If two clauses separated by a semicolon are then followed with a colon, does the colon apply to only the second clause, after which it appears, or does it apply to both clauses being considered as a single "unit"?

It would look like the following: clause 1; clause 2: clause 3.

So does the colon apply to only clause 2, or does it apply to clause 1 and clause 2 considered as a single "unit"?

  • The semicolon connects two independent clauses that are related to each other in some way; a semicolon is preferred over a period in such sentences because the latter signals an abrupt stop: you could thus use a period when you've got an unrelated statement to make.
    – user405662
    Jan 17, 2021 at 7:50
  • @user405662 But I don't think this addresses how the colon relates to the semicolons. Jan 17, 2021 at 7:52
  • The use of colon is this: it introduces a list, a quotation, or an example, among other things.
    – user405662
    Jan 17, 2021 at 7:55
  • 1
    @BrianDonovan user405662's comment pretty much answered my question. However, I will edit my post so that it specifies "clause" instead of "sentence", since I think that's actually the correct terminology. Jan 17, 2021 at 8:10
  • 2
    I should have tagged @user405662 to provide an example. Jan 17, 2021 at 17:02

1 Answer 1


I can't say I know in what sense you mean a colon applies to a preceding clause, so I'm not sure I can entirely answer your question. But I think there are some assumptions and terminological confusion in it that should be addressed. You probably know these things, but just to keep terminology straight:

  • Sentences are groups of words which work together to complete a thought and can therefore stand and on their own; sentences begin with a capitalized word and end with terminal punctuation: period, question mark, or exclamation point--not a colon or semicolon.

    Groups of words which are grammatical and semantic equivalents of sentences but are only part of a sentence are called independent clauses. They must be punctuated correctly, usually separated from each other with a semicolon or a comma and coordinating conjunction. The independent clauses in a sentence should work together to completely address a single topic. What comes after a colon should be even more closely related to the preceding clause; its structure can vary.

    Sentences and independent clauses are both statements.

Following your schematic example, substituting "statement" for "sentence," statement 1 and statement 2 are independent clauses separated by a semicolon; whatever comes after the colon specifically fulfills, exemplifies, or supplements a thought broached in statement 2 and can have various grammatical forms: a single word, a phrase, or an independent clause begun with a capitalized word.

  • Thanks for the answer. So it seems that you disagree with user405662's comment regarding it being dependent on context? You seem to be claiming that the colon applies only to statement 2. Jan 17, 2021 at 9:41
  • If you have in mind a specific sentence, it would help to see it. Jan 18, 2021 at 19:11
  • I don't see a way to answer your question in the abstract. Yes, there are rules, but in the end it comes down to what is readable and makes sense; the rules are derived from that. Jan 18, 2021 at 19:18

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