APA Fact of the Week: Colons & Semicolons

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Many writers are lost regarding the differences between using a colon and a semicolon, often using these punctuations incorrectly. The following details use of each punctuation according to APA 6 (pp. 89–90).


Use a semicolon

  • To separate two independent clauses that are not joined by a conjunction.
    • The participants in the first study were paid; those in the second were unpaid.
  • To separate elements in a study that already contains commas
    • The color order was red, yellow, blue; yellow, blue, red; or blue, red, yellow.
    • (Smith, 1999; Thomas, 1998).
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Use a colon

  • Between a grammatically complete introductory clause (one that could stand as a sentence) and a final phrase or clause that illustrates, extends, or amplifies the preceding thought. If the clause following the colon is a complete sentence, it begins with a capital letter.
    • For example, Freud (1930) wrote of two urges: an urge toward union with others and an egotistic urge toward happiness.
    • They have agreed on the outcome: Informed participants perform better than do uninformed participants.
  • In ratios and proportions
    • The proportion was 1:8
  • In references between place of publication and publisher
    • New York: Wiley.

Do NOT use a colon

  • After an introduction that is not an independent clause or complete sentence
    • The formula is y = mx + b
    • The instructions for the task were

Your group’s task is to rank the 15 items in terms of their importance for the crew’s survival.