I'm wondering whether to use a colon, semicolon or comma in the following sentence.

I've come to a tough conclusion: The second book is better than the first.

Is that correct? Or would a semicolon or comma work better?

  • Yours is a context where you could validly use a colon, but I think most competent writers today wouldn't. The long-term trend is not only to reduce all punctuation, but also to avoid the more "exotic" forms (colon and semicolon) where possible. You best option here is simply to use a full stop (in which case your capitalisation error would be a non-issue). – FumbleFingers Jul 21 '18 at 13:26
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    I agree with @Fumble – to a point. Yes, I think most writers would avoid overuse of the colon in an example like yours. However, if this conclusion were the pivotal point of a long text, they might decide to use it then. It's not just whether or not some "exotic" punctuation can be used, it's more about the art of wielding it effectively. – J.R. Jul 21 '18 at 13:35

The colon is correctly used (it is placed where the word 'namely' could be used instead), and positioned (it follows words that could stand alone as a complete sentence, and precedes something directly related). The first word after a colon is never capitalised if it does not start what would be a complete sentence, and many style guides advise against capitalising it even if it does, unless the first word is a proper noun or something else that is always capitalised. If you are writing for publication or as an academic submission, it is best to conform to whatever style guide is applicable. Otherwise, feel free to choose, remembering to be consistent.


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    The second book is better than the first is a complete sentence. It's not a mistake in English to capitalize the first word there anyway, but some style guides (literally, it's just arbitrary styles some people are trying to enforce) recommend against it. So unless you're required to adhere strictly to a particular style guide which prohibits this, feel free to capitalize the first word after the colon. See what CMOS says, for example. – user3395 Jul 21 '18 at 15:36
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    I often capitalize after a colon because I like the way it looks. It's personal style. However, I agree that if writing for a specific purpose, you should conform to the relevant style guide. – Andrew Jul 21 '18 at 16:08
  • The other exception that CMOS makes is if what comes after the colon is a question. If it's a question, then the first letter of the word after the colon is capitalized. – Jason Bassford Jul 24 '18 at 1:43

Two sentences can be placed one after another using a semi-colon. That is one of the main reasons to use one. The semi-colon is used in place of a conjunction.

1) I've come to a tough conclusion and the second book is better than the first.

That would be a compound sentence. It's fine. It is one option if you want both sentences to have equal weight.

2) I've come to a tough conclusion; the second book is better than the first.

That's fine. Both have equal weight and is another way to express it.

3) A colon shows that what comes after it is the conclusion that can be derived from the first statement.

I've come to a tough conclusion: the second book is better than the first.

What comes after the colon expresses the conclusion you've come to, and is your main point.

I would not use a comma as there are two complete sentences to deal with and a comma is not usually used for dealing with that given the ideas in them.

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