Writing for Business

Sep 3 2009   2:47PM GMT

Colons vs. semicolons

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

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Which is correct?
The CEO cannot _____ he’s given so much slack that even his most dismal catastrophes are hailed as triumphs.
a. fail;
b. fail:

Answer: b.

Explanation: This is advanced punctuation, not for the faint of heart. The semicolon is not incorrect in that sentence but the colon is better. A semicolon would indicate that the two independent clauses were more closely connected than two separate sentences. The use of the colon indicates that the second independent clause explains the first part.

Here are some examples of colon and semicolon use taken from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

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