Problems with the colon — 17 Comments

  1. I too missed the “colon & semicolon” day, but I found the “Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation” book an excellent refresher course on punctuation, colons & semicolons included.


  2. Chris P – Actually, that is quite helpful. What it essentially says is to avoid the feckers.

    John – Thank you very much for that. I am now utterly confused and will be having nightmares tonight about conjugation and gerundives.

    Tom – One book I intend to read. I don’t know how I have missed it for so long.

  3. Grandad,

    Thank goodness you’re talking about punctuation – I thought for a moment it was going to be about experiences with hosepipes.

    I haven’t a clue about the rules and have learned not to worry. I used to take people like Ms Truss seriously, and would get awfully worked up about intrusive apostrophe’s, until it was pointed out to me that no-one had a sole right to determine the evolution of a language and referred to the lady as a ‘fascist’!

    Anyone who has read Joyce’s Uysses (all 933 pages in the Penguin edition!) will know that communication is not dependent upon punctuation.

  4. A colon is used to introduce whatever comes next, for example:
    – a bulleted list like this one
    – a list contained directly in a sentence (‘You can have one of these colours: red, blue or green.’)

    A semi-colon is used to join to separate but related sentences; just as I’ve used it here, in fact.

  5. I know I taught this at some point to my students, but for the life of me I have never understood that semicolon thing either. All I can say is that’s what editors are for right? And thank goodness for spell check. The whole fun and joy of writing is being able to do it without worrying about all that stuff isn’t it?

    When I think back to the days when the nuns would thump us for getting all those verbs and pronouns mixed up, I wonder if it was in any way worth it, now that we have computers and such.

    Glad I wasn’t the only one to have an old school education Grandad! 🙂

  6. I’ve always been vague on the semi-colon bit as well so no help there. All I know is that it can be used in mid-sentence; like that for instance but as my use of it probably shows, I have no idea how or when to use it properly.

    As far the colon is concerned, all I know is that it can be used when I’m referring to something. Like this for example:

    An example of something I’m referring to in the above sentence.

    Other than that, the use of the colon and semi-colon are completely lost on me.

  7. Ian – Damnit! I never read the Penguin edition of Ulysses. Am I an outcast?

    Brianf – Stop showing off, and go back to sleep.

    Catherine – I know the bulleted list one but that’s about it. I must try writing an entire entry using no commas; just semi-colons?

    Tricia – Do you mean to say that the nuns had excuses to thump you? We had no such luxury. We had the living daylights thrashed out of us for any and every reason, or more often than not, when there was none.

    TT – Is it on YouTube?

    Kirk M – My problem is that I know that a semi-colon can be used in the middle of a sentence, but I’m never quite sure whether to use one, or a comma.

    Ah fuckit!! Who cares. As Ian says – it ain’t important.

  8. Oh I can’t manage those yokes at all, commas, inverted and otherwise are fine, but the colon and it’s half brother I leave up to the word processor to guide me.

  9. Hello Grandad,

    Colons can be used in the following ways: (a) to introduce a list, as I did just there; (b) to introduce a self-contained quotation: “I use them thus!”; (c) between the title and subtitle of a book or other work; (d) to precede an explanation, an example, a conclusion, a summary, or any other clause or phrase that follows what has gone immediately before (or as H.W. Fowler put it, “to deliver the goods that have been invoiced in the preceding words”); (e) to show antithesis between two sentences – a usage which used to be much more common. Semicolons can also be used this way, but they’re less decisive than colons, so it depends on context and personal preference.

    I wrote a post about semicolons last year. It’s a bit rambling but you might find it useful. I was going to use a semicolon just there, after “last year”, but I’ve already used quite a few of them and they’re best not overdone. Shaw loved them – colons too – but he had little time for apostrophes or inverted commas. He and Joyce got away with being cavalier with punctuation because they knew what they were doing.

  10. Hi grandad,

    Colons, semi-colons, hyphens, commas….hate them!
    I try hard not to use them at all on my blog.
    Makes for difficult reading….. but it’s my blog and I don’t care 🙂


  11. Mans…. Mans….

    No, I don’t think this can ever be used.

    And I think I now understand the semi-colon.

  12. Stan – Thank you very much for just wasting a couple of my precious hours! I started reading your site and couldn’t stop. I think at this stage, I shall become a Joycean follower and ignore punctuation altogether. It will also allow me to invent words and misspell to my heart’s content!

    Kimme – I’m not; averse: to punctuation. but, – I do like to! use them.. from time; to time. This is my blog too, and I don’t care.

    Radge – Is my site finally becoming educational? Oh dear. 🙁

  13. Grandad – you’re very welcome. I’m always glad to waste someone’s time, and I look forward to your neo-Joycean experi-mentalism.

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