Submitted by teresajimenez on February 14, 2006

Colon and semicolon in a single sentence

Can I use a colon and a semicolon in the same sentence? Here’s my example, “There were no known friends or family members, so besides his physical symptoms he was admitted with only one certainty: his longstanding IV drug use; he had numerous track marks and was noticeably malnourished.” Is there a better way to structure this?

Comments

Sort by

The logic of your sentence says that everything before the colon is a clause with an implied question which is answered on the other side of the colon. But then the problem is that after the colon you have the structure of [phrase];[independent clause]. That's grammatically incorrect. So the question isn't so much of whether you can use a semicolon and colon in the same sentence, but rather of making sure you have an independent clause on each side of the semicolon.

On the other hand, maybe everything in front of the semicolon belongs together and the independent clause after it belongs alone, in which case the punctuation is technically correct.

In the first case I would restructure the sentence into something like:

"There were no known friends or family members, so besides his physical symptoms he was admitted with only one certainty: his longstanding IV drug use that gave him numerous track marks and made him noticeably malnourished.

If the second case is the goal, just use a period:

"There were no known friends or family members, so besides his physical symptoms he was admitted with only one certainty: his longstanding IV drug use. He had numerous track marks and was noticeably malnourished.

Those two solutions are in the world of the practical. In the world of theory, you could have a semicolon and a colon in the same sentence. But in the example given it's not clear what the sentence means.

Fun problem, thanks.

3 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

While a colon is used for lists, the example "stranger" gave is not quite correct. First of all, the colon should be at the beginning of the list itself, i.e., before "diapers", but a colon should not be used if the list starts with a preposition (like "with") or linking verb; thus, it should read: "For example, you can fill the basket with diapers, baby wipes, baby lotion, baby powder, baby oil, and NS Bottles."

If a colon were to be used, it would look something like this: "For example, you can fill the basket with the following: diapers, baby wipes, baby lotion, baby powder, baby oil, and NS Bottles."

P.S. - Note my use of a colons for other purposes: to introduce a quote and, in this very P.S., to introduce an example or explanation.

see http://www.writingcenter.emory.edu/colonsemi.html (courtesy of speedwell from another posting)

3 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

I agree but can't you do the same thing with a semi-colon since it manifests objects?

2 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Thank you. I believe that I understand what you're saying. I like your second suggestion and think that it reads well. I've been staring at this for so long, trying to figure out what the problem is and you come along and fix it with a simple switch of punctuation. Thanks again..

2 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

;D

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Another good structure:

"There were no friends or family members, so besides his physical symptoms he was admitted with only one certainty: his longstanding IV drug use (he had numerous track marks and was noticably malnourished)."

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

I was hav always used a colon to do my listings. You can perhaps try something along this line.

"For example:you can fill the basket with diapers, baby wipes, baby lotion, baby powder, baby oil, NS Bottles/".

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

When listing in a sentence do I use a semi colon or a colon? Here is my example. For example, you can fill the basket with diapers, baby wipes, baby lotion baby powder, baby oil, NS BOTTLES/

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

What a facinating blog. I've bookmarked it and added your feed to my RSS Reader

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

When there is no sentence, phrase or anything before the list, then obviously no punctuation is required.

Example:

You can fill the basket with diapers, baby wipes, baby lotion baby powder, baby oil, and NS bottles.

If there is a phrase or sentence fragment (weak clause) before the list, then use a comma.

Example:

Remember that, you can fill the basket with diapers, baby wipes, baby lotion baby powder, baby oil, and NS bottles.

If there is a sentence before the list, which is a complete sentence (strong clause), then use a semicolon after the sentence and before the list. The semicolon must have an introductory phrase (For example [e.g.], that is [i.e.], or for instance) after it and a comma must come after the introductory phrase.

Example:

You can fill the basket with Baby Products; for instance, diapers, baby wipes, baby lotion baby powder, baby oil, and NS bottles.

Use a colon when you do not want to use an introductory phrase; in this case, you would use a colon instead of the semicolon.

Example:

You can fill the basket with Baby Products: diapers, baby wipes, baby lotion baby powder, baby oil, and NS bottles.

Go to this website: www.grammarbook.com

That is how I learned grammar; you'll love it. =D

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Here's another sentence with both a colon and semicolon. In this example I was wondering if their use was correct.

He’d been waiting for a chance like this: to show he was capable of filling that management position; so he sent the meeting invitation as high priority to all upper managers.

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

@Intuit Flow - I think your colon is OK, but not the semicolon after the coordinating conjunction "so". But if you changed "so" to the conjunctive adverb "consequently" it should work:

He’d been waiting for a chance like this: to show he was capable of filling that management position; consequently, he sent the meeting invitation as high priority to all upper managers.

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Would this sentence work wih a colon & a semicolon? (Please ignore the parenthetical citations)

Despite many years of complete massacre and annihilation of Jews and other religions, the United States didn’t intervene in the Holocaust until 1944- 11 years into the mass-killing, and 1 year before it officially ended (“United States Policy Toward”); a few of their reasoning’s behind not interfering sooner include: the US was in a time of economic depression, xenophobia & anti-Semitic feelings, and the US army’s aircraft didn’t have the capacity to bomb Auschwitz accurately (“United States Policy Toward”).

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

I think there are several (language) problems with this text, but to answer your question, I don't think the semicolon works here. Yes, you have two independent but related ideas: The US didn't intervene, and this was because ..., but each idea is quite long in itself, and you end up with a very long sentence.

Furthermore, you already have two contrasting ideas in the first section - "Despite many years of ..." and "the US didn't intervene". So your first idea is not so much about the US's non-intervention, but about the contrast. Your next part, about their reasoning, may be related to the non-intervention,but not really to this contrast. Personally, I feel that "officially ended" cries out for a natural break, and a full stop (period) would be much more appropriate here.

Now for the colon; its position is fine, but I'm concerned about what comes after it. I feel if you use "include" here we expect a list of things, i.e. noun phrases, but you have standard sentences. Secondly "reasoning" is uncountable, so no "s" at the end. I would suggest something like: "Their reasoning behind not interfering was based on several factors: the US was in a time of ... etc".

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Your Comment