A semicolon is not a colon

Here's a mistake I've seen several times lately; using a semicolon instead of a colon in a sentence like this.

Colons can introduce information, sort of like a drumroll.

I saw what you were doing: nothing at all.

Semicolons separate complete clauses — units that could stand alone as sentences.

Joe has many fine qualities; courage isn't one of them.

You could just as easily break those two clauses into separate sentences.

Joe has many fine qualities. Courage isn't one of them. (In fact, I'd recommend this method.)

In the first sentence of this blog post, the semicolon doesn't separate complete clauses. Using a semicolon instead of a colon in a sentence like this can't stand alone as a complete sentence because there's not verb for the subject using.

Semicolons and colons have other jobs. For example, semicolons can be used as separators for items that already have commas, like We drove through Bakersfield, California; Eugene, Oregon; and Spokane, Washington. But in most cases, semicolons indicate a sentence is longer and more cumbersome than it needs to be. If you can avoid using them, do.

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