Punctuation

The colon “:” and semicolon “;” are two punctuation marks that are often misused. 

A colon is used to introduce a list or a clause that explains the clause before the colon.

Example:

There are a number of Springer Nature journals that accept manuscripts dealing with biology: Central European Journal of Biology, Journal of Chemical Biology, Journal of Mathematical Biology, and Journal of Plant Biology.


Semicolons are used in two ways:

  • To separate two independent clauses (clauses that could be complete sentences by themselves) if you do not use a connecting word like "and" or "while" between them.
  • To separate items in a list if some items in the list have commas within them. In other words, semicolons are used instead of commas if commas would be confusing.

Example:

The patient was unresponsive; doctors were running everywhere carrying medical equipment.

These two clauses could be separate sentences: "The patient was unresponsive. Doctors were running everywhere carrying medical equipment." However, the semicolon suggests that there is a relationship between these two sentences. You can usually tell from the context what the actual relationship is.


More examples:

She works all day as a nurse in a retirement home; in addition, she is studying in the evenings to become a doctor.

Dr Benaud is a French researcher; however, he lives in Antarctica.

Thousands of mites crossed the barrier from region A to region B every hour; therefore, it was not possible to count all of them.

Our main findings were that uninsured patients are most likely to visit the emergency room for their health care needs; that children, the elderly, and the unemployed are the groups most affected by lack of insurance; and that the uninsured are a heavy burden on hospitals.


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