Mastering the Semicolon, Colon, and Apostrophe


  1. Use a semicolon between closely related independent clauses not joined with a coordinating conjunction.
    1. They needed to account for White European males who did not fit their mold, such as the homeless and criminal; the social construction of the scientific theory of greater male variability provided a solution.
  1. Use a semicolon between independent clauses linked with a transitional expressions. The semicolon, transitional phrase (e.g., although, however, therefore, etc.), and comma are called a conjunctive adverb.
    1. Men could work toward improvement under the greater male variability thesis; whereas, women were stuck in an evolutionary, biological, permanent second place.
    2. Moreover, this training would have been more “appropriate” for a lady of the court; however, courtly behavior was not one of Prospero’s priorities.
  1. Use a semicolon between items in a series containing internal punctuation. This semicolon is called the super comma.
    1. Furthermore, Johnson hunted, fished, and gambled; spent time with this family; and helped his White friends (and they helped him), even though he could not vote or serve in any office and proto-segregation kept free Blacks and Whites separated during the 1840s.
    2. Nonetheless, Johnson’s success derives from his prized location; his ability to make money, receive loans, and provide loans (going to court if necessary to ensure payment); his continued improvements, such as the addition of paintings and furniture; his customer service skills; his ability to keep secrets; his never being closed, even on Christmas; and with his addition of new services, such as baths.


  1. Use a colon after an independent clause to direct attention to a list or quote. Note: the first letter in the first word following the colon is only capitalized if the information before and after the colon could stand as a complete sentence. 
    1. Four areas were explored here: the contexts in which Brown was conceived, the legal anatomy of Brown, the connection between Brown and the Civil Rights Revolution, and the overall legacy of Brown.
    2. For example, she starts a paragraph: “Charles Darwin will never be elevated to a niche in the pantheon of feminism.”
  1. Use a colon between independent clauses if the second summarizes or explains the first. Capitalize the word after the colon.
    1. In her A Room of One’s Own (1929), Virginia Woolf specifically thinks that any honest person is androgynous: Only a person with both male and female characteristics is truthful.
    2. Kenneth M. Stampp (1956) argues that slavery was anything but a paternalistic social institution: Control-based slavery was a profitable system of labor deliberately chosen and exploited.
  1. Use a colon between a title and subtitle
    1. Silencing Shakespeare’s Sisters: Science and Society
    2. Negotiating an Androgynous Remake: United States Film and History, 1945-1975
    3. Verisimilitudinous Film and Literature: An Examination of Gone with the Wind’s Influence, 1936-present 


  1. Possession. Note: possessive items ending in “s” need the   ‘s   to be correct. Also, “United States” is always a singular noun; thus, in the possessive it should be “United States’s.”
    1. This paternalistic or “plantation school” of slavery, most notably with Ulrich B. Phillips’s racist American Negro Slavery (1918), even dominated academic scholarship until approximately the 1960s. (Note: 1960s does not have an apostrophe.)
    2. For example, Robert Sklar’s cultural history of films only mentions Gone With the Wind in passing as having won many awards, and Ina Rae Harks’s study of cinema in the 1930s only reveals that producers adapted this film from a novel.
    3. For example, African-Americans’ activism in the 1960s compared to the 1940s or 1920s.
    4. Oppenheim says, “They never acknowledged, and probably never realized, what seems so obvious today: that layers of cultural presupposition enveloped every case of mental and nervous illness and interfered with the real comprehension of patients’ needs.” (Note: Periods and commas go inside the quotation marks).

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