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Rules for Using the Colon

The colon is principally used to offer an explanation or definition of a preceding statement.

The use of the colon is fairly simple to master: it is used to identify an explanation.

The Colon and the Dash

A colon can be used instead of a dash to make writing more formal.

  • The use of the colon is fairly simple to master – it is used to identify an explanation.
  • The use of the colon is fairly simple to master: it is used to identify an explanation.

Note: a colon is more formal. A dash should only be used in less formal writing or in specific cases where the dash is appropriate.

Examples of Using The Colon

  • The miners went on strike: they were fed up with low pay.
  • It was a lovely day: Sunny, warm and not a drop of wind in the sky
  • Aunty Brown’s Christmas pudding was a rather interesting recipe: hazelnuts, bananas and pears.
  • I’ve made up my mind: I’m going to read the entire works of William Shakespeare.

Using Semicolon for a Definition

  • Semicolon: a piece of punctuation used to join two related phrases.
  • English grammar: a system of rules to be followed in all cases, except where you can get away with variations.

Capitalisation of Letters after a colon.

In British English, the letter after a semicolon is usually not capitalised; however, in American English it often is. It is important to be consistent.


Rules for Using Semicolon

The semi colon is a relatively straightforward item of grammar, yet it can make quite a difference to your writing. If you can master the semicolon it will help your writing become more powerful, more professional and add greater variety for the reader.

1. Related Clauses

The semicolon enables related clauses to be combined into the same sentence.

  • Tom ran to catch the train; his alarm clock had failed to go off.

Note: this sentence could also have been written as:

  • Tom ran to catch the train. His alarm clock had failed to go off.
  • Tom ran to catch the train because his alarm clock had failed to go off.

Note the semi colon can only be used for phrases that are complete in their own right. For example.

  • With great trepidation, Tom gingerly arrived at work five minutes late.

The semicolon cannot be used because the first part of the sentence ‘with great trepidation’ is not a sentence in its own right; only a comma can be used here.

Why Use the Semicolon?

You can write using short sentences. Short sentences are grammatically correct. However, it can soon get tedious. If every sentence is short, writing becomes stilted. Using a semicolon enables related ideas to be joined together; this helps maintain a better flow for the reader. The semicolon is particularly effective if you use it with variety. At the start of the paragraph, you could use a few short sentences to set the scene; however, as you progress towards the end, using a few semicolons helps develop the key ideas with greater fluidity.

Another reason to use the semicolon is that it is more subtle, and allows the reader to draw his own conclusion.

Compare these two:

  • He voted for the Colonel Pickle, of the Monster Raving Looney Party because he didn’t really know anything about politics.
  • He voted for the Colonel Pickle, of the Monster Raving Looney Party; he didn’t really know anything about politics.

Simple Test.

Don’t forget, the simple test, is could the two phrases separated by a semicolon form two sentences in their own right?

Using The Semicolon In Lists

The semicolon can also be used in lists to aid greater clarity.

In our Crystal Maze team we have Bongo Smith, the finest mind of Hull; Terence Jones, the  snail painter from Croydon, UK; Mandy Bongo, Professor of Herbolgy, Hogwarts, and no relation to Bongo Smith.

There are many more rules for using the comma

Rules for using colon


Confusing Words Explained

Affect and Effect.

  • What is the effect of higher taxes? How do higher taxes affect yourself?

There, their, and they’re.

  • The place is over there. (refers to place)
  • Their journey was long and arduous. (refers to person)
  • They’re going to be happy the bus was on time. (short for They are)

You’re , Your

  • You’re not going to believe this. (short for you are)
  • Your wallet was stolen (wallet belonging to you)

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Rules for Using the Comma

When should you use a comma?

These simple rules may help.

Common Sense

To make it clear what you are referring to.

  • My beloved honey is over there.
  • My beloved, honey is over there.

And perhaps the most famous:

  • A Panda came into the bar. He eats shoots and leaves
  • A Panda came into the bar. He eats, shoots and leaves.

The second sentence could have involved a dead bear. The first sentence suggests the Panda eats shoots and leaves.


  • I would like to buy, books, chocolate, clothes, a new car and a Rolex watch.
  • There are several countries in the Euro, such as, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Germany.

In some academic publications there will be a comma before the last and.

  • There are several countries in the Euro, such as, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, and Germany.
  • This is known as the Oxford comma.

Sub Clauses.

  • With great reluctance, I decided to do my homework.
  • I am trying to learn the rules for using a comma, in order to improve my written English

Note: even without the sub clause there would still be a valid sentence

Before a Little Conjunction (and, but, yet, indeed, so) of two independent clauses.

  • I should have scored a century, but the bowling attack was very precise.

Non-Essential Clauses

  • My Economics teacher, who has a silly haircut, gave me far too much homework.


  • A comma should be used in giving full date.
  • Economics classes start on 7th September, 2010, in the Old Library.


  • Global warming is increasing temperatures around the world, yet England is getting colder.
  • She was very attractive, but vain.

Should you use a comma before and?

  • In a list it is not necessary. For example, the UK Eurovision song got nil points from France, Sweden and Portugal.

However, it can be helpful in complicated lists:

  • I buy food from Tesco, Morrisons, Marks and Spencers, and the Co-op. This helps show Marks and Spencer is just one item in the list.

A comma should be used for two distinct clauses.

  • He went to get the bus, and the weather was cloudy again.

When Not to Use the Comma.

Two Adjectives that would not make sense with and between

  • He only had a tiny cutting knife. (It wouldn’t make sense to say – He only had a tiny and cutting knife.)
  • My grandmother is a little old lady, but very fiery.

Comma Splice
This occurs when a comma is used for two independent phrases which would be better with fullstop or semi-colon.

  • He went to catch the bus, the weather was dull and grey.

This could be corrected by:

  • He went to catch the bus. The weather was dull and grey.
  • He went to catch the bus; the weather was dull and grey.
  • He went to catch the bus, and the weather was dull and grey.

Books on Using The Comma

Book Cover

Book Cover


When to Use the Comma

A full stop indicates a complete end to a sentence; a comma indicates a slight change in direction of the sentence. A comma can also be used to break up a sentence into different sub clauses.

When to Use a Comma

1. Linking main clauses.

Keynes was an economist. Keynes was intelligent. Keynes was born in England

Each of these 3 sentences is grammatically correct, however, it makes for stilted reading. We can combine these 3 clauses into one sentence.

  • Keynes was an intelligent economist, who was born in England.

2. After an introductory element of a sentence.

Monetarism is the study of Money supply. We could add an introductory sentence to this.

  • Popularised by Milton Friedman, Monetarism is the study of Money Supply.

These introductory phrases are often known as prepositional phrases; it literally means, “to go before”.

  • One more example: In many different countries, economists often fail to predict recessions.

3. Adding a subordinate clause at the end of a sentence.

A subordinate clause is a phrase that couldn’t make a sentence on it its own.

  • Economists are very bad at predicting the future, although occasionally they get it right.

The first phrase is a sentence on its own, the last phrase adds to the initial statement, and so is a subordinate clause.

4. Parenthetical Elements in a sentence.

These involve words like “however”, “in fact”, “of course”, and “for example”. These words help to link a sentence together; they need a comma before and after.

  • Economics is termed the dismal science, however, occasionally it can be fun to study Economics.

A common mistake, however, is to only include one comma after the “however,” and not before.

  • The latest inflation news was disappointing, in fact, the Bank of England was very concerned.

5. Appositive.

This is a term used to rename a noun.

  • John Maynard Keynes, Britain’s most famous economist, died in 1946.
  • Economics, the study of scarcity, is growing in popularity.

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3 Simple Punctuation Rules

Here are 3 common, but, easy mistakes to Avoid

Your – You’re

  • Your refers to a person’s attributes e.g.
  • You’re – short for You are


You should try to improve your grammar.

You’re never going to believe this, but, you placed the apostrophe in the wrong place – again!

The simple step is to make sure you’re able to say you are.

For example, it is wrong to say:

You should try to improve you’re (you are) grammar

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James Thurber – Guide to Modern English

From: James Thurber’s: Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Guide to Modern English Usage. – Hope this is of help… :)

“The indefinite “one” is another source of trouble and is frequently the cause of disagreeable scenes. Such a sentence as “One loves one’s friends” is considered by some persons to be stilted and over-formalized, and such persons insist that “One loves his friends” is permissible. It is not permissible, however, because “one” is indefinite and “his” is definite and the combination is rhetorically impossible. This is known as hendiadys and was a common thing in Latin. Rare examples of it still exist and are extremely valuable as antiques, although it is usually unsafe to sit or lie down on one.”

You can find more extended excerpts here: