Submitted by perplexed on April 28, 2008

semi-colon and colon in one sentence

I have a sentence with which I am struggling because I am not sure if I can use both a colon and semi-colon in it. However, I want everything in one sentence and cannot figure out what other punctuation I should use. Here’s the sentence with names and details altered for anonymity.

“I am indebted to my family, especially my cousins: Jane Smith, my first teacher, without whom I would not be where I am today; and John Smith, my second teacher, who taught me more than he could have possibly imagined.”

The colon is setting up a list and the semi-colon is separating items in the list that contain commas. Thoughts? Thanks in advance.

Comments

Sort by

The colon is an emphatic period. Essentially you have two periods at the same time which might as well say, "No really, stop here," whereas a period just says, "Please stop if you wouldn't mind." A semicolon is kind of inbetween because it has a period and a comma. This is basically like a period and a half. By this logic I would say that you could take a full breath at a colon, 3/4 breath at a semicolon, and a half a breath at a period. I guess you should then take a 1/4 breath at a comma.

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

ha all you people are stupid! lol

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

As far as the punctuation is concerned, your sentence seems fine to me. There is no reason you can't use a colon and semi-colon in the one sentence.

It does sound a little formal with a couple of over-used expressions. I would especially try to avoid the "would not be where I am today" part.

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

An almost two years conversation on colon, semi colon and comas. As a non-native speaker, the intricacies of English seems to be tricky. I must be missing a lot of English lessons all these years.

2 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

You may indeed use a semicolon and a colon in one sentence. The example you give does not require both, though it does need improvement.

You might recast it thus:

“I am indebted to my family, and especially to my two cousins: Jane Smith, my first teacher, without whom I would not be where I am today, and John Smith, my second teacher, who taught me more than he could have possibly imagined.”

This is similar to Khastings' suggestion. but with different punctuation. I have also introduces "two" to introduce the idea of a list prior to the colon (as Louise suggested).

Alternatively you might phrase it this way:

“I am indebted to my family, especially my two cousins: to Jane Smith, my first teacher, without whom I would not be where I am today, and to John Smith, my second teacher, who taught me more than he could have possibly imagined.”

I prefer that sentence, because it has more consistent verb-noun structure in its phrases.

However the phrase "without whom I would not be where I am today" is awkward, employing as it does two negatives. A better solution, with more agreement between phrases might be:

“I am indebted to my family, especially my two cousins: to Jane Smith, my first teacher, who put me where I am today, and to John Smith, my second teacher, who taught me more than he could possibly have imagined.”

There must be a better word than "put," but you get the idea.

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

If I may ask, why the need to jam together so much into one sentence and create a punctuation nightmare? It's even slightly confusing as to whether your cousins, your teachers, and the Smiths are actually the same people. How about something more like this?

“I am indebted to my family, especially my cousins, Jane and John Smith. Jane was also my first teacher, without whom I would not be where I am today. John was my second teacher, who taught me more than he could have possibly imagined.”

A run-on sentence should be avoided if possible. You would be better off, clearer, and more correct by breaking it up into several sentences.

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

RE to myne:

That may be the case, but in thirty-two years of teaching English, surely the issue of same-sentence colon and semicolon use has come up. Besides, thirty-two years of teaching is called experience. Ethos is directly involved in the argument. Have you ever written a paper you know nothing about? Personal experience supports argument, as does research. Now, if you research a well-documented and legit source and find Louise is incorrect, good for you. If you do not, you've learned the meanings of the term "ethos" and the phrase "think before you speak".

9 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

"I am indebted to my family, especially my cousins: Jane Smith, my first teacher, without whom I would not be where I am today; and John Smith, my second teacher, who taught me more than he could have possibly imagined."

Here's what I would say to eliminate both colon and semicolon:

"I am indebted to my family, especially my cousins Jane and John Smith, my first and second teachers respectively, without whom I would not be where I am today and who have taught me more than they could possibly have imagined."

I prefer not to list for the simple fact that I hate using colons and semicolons when I'm not sure of writing rules in that particular situation.

The only problem I see with my version is that if the author wanted to indicate that John Smith taught him/her more than Jane, but that is all perspective.

3 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

I saw a wonderful comment that relates to Peter's question. In situatios where you'd want to be absolutely correct and follow the rules precisely you use "prescriptive" writng, whereas writing that follows more along with people speak, with the supreme intent to be understood, is called "descriptive" writing. There's a time and a place for both, but most of us angle one way or the other regardless of setting.

2 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

khastings, I'm sure you're a very nice person, but your re-written sentence is short a handful of comma's. Your keyboard is no doubt simply missing that key.

2 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Person One and Person Two in a single sentence, each of whose name is followed by a modifier. In complete sentences, a modifidying clause requires a comma. Your semi-colon is correct and optimal, denoting a difference or distinction between two items. A change of direction with your narrative. If you don't use the semi-colon, then each 'bunch of following words' could be wrongly seen as a modifier of the original clause, Person One.

Pedantic? Of course! But accurate? You bet. Funny thing, language: are you being grammatically accurate, or are you trying to be understood? If it's only the latter, are we all honestly going to be happy, in the very near future, saying, "Do you feel me?"

3 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

With all due respect, your teaching English for 32 years is irrelevant. Who's to say you were teaching it correctly?

8 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

I taught English for 32 years. You have the correct punctuation throughout. Add the word 'two' before 'cousins'.
Also, words of address always have a comma after them, as you have done.
my first teacher,
my second teacher

5 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

While I agree with the comments above, that is I think both forms of punctuation are correct, I think that the semicolon lends emphasis to the "and". A careful reader may understand you to be making a contrast between your cousins: Jane got you to where you are today; John didn't get you to where you are today, but, unlike Jane, did teach you more than he could have imagined.

3 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Technically, you aren't punctuating a list here, just two items joined by the conjunction "and." Those items just happen to have a few comma clauses attached to them. If you had more than two items, I would recommend going with the semicolon, but since it's just the two, I'd go with a comma between them (as the first responder suggested).

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

It is correct with either the semicolon or the comma the first commenter suggests. However, it is less confusing with the semicolon for precisely the reason you present. Imagine if you were thanking 5 people each of whom got their own comma'ed phrase! Way too many commas!

3 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

I wouldn't use the simi-colon. I would write it as:

"I am indebted to my family especially my cousins: Jane Smith, my first teacher without whom I would not be where I am today, and John Smith my second teacher who taught me more than he could have possibly imagined."

4 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Your Comment