Colons and semicolons are some of the most frequently confused punctuation marks in English grammar and so they also give rise to some of the funniest grammar mistakes we have spotted. Many people find it confusing enough to be able to use each of these forms of punctuation individually, let alone working out which is which! “What is the difference between a colon and a semicolon?” is one of the most commonly asked questions in English grammar.
So follow our quick and easy guide and avoid making the same grammatical blunders as some of these poor people with their funny grammar mistakes!
As this cartoonist has realised, the semicolon has attracted a rather unfair reputation for being a stuffy or old-fashioned form of punctuation that is being made redundant in today’s fast-paced, fluid society. In fact this couldn’t be further from the truth, as the semicolon actually speeds up writing and makes it flow better by connecting clauses in a single sentence, saving the writer from having to write two longer and ‘clunkier’ separate sentences!
The semicolon is simply used to link two separate but related clauses.
Eg. “I told my mother I didn’t eat the cake; I wonder if she believed me?”
The other use of a semicolon is when you are listing items and one or more of them has its own internal punctuation.
Eg. “I bought three items at the supermarket: cheese, for the fondue; meat, for the lasagne; and milk, for my kitten”.
So unfortunately this haplesscompany has made a rather embarrassing funny grammar mistake in their own advert, by using a semicolon for a list that consists only of single word items!! Oh dear, they won’t be getting very many proofreading jobs if they can’t get their own grammar right!
Colons on the other hand are used to link two clauses even more strongly. The clause that follows after a colon explains, provides details of or even proves the clause that has gone before.
Eg. “He must have eaten the cake: he had chocolate all around his mouth.”
Or “I have three major interests: reading, writing and theatre.”
As this grammar professor realised, the ability of colons to link two clauses so strongly and ideologically together is a powerful grammatical tool, and can be used to completely change the sense of a sentence, so it is very important to make sure you use your colons in the right context.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the men and women in his class choose to take rather different grammatical approaches to this particular sentence!