What do you call a full stop with a tail? → A COMMA
What do you call a full stop sitting on a comma? → A SEMI-COLON
What do you call a full stop sitting on top of a full stop? → A COLON
Three punctuation marks that cause confusion among natives and language learners alike! Let’s take a look …
The comma may seem straightforward. We put it in between words in a list:
- Last night I ate chicken, potatoes, peas and broccoli for my dinner.
- The monster was big, scary and hairy!
The functionality of the comma doesn’t stop there though – it’s far more versatile than that! Here are a few examples of comma use:
- I met Mike on the corner, we walked to work together, and then he went into his meeting.
Non-defining Relative Clauses
- He was talking to the lady, who comes from Russia, when he heard the first clap of thunder.
- You were born in Manchester, weren’t you?
The colon is what you need when a list needs an introduction:
- I used to collect all sorts of things when I was young: key-rings, stamps, pennies and buttons.
Adding in ‘such as’ or ‘like’ would also work here, but a colon also does the trick.
The semi-colon is sometimes used when a full-stop seems too final, but a comma just isn’t right. It can also avoid having to use a conjunction (such as ‘because’):
- I love New York; it’s full of variety!
It’s also useful in lists that get a little complicated. Lists aren’t always made up of individual words – each item can have multiple words and even contain commas themselves:
- The meeting was full of local business owners: John, the baker; Tiffany, the butcher; Samuel, the florist; and Jeffrey, the policeman.
Do you want to know a secret? A huge proportion of native speakers would not be able to explain the use of commas, colons and semi-colons to you, let alone use them. While you can’t get by without using commas, you could happily write at length without using a colon or semi-colon. Why settle for this though when you could develop writing skills that impress!