These days, punctuation is something of an endangered species. The rise of electronic communications means that some punctuation marks are increasingly redundant. These days, many of us confine ourselves to the comma, the full stop, the quotation mark, the exclamation mark and the question mark. This may appear to make life simple when you’re writing.
There are times, however, when the comma just doesn’t cut it. Sometimes you want to convey a specific message with your sentence, and colons, semi colons and dashes can help you do that. Unfortunately, because they’re increasingly rare, some people don’t know how to use them, or even what they are. Yet they play a specific role within a sentence and give your sentence structure.
Here’s a guide to how to use the semi colon, colon and dash.
A semicolon joins two short sentences together. While the parts could stand alone, they work better together. For example, you could write Truth ennobles man. Learning adorns him. However, the effect would be a bit staccato and it’s hard to see how they relate to each other. If you join them together with a semicolon (truth ennobles man; learning adorns him), you create a stronger sentence that flows more easily.
Colons are used to introduce a list, such as For their picnic, they bought: cheese, bread, ham, tomatoes, bread and drinks. A colon is also used to introduce an important point you’re about to make, such as My advice is: always do the unexpected. In this example, the colon replaces the joining word as follows, and it can also be used to replace words like for instance and because, so it streamlines your sentences.
When we’re talking, a thought will often pop up mid sentence. We interrupt ourselves with that thought and then return to our main thought. If you want to convey that sort of interruption in writing, you use a dash. The party lasted – we knew it would – far longer than planned. To be specific, the type of dash you use is an em dash ( – ) not to be confused with an en-dash (–), which is used for ranges of numbers (0-9).
In what other ways do you use these punctuation marks? What other punctuation marks confuse you?