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Set 4 - Lesson 18  ( Go to the Answer Key )


Lesson 18,  Colons, Semi-colons, Quotation Marks: Rules and Examples for their Use

COLON:  Colons are most commonly used to introduce a list, a series,  numerical results, a passage extracted from another source, texts, and explanations that mean the same as the introductory words.  A colon ( : ) is used after an introductory word, phrase or sentence  but not when the series is the direct object of a verb or preposition or directly follows a form of the verb " to be ".  Here are some right and some wrong examples:

  • Right.   Following are the words that were written on the back of the photo:  I will always remember you as a true friend.
  • Right.  You must have this equipment with you when you attend the first meeting:  one hand-cranked egg beater, two plastic fly swatters, three cans of tuna, four sheets of graph paper, and a bagel with some creamed cheese.
  • Right. The Truth About ADD: Attention Deficit Disorder
  • Wrong. When you attend the the first meeting, you should have:  one hand-cranked egg beater, two plastic fly swatters, etc.    Why is this wrong?  The list is the direct object of the verb "should have" .  In the second example, the list was introduced by a complete sentence.  Read the rule again.

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Special Case:  In a formal tabulation (list), such as in an official Job Description or a Resume, you may use a colon after a form of the verb " to be."   Example:


The qualities of a good Boy Scout leader are:


Moral integrity


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Use a colon to indicate clock time, unless the time is right on the hour.

Example:  6 P.M.   but    7:30 A.M.

Use a colon between the name of a publisher and the city of publication in a Footnote.

Example: John J. Skully,  The Tomb Robbers, New York City:  Prentice-Hall, Inc.  1913, p. 67

Use a colon in Bible references to separate the chapter from the verse.

Example: Psalms 23:14


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SEMI-COLON:   A semi-colon is a comma with a period sitting above its head -  ;   It is used to indicate a more serious pause than a simple comma.  Within a sentence, one's voice usually lowers when it gets to a place where a semi-colon would be used, almost the same as with a period.

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A semi-colon is used to separate the two parts of a compound sentence if a comma and a conjunction are not used. 
Example:  The music was over, and the band went home.   The music was over; the band went home.    Jane couldn't finish the test; she wrote too slowly.

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A semi-colon is used to separate long, involved clauses. 
Example:  Working in the computer industry today has its own problems and pitfalls; rapidly changing technology, international market changes and sticky drinks that spill on the keyboards.

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A semi-colon is used to separate clauses that are punctuated by commas. 
Example:  Before you open that door, the one that leads to the basement, make sure your wooden stake is sharp; regretfully, you may have to use it.

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Use semi-colons to separate items in a list if the items are longer or contain commas. 
Example:  The average long-distance truck driver travels with a 12 volt television set with a DVD player; a cooler with drinks, fresh fruit, lunch meat and refrigerated meals; a duffel bag stuffed with socks, underwear, several changes of work clothes  and a pillow; blankets, sheets and a teddy bear.

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Semi-colons are used before a conjunctive adverb (accordingly, also, besides, consequently, furthermore, however, indeed, likewise, moreover, nevertheless, otherwise, similarly, so, still, therefore, thus)  when these words are used to join two independent clauses: sentences that could stand alone but are connected because their meanings are closely related. 

Example:  I had planned to visit my mother last week; however, a problem developed at work and I couldn't get away.     You have made several good sales this month; therefore, I am going to ask you for a loan.

Notes:  Always place a semi-colon outside quotation marks.   Never use a semi-colon before a parenthesis or an expression enclosed in parentheses.


Use quotation marks to enclose the exact words of a speaker or writer.

  • "Shut the door," the cook  yelled, "before you let in all the flies!"     "Stop!" said the cop.   The woman threw herself onto the ground beside the horribly wounded man and sobbed, "Frank! Don't die, please don't die!"
  • The newspaper reporter questioned witnesses about the boys who were seen "hanging around the park."

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Note:  If the exact words are written immediately after the name of the speaker, as in a question and answer format, do not use quotation mark.  Example: 

Judge Judy:  How much damage was done to your car?

Plaintiff Jones:  At least $1,800, Judge.

Judge Judy:  Were there any other losses from the accident?

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When the material being quoted is longer than one paragraph, use Quotation Marks at the beginning of each paragraph, but only at the end of the last paragraph.

Use Quotation Marks around a word or phrase that is accompanied by its definition.

  • "Adult literacy" refers to the ability of an adult to read and write at a sufficient level to be able to function competently in our society.
  • The official term for the tiny piece of paper a hole puncher cuts out is "chad."

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Use Quotation Marks around an unusual word or phrase or a special trade word the first time it is used. 

  • The term "crack" has become too widely known today for the wrong reasons.  When I was young, the only crack you saw downtown was the separation between sidewalk squares.
  • "Cold fusion" remains an unreachable goal for physicists today.

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Use Quotation Marks to enclose the titles of:

articles -  "Severe Weather Becoming More Common." songs - "I Want to Hold Your Hand"
paintings or sketches - "Mona Lisa" brochures or pamphlets - "Install Your Own Drywall"
chapters or parts of books - "Part 1 - The Early Days" plays or motion pictures - "The House on Haunted Hill"
poems - "Ode on a Grecian Urn" operas - "Carmen"

Use Single Quotation Marks to enclose a quotation within a quotation.

Bert told his fellow workers, "Yesterday when I went to my son's ball game, he said to me, 'Dad, I hit a home run all the way out to second base!' "

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More notes about Quotation Marks:  Periods and commas always go inside the quotation marks.  Colons and semi-colons always go outside the quotation marks.  Question marks and exclamation points go inside the quotation marks if the entire quotation is a question or exclamation.  They go outside if the quotation is only part of the sentence.

  • The tiny paper pieces from hole punchers are called "chad."
  • I never liked the song "Tiptoe Through the Tulips"; however, it was a cult hit years ago.
  • Did you hear the conductor say, "Give me your ticket or get off the train!"?  (The whole sentence is a question so the question mark goes outside,  but the quotation within the sentence is an exclamation so the exclamation point goes inside the quotation marks.)

Exercise A:  Put the colons, semi-colons and quotation marks where they belong in the following sentences.

1. Republicans make up 58 percent of the registered voters in this county  Democrats, 40 percent.

2. Mark usually awoke at 630 in the morning  however, this morning he overslept.

3. Will you please hurry, Arnold called to his wife.  It is time to leave.

4. The professional ball player signed these words on my baseball  Always play fair and you'll be a winner.

5. There was a lot of junk left in the desk I bought at the auction  paperclips, rubber bands, thumbtacks,  scraps of paper, old envelopes and a dried-up ballpoint pen.

Exercise B:  Cross out the punctuation that is wrong, circle the punctuation that is right and add the punctuation that is missing.

 10:A.M. The Mona Lisa is located in Paris.
 Genesis:12:7 The new term to refer to internet business is ecommerce.
1159 P.M. H.B. Stowe: Uncle Tom's Cabin: Atlanta: Random House: 1853.
1115 hours is military time.  Answer these questions; 1, 4, 7, 10.
"Shut up! the judge ordered." The young poet wrote 'I Am' .

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Examination:  The following sentences illustrate the Punctuation Rules in this lesson, but the specific punctuation has been left out.  Place the colons, semi-colons and quotation marks where they should be.

1. Betty told the other club members,  Yesterday when I went to pick up my daughter from dance class, she said to me, Mom, I was able to stand on my toes for a whole minute!

2. I never liked the play Oklahoma  therefore, I never bought the soundtrack.

3. The term blitz has a different meaning today than it did in the 1940's.

4. The hypnotist gave Mrs. Murray a list of instructions  find a quiet room away from distractions close the curtains or blinds  put the lamp on its lowest setting   sit back in a soft, comfortable chair.

5. The policeman shouted, Get out of my way!  as he chased the thief down the sidewalk.

6. I knew the game was nearly over  the crowd began edging toward the parking lot.

7. I had not planned to work long at that job  besides, the pay was lousy.

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