Re: Colon, semicolon, comma, or period?

Subject: Re: Colon, semicolon, comma, or period?
From: Bill Burns <WBURNS -at- VAX -dot- MICRON -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 28 Jul 1995 08:12:17 MDT

An original post requested opinions about punctuation in the example below:

: > Consider the following-----> At ABC company, we make products with the
: > consumer in mind; products that aid in productivity and quality.
: >
: > Notice the semicolon. Would you change it to a comma, period, colon, or
: > leave the semicolon.

Dan Fergus responded,

>A comma would be grammatically <sp?> correct.
>A period, colon, or semicolon would not be.
>A dash would also be correct and would also give a stronger sense of
>separation <that silent little pause that you hear between the two
>'products' phrases> than a comma would.

To a vote for the colon, Dan wrote,

>I disagree. A colon generally introduces a list enumerated in the sentence.

One the first response, I agree completely. On the second, I agree that a
colon is not acceptable here. However, I disagree that colons are only
generally used to set off a list enumerated in a sentence. Colons are also
used to introduce formally quoted material and following introductory remarks.


We quote from the address: "It now seems appropriate..."

Ladies and Gentleman: ...

Colons can also be used between two independent clauses to show a distinct
relationship between the two (when the second clause is an illustration or
amplification and also, though CMoS doesn't mention this, when the second
clause makes a generalization in the first clause more specific). A colon
could not be used to replace the semicolon for the same reason that the
semicolon is incorrect in the first place: the second clause is not

Note the last sentence in the previous paragraph. The second independent
clause is an amplification of the first clause. CMoS indicates that, in
contemporary usage, a semicolon is often used instead of a colon. I tend to
stick with this convention unless I really want to underscore the relationship
between to clauses. A semicolon connects two ideas. A colon dictates a
specific relationship between two ideas. For more information on colon usage,
refer to CMoS (14th ed., 5.97 or p. 182).

One more point--a colon should be used to set off a serial or enumerated
list if the preceding element is an independent clause or if each of the
following elements is an independent clause. I find, however, that the latter
condition tends to produce lengthy, awkward constructions.

All of this talk about colons makes me want to get up and take a short walk.

Bill Burns *
Assm. Technical Writer/Editor * LIBERTY, n. One of imagination's most
Micron Technology, Inc. * precious possessions.
Boise, ID *
WBURNS -at- VAX -dot- MICRON -dot- COM * Ambrose Bierce

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