The Big Bad Three of Punctuation

Easy rules will help you determine whether you need a comma, semicolon or colon.

 

Commas

Use the comma to separate independent clauses joined by a conjunction. The coordinating conjunctions are but, and, so, for, nor, yet and or. Place the comma before the conjunction.

I needed to talk to the boss, but she was in a meeting.

Use the comma to set off the nonrestrictive element in a sentence.

I gave the approval letter to Jean, the woman with the long hair, on the third floor.

Use the comma to set off conjunctive adverbs and adverbial phrases.

I went to the door to see him; he turned, however, and walked away.

The Toledo office, on the other hand, is doing great.

 

Semicolons     ;

Use the semicolon to separate related independent clauses that are not joined by a coordinating conjunction.

I invited the Douglas family; I left the Johnsons off the list.

Punctuation marksUse the semicolon to set off items in a list when one or more items in that list contain commas.

Francis brought bagels with raisins, walnuts and cranberries; six pints of coffee; four bags of cinnamon twists, complete with frosting; and a dozen doughnuts.

 

Colons     :

Use the colon to introduce information or to elaborate on an element in a sentence. Colons usually fall before a listing, before direct quotations in formal essays or after the salutation in formal correspondence.

There are several things we still need: Four reams of paper, six packs of strapping tape, three box cutters, eight balls of twine and two red markers.

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