The Art of Punctuation

Recently, my literature instructor handed out a punctuation exercise for us to complete. I was confused: was she assuming that college students did not know the difference between a period and a semicolon or a dash and colon? However, upon struggling to complete the worksheet, I realized that this basic exercise was very much needed!

So what is the difference between them? When do we use these different types of punctuation? Read on to find out!

The Period (.)

This is punctuation in its most basic form. There is only one rule: It is used at the end of a complete statetement.

Example: I am writing this blog post.

The Semicolon (;)

A good way to think of a semicolon is as a combination of a comma and a period. It is stronger than a comma but separates ideas less than a period does. The most common usage of this form of punctuation is to connect two independent clauses that have some type of relationship between them.

Example: I woke up early today; I had to go to class.

The Colon (:)

This one has always been one of the most tricky for me. Like semicolons, colons follow independent clauses and are used to join ideas together; however, colons can also be utilized to explain or emphasize something.

Joining Ideas

You can use a colon to connect two independent clauses when the second sentence summarizes, emphasizes, or explains the first.

Example: Life is like a puzzle: half the fun is in trying to work it out.

Explaining or Emphasizing an Idea

You can also use a colon to draw attention to something important.

Example: Many graduate students discover that there is a dark side to academia: late nights, high stress, and a crippling addiction to caffeinated beverages.

The Dash (–)

First of all, there is a big difference between a hyphen (-) and a dash. The former is used in places to connect two or more terms; a great example of this is know-it-all.

On the other hand, dashes are longer lines that work to emphasis material; a good way to think of this form of punctuation is as the opposite of parenthesis, which is used to convey information that is not very important. Instead, dashes signify that the idea that follows is critical.

Example: After studying all night, the girl realized that it was time to grab some coffee from her favorite campus restaurant–B-Cafe.

I hope that this information helps! For more punctuation tips, click here.


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