Punctuations are not as easy as they seem; even experts falter while applying punctuations like a colon (:), semicolon (;), or dash (—). If you follow the rules, the process can be straightforward, especially in academic writing. However, if you make mistakes like putting a comma between two distinct clauses, it will confuse and frustrate the reader.
Use a semicolon in a sentence when you want to keep two distinct yet closely related ideas in a single sentence. You can also use semicolons for lining up complex ideas or phrases that have commas within them. You may call a semicolon to be a more meaningful comma or a less rigid colon. For example:
If you want to use two or more ideas of equal rank in a sentence:
The universe has pointed out to human beings: there cannot be an added frontier than the universe
If you want to join two separate clauses conjoined by adverbs or transitional phrases:
Sam thought Tom was inviting him to go out for a movie; as it turned out, Tom was taking him to a surprise birthday party
If you want to display items in a list or a chain with commas within the articles or if the articles are relatively long:
Our family members are here all the way from Boston, USA; Shanghai, China; and even Paris, France
If you want to join independent clauses that are already connected by coordinating conjunctions
My primary research paper goal is to segregate the causes of the disease and add to my knowledge to the existing literature, as this lessens the starvation across the continent, develop new epidemiology designs, and change the pattern of my research field.
Use a colon in a sentence when you want to inform your readers that “this is what I exactly mean.” It is not appreciated to use a colon often in a text unless you use an extensive list. The rule setters are very strict with the way of using colon, but it is pretty easy to remember:
If you want to introduce an article or a series of articles:
Humans are born with five major senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch.
If you want to isolate independent clauses when the second clause explains the first one:
Margaret’s worst fear came true: her daughter was being sent to the war
→Note: the sentence after the colon explains Margaret’s worst fear in the shape of an independent clause.
If you want to follow the pattern of salutation in a business letter:
To the Western Valley Committee Chairman:
Unless the first word after a colon is a proper noun, a part of a quote, or first in a chain of sentences, avoid capitalizing the first word after a colon. Here is an example of the incorrect and correct format.
Incorrect: I have three desires: To eat, cook and click
Correct: I have three desires: to eat, cook and click
When you have multiple sentences in a quotation, introduce each one with a colon instead of a comma:
In Chapter 4, the author clarifies his theory: “Cats have dreams, but their dreams are different from humans. A cat’s dream characterizes a primal desire for pleasure, whereas a human is immersed in ego and self-image. This characteristic is equally true in wakefulness and sleep.
Incorrect: Zara and her friends loved spending time in the forests: wildlife held a special meaning to them
Correct: Zara and her friends loved spending time in the forests; wildlife held a special meaning to them
→Note: Try to use a period if the clauses in the sentence are distinct. Use a semicolon when the second clause or sentence is marginally related but illustrates the first clause. Colon vs. Semicolon
Use a colon in lists but not in every list. Put it in a list when the list is a complete independent clause:
I have many types of art supplies stored in my basement: acrylic paints, fabric paints, watercolors, pencil colors, and seven types of paper.
When Paula went to purchase art supplies, she bought colored pencils, a new sketchpad, and some charcoal.
The university mandates to watch the lectures, pass both quizzes, and write a final essay to complete the course.
When I traveled through Europe last summer, I stopped at London, UK; Venice, Rome, Normandy, France; and Paris, France.When to Use a Dash (or Dashes)
The dash, or more literarily “em dash,” is the most versatile punctuation mark. However, just like a semicolon, you may underutilize it in most of your writing. You can make a dash function like a comma, parentheses, or colon, but try to be subtle in using them in each separate case.
Use dashes in pairs to substitute commas in place of parentheses or interruptive phrases. Dashes add a slightly more definition to make the reader. It will make your reader focus more on the information kept inside the unique mark.
The parenthetical phrase when used with commas:
And so, with the birth of the baby in June, nearly two months early from the due date, the parents were delighted though quite nervous, and they still had to purchase supplies for their baby.
Parenthetical phrase with dashes:
And so, with the birth of the baby in June-nearly two months early from the due date-the parents were elated though quite nervous, and they still had to purchase supplies for their baby.
→Note: The dashes shed light on the premature birth of the baby, displaying its importance in the sentence
Thus, the discussion above highlights the correct use of semicolons, colons, and dashes.