In Russian, I can put a colon before a subordinate clause that clarifies something or gives a reason to what is said in the main clause. For example, I can write something like this,

There was a bit of a problem: John barely understood what she was trying to communicate due to her thick French accent.



Paul had a very satisfied look on his face: he got an A for his test.


We call those conjunction-less complex sentences. What do you do in English in such cases? What can I do in such cases? Can I likewise replace conjunctions (like 'because') with punctuation marks in English? (note, I want to construct a complex sentence, please don't suggest breaking it down to two sentences)

  • Yes, these example sentences are valid, at least in informal writing. – Anton Sherwood Nov 24 '19 at 2:52
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    Both your sentences are fine. But the colon should be used sparingly to keep its "effect". You should not replace all conjunctions like "because" with a colon. – AIQ Nov 24 '19 at 3:41

You can indeed use punctuation in place of a conjunction for sentences like the ones you have listed. That said, I agree with a caveat left by AIQ: if you overuse such punctuation, the marks will lose their effect.

Also, I think a dash might work better than a colon in your second example:

Paul had a very satisfied look on his face – he got an A for his test.

One website explains that dashes can be used to help readers identify words that are an introduction or conclusion to your sentence. Another says a dash can be used in place of a colon when you want to emphasize the conclusion of your sentence, and gives this example:

The white sand, the warm water, the sparkling sun – this is what brought them to Fiji.

I won't argue that a dash is correct but a colon is wrong – this is often a judgment call and writers have some leeway and freedom. But my opinion is that the dash would be a better choice for your second sentence.

  • That last sentence is a completely different story, it's not even a complex sentence. Those are homogeneous parts of the sentence with an umbrella word ('this', in your example), as it's called in Russian terminology – Sergey Zolotarev Nov 24 '19 at 14:53

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