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Colons v semi-colons - help, please!

(10 Posts)
bisybackson Wed 17-Nov-10 19:34:14

My DS (age 10) and I have been arguing about discussing when you use colons/semi-colons. So, he had in his story 'When he saw who it was, he was surprised. Sitting on the horse was a woman.' but he wanted to make it into a complex sentence.

He thought it needed a semi-colon, so making 'When he saw who it was, he was surprised; sitting on the horse was a woman.'

I thought it needed a colon so 'When he saw who it was, he was surprised: sitting on the horse was a woman.'

Please, someone, was he right or was I?

GrimmaTheNome Wed 17-Nov-10 19:37:58

I'd have said semicolon.

BrigitBigKnickers Wed 17-Nov-10 19:51:12

Colons are for lists that follow it. We teach semi colons as either a strong comma or a weak full stop.

I would say semi-colon in that sentence.

GrimmaTheNome Wed 17-Nov-10 19:53:44

Yes, so you might have something like:
"he was suprised to see: a horse, a woman and a goblin."

(and there's the other place for a colon which isn't exactly a list demo'd for free grin)

DamselInDisgrace Wed 17-Nov-10 20:05:17

You can use either in this situation. I'd choose to go for a semi-colon as the two sentences are closely related, but still independent. It's not wrong to use a colon though. If you use the colon, you're explicitly subordinating the explanation (the bit after the colon) from the situation described (before the colon). If you use a semi-colon you're giving them more equal weight, but showing that they are related. A full stop would also be correct.

I always find it a bit of a problem to explain a semi-colon as a 'strong comma', ad this leads to the (ab)use of semi-colons where the second clause does not constitute an independent clause (I see this a lot in essays). Commas and semi-colons are not interchangeable; semi-colons and full stops are. For this reason, I'd prefer to teach them as a 'weak full stop'.

Rhian82 Wed 17-Nov-10 20:11:49

I'd say either is correct, but I'd prefer a semi-colon.

bisybackson Wed 17-Nov-10 21:42:32

Thank you all so much. I know DS will be pleased to be right - but at least I can say I wasn't completely wrong!

Thing is, when I wrote my post, I realised I was not really correct as I wanted to write 'He wanted a semi-colon, thus: "When he saw . . . "' - but I needed you all to show me what what was what. It's not very clearcut though is it?

Grimma - in the context of his story a gnome certainly would have surprised him!

GrimmaTheNome Wed 17-Nov-10 23:53:24

grinthats what I thought!

tethersend Thu 18-Nov-10 00:04:27

Right; can anyone tell me whether or not a capital letter is required after a colon?

cattj Thu 18-Nov-10 00:29:37

It depends what the next word is, but generally not.

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