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Using Different Forms of Punctuation: the Semi-Colon, Colon, or Dash

on March 13 at 11:18 AM
Most people have exclusively used commas and periods in their argumentative essay topics writing. While these punctuation marks will always be the most commonly used, there are three more characters that may be helpful in any written piece: the semi-colon, colon, and dash. They all have multiple uses and they prevent the monotony, and sometimes inaccuracy, that comes with only using commas and periods.

The Semi-Colon
The semi-colon (, used quite often now to resemble a winking eye in text-speak, is the one punctuation mark that can replace a period if the sentence meets certain conditions.
Semi-colons are used:
1) To separate two main clauses (complete sentences) that are not joined by a conjunction (and, or, nor, so, but, for, yet). The clauses on each side of the semi-colon must be topic related. It has been snowing outside for an hour; the driveway already needs to be shoveled.
2) To separate main clauses that are connected with a conjunctive adverb (therefore, however, furthermore, consequently, etc.) or with an expression like "for example." Jack agreed to take his little brother to see a movie; however, he had to finish his homework first. There are many ways people can improve their lives; for example, exercising and getting enough sleep are effective ways to relieve stress.Notice that the clauses after "however" and "for example" are still complete thoughts with a main subject and main verb.
3) To separate items in a series when one or more of the items contains a comma.Three exemplary female athletes from the 2012 Olympics were Gabby Douglas, a gymnast; Missy Franklin, a swimmer; and Sanya Richards-Ross, a runner.

The Colon
The colon ( is not as frequently used as a semi-colon since the sentence content and structure requiring this punctuation mark is quite specific.
Colons are used:
1) To introduce a list that often follows a word such as "the following," "namely," "as follows," or "these."Before taking the exam, the students were instructed to do the following: use only a #2 pencil, stop working when time is called, and sign the declaration at the end of the answer booklet.If the list comes after a verb or preposition, a colon should not be used. We went to the store for milk, bread, and eggs.
2) To indicate an explanation, illustration, or restatement of the preceding material.The destruction of the storm was obvious: There were downed power lines, broken tree limbs, and scattered debris all over the roadways. Notice that when a main clause follows a colon, it should begin with a capital letter.
3) To introduce a quotation that is also often preceded by the words "the following," "this," "as follows," or "these."Mark Twain was quoted with this thought: "Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to."While these examples show how to use a colon in sentences, other uses are to indicate time (10:45), a division for biblical chapter and verse (Matthew 2:5), or after a salutation in a business letter (Dear Sir.

The Dash
The dash (--) is created by pressing the hyphen button twice. Some word processing programs like Microsoft Word will automatically turn the two hyphens into a solid line when a word is typed immediately following.
This punctuation mark has only two uses:
1) To indicate an abrupt change in thought within the sentence.I'm going to try on some—or maybe all—of the dresses.
2) To emphasize additional information or parenthetical comments. Her father was a strict man—he was born in Italy and immigrated in his thirties—but it was obvious he loved his daughter. Since the dash is intended more for informal writing, use it sparingly.

Ultimately, these three forms of punctuation will alleviate the frustration that often comes as a result of repeatedly using a comma or period, and can open the doors to creating more complex sentences.

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