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Law School Writing Center

Punctuation

When may I use a semicolon?

A semicolon can be used only to connect two full sentences (two complete ideas).

A semicolon may not be preceded or followed by a sentence fragment.

Needs Improvement:

The weather report predicted five days of heavy rain; a warm, sunny day instead.

Improved:

The weather report predicted five days of heavy rain; however, the next day was warm

and sunny instead.

 

When should I use a colon?

A colon must be preceded by a full sentence (a complete idea). A colon may be followed

by a list, a fragment serving as an explanation of the idea expressed in the full sentence

preceding the colon, or another full sentence. A colon may not be preceded by the

phrases “for example,” “such as,” or something equivalent, as these phrases indicate

that a fragment precedes the colon.

Needs Improvement:

The very hungry caterpillar ate many different kinds of food on Saturday, such as:

chocolate cake, ice cream, pie, sausage, salami, cheese, candy, and watermelon.

Improved (two acceptable versions):

The very hungry caterpillar ate many different kinds of food on Saturday, such as

chocolate cake, ice cream, pie, sausage, salami, cheese, candy, and watermelon.

The very hungry caterpillar ate many different kinds of food on Saturday, such as the

following: chocolate cake, ice cream, pie, sausage, salami, cheese, candy, and

watermelon.

 

Where should I put an apostrophe?

Singular noun → apostrophe goes before “s” → The cat’s paws. The child’s books.

Regular plural noun → apostrophe goes after “s” → The cats’ paws.

Irregular plural noun → apostrophe goes before “s” → The children’s books.