I've used this site to my benefit in the past, and now I have my own question. I have looked through some of the answers (although I admit not every one as I am short on time) and cannot find what I am looking for. Could someone help me regarding punctuation of my sentence?

I find an airplane's symbolic freedom appealing: whether it is soaring through the sky; industriously filling and disgorging passengers; or exultantly defying gravity on take-off, it remains independent and far-reaching in all of its manoeuvres.

Is this correct British English or do I need to change the colon to a comma? Also how is that last tacked on bit?

  • 2
    I find the semicolons more off-putting than the colon, but my style would be to replace the colon with a dash. (But I'm US and I don't always toe the party line.)
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 23, 2016 at 21:24
  • 2
    Just replace the semi-colons with commas. There is nothing in the structure of the phrases that follow the colon to warrant the use of semi-colons. "Toss the gun; keep the colon." (And the correct airline-speak would be, "industrially embarking and disembarking passengers." We fill the plane, not the passengers -- except in First Class, of course.) Jan 23, 2016 at 21:44
  • Thanks! That's how I originally wrote it, but I was worried. I wanted to keep that last sentence as part of the first sentence, with the list bits as a sort of parenthesis and wasn't sure how to do that. So it would read: Blooh: whether blah, blah or blah, bleeh. And that would essentially work?
    – Jill
    Jan 23, 2016 at 21:48
  • Yes, that would work. Jan 23, 2016 at 21:49
  • 2
    I agree with @MarkHubbard that you should replace the semi-colons with commas. Personally I would not use the colon either, but replace it with a full stop and start a new sentence. Or I might just possibly put a semi-colon in that particular place. But most importantly, to British eyes, there are two important spelling mistakes. To us it is aeroplane and manoeuvre.
    – WS2
    Jan 23, 2016 at 21:59

2 Answers 2


Your paragraph correctly punctuated:

I find an airplane's symbolic freedom appealing - whether it is soaring through the sky, industriously filling and disgorging passengers(,) or exultantly defying gravity on take-off, it remains independent and far-reaching in all of its manoeuvres.

In English, semi-colons are only used as a way to separate linked clauses that can't be, usually because the sentence is too long or because a connective is used instead, separated by a conjunction (Example: John is generally a nice guy; however, he can be a bit aggressive, sometimes) or as a means to "break up listings with successive subordinate clauses" . Since the elements "soaring", "filling" and "exultantly" are not clauses but listed elements, a semi-colon here would be inappropriate.

A colon is used before the description of an idea or statement that has been previously introduced to and that needs description but has not yet been described - e.g. "My life is very boring (introduction to the idea): every single day, I get up from my bed, go to school, eat and then go back to bed, and this simple cycle lasts as long as nearly eleven years" - or when the description itself has been introduced to, usually by referring to it as 'the following' or 'this', or other nouns - or sometimes even predicates, such as 'here' ("You can find more information here: blahblahblah.com) - such as 'example' (as you saw me use above) - e.g. "Remember the following: work hard and don't lose faith". Likewise, a colon is used before lists that have typographical supplements that are not joined by a conjunction (Such as bullet points or numbers) or lists that don't obey the main clause's noun casing (for example not embedded quotes) In your case, however, the idea is neither being described nor is a noun-case-disobeying list, but is rather being explained or elaborated on (as we can see by the use of a conjunctive - "whether"). For explanation, justification, elaboration, clarification or expansion, we use a hyphen (-).

Finally, if you feel really smart, you can put a comma (they call it a "serial comma") before "or": it is usually unnecessary, but most educational sites tend to use it.

EDIT: I just realised the 'whether' bit was actually a dependent clause and part of the description. Then, yeah, you can leave the colon as it is - it's fine.

  • You may roll back the edit, if you disliked what I changed in it. :)
    – NVZ
    Apr 28, 2016 at 20:24
  • By the way, what was it you changed? lol @NVZ
    – Max
    Apr 28, 2016 at 20:26
  • You may see my name next to yours at the bottom of the post. "edited x minutes ago". Click that to see the edit history.
    – NVZ
    Apr 28, 2016 at 20:28
  • Also, nice answer. +1. Welcome to EL&U. All the best to you, sir. :)
    – NVZ
    Apr 28, 2016 at 20:34

If I was editing this sentence, I would change all of the punctuation. The part before the colon is its own sentence, and the part after the colon is punctuated like an itemized list, but it is not an itemized list. Where the semi-colons are is an “or,” not an “and.” The final word is also spelled incorrectly.

I suggest this:

I find an airplane’s symbolic freedom appealing. Whether it is soaring through the sky, industriously filling and disgorging passengers, or exultantly defying gravity on take-off, it remains independent and far-reaching in all of its maneuvers.

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