When doing something repeatedly, it’s easy to fall into patterns. This can be true in many ways, but it can be especially frustrating when it relates to sentence structure.
Repetitive sentence structure can bore your readers, and as a content marketer, you probably want them to pay attention.
How to use semicolons and colons to vary your sentence structure
One of our personal favorite ways to vary sentence structure is with punctuation. We’re all familiar with commas and periods, but there are two marks we find particularly helpful in changing up writing: semicolons and colons.
Some people find semicolons confusing or unnecessary, and they end up using them incorrectly or not using them at all. Semicolons are most commonly used to separate two independent clauses while still showing that they are related. An independent clause (a clause with a subject and a verb) can stand by itself as a sentence. However, sometimes we want to show our readers that two independent clauses are related.
Two independent clauses can be joined by a semicolon, a mark that is “stronger than a comma but not quite as divisive as a period.” When using a semicolon, you do not need a coordinating conjunction.
I searched the store for hours; I didn’t find the book I wanted.
Instead of breaking the clauses into two separate thoughts as a period would, the semicolon shows a relationship between these two clauses.
Though semicolon constructions don’t use coordinating conjunctions, they can use conjunctive adverbs such as however, therefore, nevertheless, and likewise. This only applies if the conjunctive adverb joins two independent clauses.
I really didn’t think I would find a job; nevertheless, after months of applying, I got an offer.
Semicolons can also be used to separate items in a list, especially when items use punctuation or several words.
I packed my favorite outfits: a green sweater and black pants; a big, fluffy blue sweater and jeans; and a sparkly gold dress.
Without semicolons, it would be difficult to distinguish these lengthy items, especially when other punctuation gets involved.
Like semicolons, colons join two pieces of a sentence together; however, the two marks have few similarities in usage. The colon’s job is simply to introduce the information that follows it, often emphasizing it at the same time. It breaks up the flow of a sentence, telling the reader to pay attention to what follows.
They had six pets in the house: two dogs, three cats, and a turtle.
Like a semicolon, a colon can join two independent clauses. The use of a colon instead of a semicolon suggests that the second clause explains or elaborates on the first.
I bought a new blanket today: it is very soft.
So, next time you’re in that writing rut, try using a semicolon or a colon to change up your sentence structure and keep your readers engaged with high-quality content.
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