Having mastered the first three punctuation marks, the capital letter (more of a grammar issue then punctuation, admittedly), the full stop (or period) and the comma, it's time to play with the big boys.

The colon

This is the punctuation mark that is formed by placing one full stop over another, thus:

There are three legitimate uses for a colon:

  • To join together two main clauses where the second explains the first.
  • To start a list.
  • Occasionally before reporting speech.

I always remember the first example by thinking that the second clause cashes the cheque (US check) you wrote in the first clause. " I like garlic: it keeps my wife and vampires away." The first clause should always make sense in its own right. Thus, "I like garlic" stands on its own as a complete sentence.

Lists are self-explanatory. "I need you to bring along a few things: handcuffs, rope, gaffer tape and some large hooks."

And lastly, you may use a colon before reporting speech, like this:

Someone once said of my wife: "She has much in common with Adolph Hitler: they both liked dogs".

Note that in the last example I used example 3 and example 1 together. Also note that some sources have it that the speech that the colon precedes should be at least 3 lines in length. I've overlooked that rule in the example because there is a huge difference of opinion among grammarians about its rigidity.

The semi-colon

A semi-colon is formed by placing a full stop over a comma, like this ;

A semi-colon, or semicolon, joins together two independent clauses without using and, nor, but and yet.

"I'll be 58 soon; it's been a long, hard life."

Each clause must make grammatical sense in its own right and must stand alone. So, "I'm 58 soon" is a complete sentence, and so is "It's been a long, hard life."

Another use for the semi-colon is where you have punctuation in each of the clauses and you still want them to remain separate. For example:

I like chicken, ham and pork; I dislike beef, lamb and kangaroo.

Written with commas, we would have a poor sentence: "i like chicken,ham and pork, I dislike beef, lamb and kangaroo". A comma allows you the briefest of pauses; a semi-colon allows a full breath, and a full stop creates a dead halt.

A further use of the semi-colon provides what one writer describes as a "super comma". Look at the following sentence written with just commas:

I travelled to London, England, Paris, France, Sydney, Australia, and Hamburg, Germany.

Confusing ain't it?

Let's try it with semi-colons replacing each country group:

I travelled to London, England; Paris, France; Sydney, Australia, and Hamburg, Germany.


You may also notice (if you've paid attention to previous lessons) that I've inserted an Oxford comma in both of the sentences after the word "Australia". The rule is that generally you shouldn't need a comma before the word "and", but without it you get: "London, England; Paris, France; Sydney, Australia and Hamburg, Germany," which gives the impression that Sydney, Australia and Hamburg are all in Germany. They're not.

The nest lesson will cover our old enemy the apostrophe. Limber up kids, this one's a doozy.

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1. Sensibly, take some time to digest these; they
2. Go back and tick all the tasks you

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christine2 Premium
I will leave now, because I am constantly picking up grammar and spelling mistakes in others, as well as on the news, in newspapers, in books, on the radio...
Not that mine is perfect, but I must have had VERY GOOD TEACHERS as I was painfully and deliberately acquiring English as my second language...I would never have had the guts to put anything up as training but I find it hilarious and can only commend you, Paul.I feel like I have found a soul mate griping about the same thing. I hope you have given a tutorial on my pet hate: the misuse of the words to lay and to lie. My patients always tell me they were laying down...their life, perhaps? And working in Ashton-under - Lyne near Manchester one of my patients proceeded to tell me: "I were just eating me tea, when..."
Coming from South Africa I never thought that i would need an interpreter for English, but there I did!
Paul Dean Premium
In Manchester (as elsewhere in England) people will happily admit to being "sat in front of the telly". I never occurs to them that by the same grammatical rules they should "get up and go for a walked". People seem particularly poor at tenses.

When ever I hear the word "sat" on telly I shout the word "sitting!" My wife just sighs.

I'll try to do "me" and "I" tomorrow, along with the correction to "me and him went out".
mrbill74 Premium
I'm forever correcting my girlfriend's comments, and it's reached the point where I simply brace myself after doing so--I KNOW she's going to smack me! These comments here remind me of a grammar course I enjoyed while still at AT&T. By the end of class, we came to three resolute conclusions:

1) It's not 'Lay Lady Lay', it's 'Lie Lady Lie';
2) It's not 'Lay Down, Sally', it's 'Lie Down, Sally'; and
3) It's not 'I Feel Good!', but 'I Feel Well'.

I may not have used the proper punctuation above, but this discussion is about grammar, right? :-)
speedking Premium
Hi Christine, good to hear from a fellow South African and great to meat up with you at WA ! I'm very new to all of this, but having a lot of fun doing it .Paul reminds me of one of my English teachers way back when in 'lekka" ol' SA.........keep up the good work Paul , there's always something new to learn.
RandyKR Premium
You should try to don' t lett it buggya so much.
JayandGlenda Premium Plus
Another one that bothers me is the misuse of the words I and me. Please clarify for those who obviously don't know any better.
mamalama Premium
As a home-school mom, I deal with grammar issues pretty regularly but I didn't have the guts to create grammar lessons for the WA community. This is a great service to many. Thanks a lot!
jespinola Premium
Interesting.. I will check my grammar :)
techhound Premium Plus
Hey Paul, great lesson. How about "Yore" being added to the last section? LOL.

Best Regards,
Paul Dean Premium
I'll do "yore" when I do "y'all". (No I won't).
techhound Premium Plus
LOL. Nice!