Image courtesy of Iain Farrell (CC 2.0 Flickr)
In this part of the series on punctuation, we’ll explore different uses of the colon, semicolon, and slash.
The colon usually introduces a list or an explanation. It can also appear before direct speech, or be used to highlight the last part of a sentence.
|before a list||We need the following: eggs, butter, sugar, and flour.|
|to introduce an explanation||My motto is simple: live and let live.|
|to signal direct speech (i.e. a speaker’s actual words)||She pleaded: ‘Please let me in!’|
|to highlight a single word or phrase at the end of a sentence||Having starved for two days, I had only one thought: food.|
Stronger than a comma, weaker than a full stop: this is possibly the simplest way to define the function of a semicolon. Its main use is to separate sentences that are closely linked.
|between two sentences that are too closely linked to be separated by a full stop||Students can’t use mobile phones in class; teachers can in an emergency.|
|in a long list with internal commas||We have stores in Bremen, Germany; Krakow, Poland; and Moscow, Russia.|
|between two independent clauses joined by a transitional phrase (e.g. consequently, for instance, thus)||It has been raining heavily since yesterday; consequently, many trains have been cancelled.|
Also known as the virgule, the slash has several functions but is seldom used in formal writing.
|to carry the meaning per||100 km/h|
|as shorthand for or||Each passenger must carry his/her passport at all times.|
|to carry the meaning cum||Don’s dad was his manager/coach till 2005.|
|in abbreviations||c/o (short for care of)|
|to indicate a period spanning two years||2015/16 season|
|to show the connection between two things||The London/New York flight is delayed.|
Just like how the meaning of spoken words can vary, depending on the use of various pronunciation features such as tone or pausing, the meaning of written words may change by the use of punctuation marks. So, as far as punctuation goes, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.