaining.

The Apostrophe - ( ' )

The apostrophe is useful in several instances but again, it's one of the most frequently misused symbols. Students and adults alike make numerous mistakes in how to use punctuation like the apostrophe. But it is not that difficult to understand. Follow the simple rules for apostrophe and you will understand their great help in your grammar.

An apostrophe can be used to express possessions, contracted forms and plural forms of numbers. Let’s look at examples.

Example 8: That is Emily’s mom.
Interpretation 8: The sentence can be understood as – “That is the mother of Emily”. This doesn't sound like correct English, and can be made to sound smoother and be easier to understand with an apostrophe added to the noun “Emily". The apostrophe works to state the possessive form here.

Example 9: I can’t go.
Interpretation 9: The word “can’t” means “cannot” here. An apostrophe states that there is a contraction from the original word used.

More examples:

Example 10: It’s been raining since last evening.
Interpretation 10: “It’s” is the contracted form of “it is” or “it has”. In our current sentence, the tense suggests that the expanded form will be “it has”.

Example 11: Who’s coming?
Interpretation 11: “Who is coming?” is what the person means to write.

Example 12: Have you read romantic writings from the 1980’s?
Interpretation 12: The questioner has used an apostrophe to mean a plural number (the ten years of that decade) here.

One last note on how to use punctuation: Always be cautious on using an apostrophe for possessives and contractions.
Remember: When, not just how, to use punctuation.

Its = Possessive of “it”.
It’s = Contraction of “It is” or “it has”.

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