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Which of the following punctuations is more appropriate?

Strict liability serves to uphold the rights of individuals: in this case, the rights of the neighbor to the security of his property.

or

Strict liability serves to uphold the rights of individuals; in this case, the rights of the neighbor to the security of his property.

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    The sentence is such that both can be used. A colon binds the clauses, a semi-colon keeps them apart, relatively speaking.
    – Kris
    Jul 24, 2014 at 5:29
  • Thank you! Feel free to post an answer if you want credit. Also, why did this question get voted down? Not interesting enough? Too homework-y?
    – rosstex
    Jul 24, 2014 at 5:46
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    @rosstex, I believe this is a good question, whether "homework-y" or not! Some people are perched so high up a pedestal that they may consider some questions beneath them. They are in a minoroty, and we can safely ignore them! I myself reserve down-voting only for answers that are completely-misleading or rude (and have never used it even once so far). You have done your homework (no pun intended!) and you have asked a question that's short, crisp, and clear. I just up-voted your question and Kris's comment.
    – user82373
    Jul 24, 2014 at 7:38
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    @Romulus I did not downvote this question and see nothing really wrong with it (though it might have specified some prior research); but the way you describe using up- and downvotes is not the way the system is intended to be used. Downvoting should not be seen as a rude, malicious gesture to be done only in really egregious cases. A downvote simply means that you find a question or answer unsatisfying and think it ought to be improved upon. Of course, adding a comment to explain why is always good manners, giving the poster the opportunity to improve their post. Jul 24, 2014 at 9:00

1 Answer 1

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A colon usually implies one of two things:

  1. What follows the colon is a list or enumeration of things (as with the colon preceding this list)
  2. What follows the colon is some kind of explanation or expounding on the sentence that comes before it

In your sentence, neither is really the case. “In this case, the rights of the neighbor to the security of his property” is very obviously not a list, but it’s not really an explanation or a more detailed expounding on the first sentence.

The semicolon has a wide variety of quite complex uses; but the most common one is when you need something a bit stronger than a comma, but not quite as separative as a full stop. In your sentence, a semicolon is arguably appropriate.

To me, however, the fragment at the end of your sentence is more like an added afterthought to the main clause—a sort of side remark narrows down the meaning of “rights of individuals”. As such, I’d say the most appropriate punctuation mark would be exactly what I have used for a similar side remark in this paragraph: a dash.

Strict liability serves to uphold the rights of individuals—in this case, the rights of the neighbor to the security of his property.

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  • The colon can equally be used to 'introduce' (though what goes before is usually at least as important) an enlargement, a further comment on the subject mentioned in the first part of the sentence. This works here, though I'd feel more comfortable with a dash too. Jul 24, 2014 at 10:53
  • @Edwin I’m sure in some cases it can; in this case, though, a colon to me would imply that it’s the entirety of the first sentence that would be enlargened by a colon, rather than just the subject of individual rights. Jul 24, 2014 at 10:55
  • "In your sentence, neither is really the case" In fact, it's both. (A 'list' can be a one-item-list or even a null-list.) See my comment at OP.
    – Kris
    Jul 25, 2014 at 4:48

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