What this handout is about

This handout defines the most usual uses of 3 kinds that pderekwadsworth.comtuation: semicolons (;), colons (:), and also dashes (—). After analysis the handout, you will certainly be much better able come decide when to usage these develops of pderekwadsworth.comtuation in your very own writing.

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The semicolon looks choose a comma with a duration above it, and this have the right to be a an excellent way to remember what it does. A semicolon creates an ext separation between thoughts 보다 a comma does yet less than a duration does. Right here are the two most common uses that the semicolon:

1. To help separate item in a list, once some that those items currently contain commas.

Let’s look at an example, together that is the easiest way to understand this usage of the semicolon. Intend I want to list 3 items that i bought in ~ the grocery store:


In a sentence, ns would different these items with commas:

I to buy apples, grapes, and pears.

Now intend that the 3 items I desire to list are explained in paragraph that already contain part commas:

shiny, ripe applessmall, sweet, juicy grapesfirm pears

If I use commas to separate these items, my sentence looks like this:

I to buy shiny, ripe apples, small, sweet, juicy grapes, and also firm pears.

That middle part is a little bit confusing—it doesn’t provide the reader numerous visual cues around how numerous items space in the list, or about which words have to be group together. Right here is where the semicolon can help. The commas in between items can be “bumped up” a notch and also turned into semicolons, so the readers can quickly tell how countless items room in the list and also which words walk together:

I bought shiny, ripe apples; small, sweet, juicy grapes; and also firm pears.

2. To join two sentences.

An independent clause is a team of indigenous that have the right to stand on its own (independently)—it is a complete sentence. Semicolons deserve to be used in between two elevation clauses. The semicolon keeps the clauses rather separate, prefer a duration would do, so we can easily tell which concepts belong come which clause. Yet it additionally suggests that there may be a near relationship between the two clauses—closer than you would intend if there were a duration between them. Let’s look at a few examples. Here are a couple of fine independent clauses, stand on their very own as finish sentences:

I checked out the grocery keep today. Ns bought a ton that fruit. Apples, grapes, and also pears were on sale.

Now—where can semicolons fit in here? They can be used to sign up with two (but not all three) that the independent rule together. So either of this pairs that sentences would be okay:

I visited the grocery save today; ns bought a ton of fruit. Apples, grapes, and pears were all on sale.


I saw the grocery save today. I bought a ton the fruit; apples, grapes, and pears were all on sale.

I could NOT perform this:

I visited the grocery save today; i bought a ton of fruit; apples, grapes, and pears were all on sale.

But why would certainly I want to usage a semicolon here, anyway? One reason can have to do with style: the three short sentences sound kind of choppy or abrupt. A stronger reason might be if I wanted to emphasize a relationship between two of the sentences. If I affix “I to buy a ton that fruit” and also “Apples, grapes, and also pears were all on sale” more closely, readers might realize that the reason why ns bought so much fruit is the there to be a great sale on it.


Colons follow independent clauses (clauses that might stand alone together sentences) and also can be provided to existing an explanation, draw attention come something, or join concepts together.

Common supplies of colons

1. Come annoderekwadsworth.come, introduce, or straight attention come a list, a noun or noun phrase, a quotation, or an example/explanation. You have the right to use a colon to attract attention to many things in your writing. The categories noted below often overlap, therefore don’t issue too much around whether your intended use of the colon fits one category perfectly.

Lists/series example:

We covered numerous of the fundamentals in our writing class: grammar, pderekwadsworth.comtuation, style, and also voice.

Noun/noun phrase example:

My roommate gave me the points I required most: companionship and also quiet.

Quotation example:

Shakespeare claimed it best: “To thine own self it is in true.”

Example/explanation example: countless graduate students uncover that over there is a dark next to academia: late nights, high stress, and also a crippling seeks to caffeinated beverages.

2. To sign up with sentences. You deserve to use a colon to affix two sentences as soon as the second sentence summarizes, sharpens, or explains the first. Both sentences should be complete, and also their content need to be really closely related. Note that if you usage colons this method too often, it have the right to break increase the flow of her writing. For this reason don’t get brought away v your colons!

Example: Life is favor a puzzle: fifty percent the funny is in trying to job-related it out.

3. Come express time, in titles, and also as component of various other writing conventions. Colons show up in number of standard or conventional areas in writing. Right here are a couple of examples:

With numbers. Colons are provided to different units that time (4:45:00 expresses 4 hours, forty-five minutes, and also zero seconds); ratios (2:1), and also Bible verses and chapters (Matthew 2:24).In bibliography entries. Plenty of citation formats use a colon come separate details in bibliography entries.

Example: Kurlansky, M. (2002). Salt: A civilization history. New York, NY: Walker and also Co.

With subtitles. Colons are used to separate titles from subtitles.

Example: Everest: The last Frontier

After the salutation in a formal business letter. A colon can be used instantly after the greeting in a official letter (less-formal letters often tend to usage a comma in this location).

Example: To whom it might Concern: Please accept my applications for the position advertised in the News and also Observer.

Common colon mistakes

1. Using a colon between a verb and also its object or complement

Example (incorrect):The very best peaches are: those that space grown in the good state that Georgia.

To exactly this, just remove the colon.

2. Making use of a colon between a preposition and its object

Example (incorrect): My favourite cake is made of: carrots, flour, butter, eggs, and also cream cheese icing.

To exactly this, just remove the colon.

3. Utilizing a colon after ~ “such as,” “including,” “especially,” and similar phrases. This violates the rule that the material preceding the colon have to be a complete thought. Look, for example, at the following sentence:

Example (incorrect): over there are numerous different types of paper, including: university ruled, vast ruled, and plain copy paper.

You can see the “There are plenty of different varieties of paper, including” is no a complete sentence. The colon should just be removed.

How to check for mistakes

Ask you yourself a question: does the product preceding the colon stand on its own? One means to phone call if the colon has actually been properly offered is to look just at the words that come in former of the colon. Carry out they make a finish thought? If not, you may be making use of the colon improperly. Check over to watch if you have made one of the most usual mistakes.

Should girlfriend capitalize the an initial letter after ~ a colon?

Different citation layouts (such as MLA, APA, Chicago, and also AMA) have slightly different rules regarding whether come capitalize the an initial letter ~ a colon. If it is vital that girlfriend follow one of these styles precisely, be sure to use the proper manual come look up the rule.

Here’s our suggestion: generally, the very first word complying with the colon should be lower-cased if the words after the colon type a dependent i (that is, if they might not stand on their own as a complete sentence). If the following phrase is a complete (independent) clause, you may pick to capitalize it or not. Whichever method you choose, be certain to be regular throughout your paper.

Example through an elevation clause, reflecting two different approaches to capitalization:The commercials had actually one message: The geeks candlestick inherit the earth. (correct)The commercials had actually one message: the geeks chandelier inherit the earth. (correct)

Example with a dependent clause (which is not capitalized):There room three perfect time to smile: once I’m v friends, when I’m alone, and when I’m with my dog. (correct)


The an initial thing to recognize when talking about dashes is the they are almost never forced by the laws of grammar and also pderekwadsworth.comtuation. Overusing dashes have the right to break increase the circulation of your writing, making it choppy or even difficult to follow, for this reason don’t overdo it.

It’s additionally important to distinguish in between dashes and hyphens. Hyphens are much shorter lines (-); they are most frequently used to show connections between words that space working together a unit (for example, you can see adjectives choose “well-intentioned”) or to spell particular words (like “e-mail”).

With the background info in mind, let’s take it a look at some means to put dashes to job-related in your writing.

1. To set off material for emphasis. Think that dashes as the the opposite of parentheses. Wherein parentheses show that the reader should put less focus on the enclosed material, dashes indicate that the reader have to pay more attention to the material in between the dashes. Dashes add drama—parentheses whisper. Dashes can be supplied for focus in number of ways:A solitary dash have the right to emphasize material at the start or finish of a sentence.

Example: after eighty year of dreaming, the elderly guy realized it to be time to ultimately revisit the land of his youth—Ireland.

Example: “The Office”—a unauthorized television program or a dangerously subversive guide to delinquency in the workplace?

Two dashes can emphasize material in the center of a sentence. Part style and also grammar guides even permit girlfriend to create a complete sentence within the dashes.

Example: every little thing I witnessed in my new neighborhood—from the graceful elm tree to the stately brick buildings—reminded me of mine alma mater.

Example (complete sentence): The students—they to be each end the age of eighteen—lined increase in the roads to vote for the presidential candidates.

Two dashes can emphasize a modifier. Indigenous or phrases that explain a noun have the right to be collection off through dashes if you wish to emphasize them.

Example: The fairgrounds—cold and also wet in the October rain—were deserted.

Example: Nettie—her chin organized high—walked out into the storm.

2. To suggest sentence introductions or conclusions. You can sometimes use a dash to aid readers check out that certain words are meant together an introduction or conclusion to your sentence.

Example: Books, paper, pencils—many student lacked also the simplest tools for learning in nineteenth-century America.

Example: To improve their health, Americans should critically research the foods that they eat—fast food, fat fried foods, junk food, and also sugary snacks.

3. To note “bonus phrases.” unit volume that include information or clarify yet are not essential to the meaning of a sentence room ordinarily collection off v commas. But when the phrase itself already contains one or much more commas, dashes can assist readers know the sentence.

Slightly confusing example with commas: even the simplest tasks, washing, dressing, and going come work, were almost impossible after ~ I broke my leg.

Better instance with dashes: even the simplest tasks—washing, dressing, and going come work—were almost impossible after ~ I damaged my leg.

4. To rest up dialogue. In created dialogue, if a speaker suddenly or abruptly stop speaking, hesitates in speech, or is reduced off by another speaker, a dash deserve to indicate the pause or interruption.

Example: “I—I don’t understand what you’re talk about,” refuse the politician.

Example: Mimi began to describe herself, saying, “I to be thinking—” “I don’t treatment what you were thinking,” Rodolpho interrupted.

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We hope the this handout has actually helped you far better understand colons, semicolons, and dashes! For more information around pderekwadsworth.comtuation, be sure to check out our handout top top commas.

This occupational is license is granted under a creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 License.You may reproduce it because that non-commercial use if you usage the whole handout and attribute the source: The composing Center, college of phibìc Carolina in ~ Chapel Hill