Business English Quick Tips: commas, semi-colons and colons

Business English Quick Tips

Quick tips to help you write better for business

If you need to write for your job or business in English, these quick tips will help you succeed…

I will probably get my wrist slapped by the grammar police for saying this, but essentially commas, semi-colons and colons are punctuation pauses with power varying from mild, moderate, to serious.


Commas have a lot of uses: here are the main ones…

To separate all items in a list expressed as a sentence apart from the last one, e.g. “We need to buy paper for the printer, print cartridges, pens, lined pads and erasers”

To separate adjectives or adverbs, e.g. “I need a new, improved, and preferably quicker version of that software”

To set out numbers beyond 999 … e.g. “ 1,000 … 3,000,000” etc.

To set out addresses, dates, etc., although this is becoming outdated currently in favor of writing them out without punctuation … e.g. “6 Mount Pleasant, Husborne Crawley, Bedfordshire” or “January 19th, 1964”

To indicate direct speech, e.g. “he said, ‘you need to take the inventory into consideration before assessing your bottom line’”

To join up two clauses, e.g. “I don’t see why the purchasing department should be so opposed to the Board’s views, but we need to get their views on it”

To work instead of parenthesis / brackets, e.g. “George Johnston, our CEO, is a keen golfer”

(Plus a few!)


Like I said above, semi-colons are the next heaviest indications of a pause in punctuation. What these do is to show the link between what, in effect, is two sentences in one … although they are very closely connected.

When you use a semi-colon, it has to be because you are seeking to link two related but standalone mini-sentences … e.g. “Sam works in the HR department; however his wife Sonya is an admin assistant in Purchasing.”

Essentially the semi-colon is the link you use when your thoughts are closely connected and you don’t want or need to make them into two separate sentences.

Semi-colons are also useful if you want to create a relatively complex list without resorting to bullet points … e.g. “Apart from our Head Office in London, we have offices in Washington DC; in San Francisco; in Toronto, Canada; in Johannesburg, South Africa; and in Lagos, Nigeria.”


Colons should be networking queens: their job is to introduce some further thoughts (as you saw here!) They are also useful even when there is only one thought, because they create a sense of dramatic suspense. For example…

There are four key issues to address in our upcoming budget allocation: available funds, priority short term considerations, medium-term considerations and a contingency fund.

At our next management meeting there is one issue we need to debate before we contemplate any others: financing of research and development.

For a really useful 200-page guide to business writing in English, check out “Business Writing Made Easy” – you’ll find it very, very helpful! Click here

And for something a bit different, try the exercises associated with this article in my “30 Day Business Writing Challenge” – Click here

More in a few days … and if you have any questions about business writing in English please add them here in the comments section; I will try to answer them as well as I can!





  1. Good tips for the beginner.


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