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Colon, Semicolon, Dashes and Hyphens

Aug 30, 2022
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Read the following sentences: 

  1. I teach in a school; Mary in a college. 
  2. We had lots of food this evening: pasta, steak, soup, etc. 
  3. Emily was extremely talented- the most brilliant of students I have ever met. 
  4. The movie we watched last night was filled high-flying action sequences. 

All the sentences written above have some type of punctuation marks in them.  

In sentences 1, two independent sentences are merged into one without using any conjunction like and, like, etc.  

How do we join two independent sentences like these without using any conjunctions? 

This is when punctuations come to the rescue. A punctuation called the semicolon is used to join two independent sentences without any conjunctions in a way that they appear as one single entity and also make sense to the reader. 

Similarly, in sentence 2, the food items that were mentioned in the first part of the sentence are elaborated in detail in the succeeding part of the sentence, and both these parts are separated by a punctuation mark.  

parallel

The punctuation mark that separates the two parts in each of the given sentences above is called a colon

In sentence 3, the main sentence is slightly interrupted so that it makes way for the phrase that follows the punctuation mark used. Here, the additional phrase serves to grab the attention of the reader to the subject Emily. The punctuation mark used in the sentence is called a dash

In sentence 4, the adjective that modifies the noun is kind of different from the ones we have actually taken a look at till now. Because, contrary to the usual norm, the adjective used here comprises of two words that function together to describe a single noun. But, the most important part that needs our attention here is the punctuation mark that divides both the adjectives in the sentences to make them appear as a single word. 

It is called a hyphen

Let us learn about all these punctuation marks in detail. 

parallel

Semicolon: 

To put it in a simple way, a semicolon is a period stacked on top of a comma (;). But that is only its appearance. The semicolon is most commonly used to join two independent clauses without the use of a conjunction such as and. Semicolons cannot be used in place of commas or periods. Instead, they’re somewhere in the middle: let’s say more powerful than a comma but not as divisive as a period. 

It is mandatory for the words preceding the semicolon to form a complete sentence. Likewise, the words following the semicolon should also form a complete sentence, so that the two sentences share a close, logical connection, like: 

  • We are playing football; Matt is playing for us. 
  • He is an excellent, talented musician; he will soon compose music for movies. 
  • Money cannot buy you happiness; it can help you lead a luxurious life. 

A semicolon is also used to separate a series of loosely related clauses, like: 

  • “Her court was pure; her life serene;” 
  • “God gave her peace; her life reposed.” 

Moreover, nevertheless, however, otherwise, therefore, then, finally, likewise, and consequently are called conjunctive adverbs. When the second sentence begins with either a conjunctive adverb or a conjunction, a semicolon should be used instead of a period, like: 

  • I am going out to take a walk; also, I need to get some bread. 
  • Frank prepared day in, day out for the match; nevertheless, he couldn’t score any goals. 

Colon: 

The punctuation mark that separates the two parts in each of the given sentences above is called a colon

Read the following sentence: 

  • I read all types of books: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, etc. 

This sentence can be rephrased without using the colon and it will read like, “I read all types of books like fiction, non-fiction, poetry, etc.” Here, the colon is not used, because it may interrupt the flow of the sentence, which it gained with the addition of the word like

Here’s the deal; consider a colon to be a flashing arrow pointing to the information that follows it. When a colon appears in a sentence, it usually implies, as follows, which is/are, or thus, like; 

  • This movie is a blend of different genres: fantasy, thriller, crime, etc. 
  • Most of my cousins live in other countries: England, Canada, and Germany. 
  • My father cooks good food: pasta, soups, cakes. 

The colons used in these sentences indicate that the reader is about to know about the various things that are collectively mentioned in the first part of each of the sentences. 

Just like a semicolon, a colon is also used to separate two independent clauses within a sentence. But here:  

  1. The second clause should not be in  any vague connection with the first one; it must be direct and closely connected to the first one in some sense.  
  2. Also, the main emphasis should be on the second clause, not on the first one. 

Examples: 

  • The decision is final: we are leaving this city. 
  • His academic performance is mediocre: there is still room for improvement. 
  • You only have one job to do this evening: introduce your friends to the chief guest. 

A colon is also used in sentences to introduce a quotation, like: 

  • My mother always told me: “Respect those you respect you.” 
  • Bacon said: “Reading makes a full man, writing an exact man, speaking a ready man.” 

Dash: 

A dash is a small horizontal line that appears in the center of a line of text. It is frequently used to denote an abrupt stop or a change of thought. If the sentence that precedes the interruption is to be continued, a pair of dashes should be used. 

Examples: 

  • Had we prepared well- but let’s focus on the present.
  • I met his parents- both of them- who are very disappointed with his exam results. 
  • Joshua drove the car faster- he wanted to reach the hospital as soon as possible. 

PS: Dashes are generally used in casual texts and are more common in fiction writing. They are not used very frequently in formal writing. 

Hyphen: 

Read the following sentence: 

  • David is a well-known singer. 

The adjectives used here comprise of two words that function together to describe a single noun. Two words that blend together to form an adjective is called a compound modifier. The punctuation mark that divides both the adjectives in the sentence to make them appear as a single word is called a hyphen.  

A hyphen (-) is a type of punctuation mark used to connect words or parts of words. As it is not interchangeable with other punctuations like dashes, it is very important to know when and where to use it so that, its usage doesn’t look weird. 

Compound modifiers: 

Two words that blend together to form an adjective is called a compound modifier. A hyphen should be used to join the two words that would end up working together as one single adjective. The hyphen indicates that the words thus formed act as a single unit of meaning, like: 

  • We have gathered some rock-solid evidence that will put him behind the bars. 
  • The next time you go to the store, try to get some eco-friendly detergent. 
  • Stop knocking through the load -bearing wall. 
  • Interstellar is a well-made movie. 

It is important to note that in each of these sentences, the hyphenated adjective comes before the noun that it describes. If the noun precedes the adjective, leave the hyphen out. 

Compound adjectives with numbers: 

If the compound adjective uses a number in its first part, use a hyphen to connect the words that precede the noun, like: 

  • The Principal gave a 10-minute to the parents who attended the meeting. 
  • Harry has done some  meticulous research for his seminar on eighteenth-century English literature. 
  • Sasha lives in a three-storey house. 

Hyphenated compound words: 

Like the name suggests, hyphenated compound words are the ones which use a hyphen between the words. Some commonly used hyphenated compound words are: 

  • Mother-in-law 
  • Editor-in-chief 
  • Ten-year-old 
  • Six-pack 
  • Master-at-arms 
  • Home-made 

Prefixes ex-, self-, and all- 

Use hyphens for words that have self-, ex-, and all- as prefixes like: 

  • Jennifer is Joseph’s ex-wife
  • John feels extremely self-satisfied after doing his bit at the charity. 
  • Our good friend Ross, considers himself as an all-powerful leader at the office. 

Numbers: 

When numbers between twenty-one and ninety-nine are spelled out, they should be hyphenated, like: 

  • I have already drunk twenty-five cans of Sprite. 
  • I was born in nineteen ninety-eight

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