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Semicolons, colons, and dashes. SEMICOLONS. Use a semicolon between independent clauses that are closely related in thought and are not joined by a coordinating conjunction (and, or, but, nor, for, so, yet).

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Use a semicolon between independent clauses that are closely related in thought and are not joined by a coordinating conjunction (and, or, but, nor, for, so, yet)

  • The rain had finally stopped; a few rays of sunshine were pushing their way through the breaks in the clouds.
  • Owning a dog is a big responsibility; a dog requires training, grooming, and regular exercise.
  • Do not use a semicolon to join independent clauses unless there is a close relationship between the main ideas of the clauses.
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Use a semicolon between independent clauses joined by a conjunctive adverb or a transitional expression.

The snowfall made travelling difficult;nevertheless, we arrived home safely.

Denisa plays baseball well;in fact, she would like to try out for a major-league team.

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A semicolon (rather than a comma) may be needed before a coordinating conjunction to join independent clauses that contain commas.
  • Some monarch butterflies migrate all the way from Canada to California, to Florida, or to Mexico; and then, come spring, they head north again.
  • I wanted to register for biology, volleyball, and conversational Spanish; but only calculus, golf, and intermediate German were available during late registration.
use a semicolon between items in a series if the items contain commas
Use a semicolon between items in a series if the items contain commas.
  • The club’s president has appointed the following people to chair the standing committees: Richard Stokes, planning; Rebecca Hartely, membership; Salvador Berrios, financial; and Ann Jeng, legal.
  • The collection of short stories includes “The Circuit,”by Francisco Jimenez; “The Iguana Killer,” by Alberto Rios; and “Everybody Knows Tobie,” by Daniel Garza.
use a colon to mean note what follows
Use a colon to mean “note what follows.

Use a colon before a list of items, especially after expressions such as as follows and the following.

  • Prior to 1722, the Iroquois Confederation consisted of five American Indian nations: Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca.
  • My brother is working on a multimedia presentation featuring the following women: Mary Baker Eddy, Clara Barton, Maria Mitchell, Mary Church Terrell, Susan B. Anthony, and Sarah Winnemucca.
do not use a colon between a verb and its complement s or between a preposition and it s objects
Do not use a colon between a verb and its complement(s) or between a preposition and it(s) objects.
use a colon before a long formal statement or quotation
Use a colon before a long, formal statement or quotation.
  • Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address begins with these famous words: “Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
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Use a colon between independent clauses when the second clause explains or restates the idea of the first.
  • Lois felt that she had done something worthwhile: She had designed and sewn her first quilt.
  • Thomas Jefferson had many talents: He was a writer, a politician, an architect, and an inventor.
use a colon in certain conventional situations
Use a colon in certain conventional situations.
  • Use a colon between the hour and the minute.
    • 7:30 P.M.
  • Use a colon between a title and subtitle.
    • Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
  • Use a colon after the salutation of a business letter.
    • To Whom It May Concern:
    • Dear Sir or Madam:
use a dash to indicate an abrupt break in thought or speech
Use a dash to indicate an abrupt break in thought or speech.
  • The team’s leading scorer—I can’t remember her name—is also an excellent defensive player.
  • The real villain turns out to be—but I don’t want to spoil the ending for those of you who have not yet seen the movie.
use a dash to mean namely in other words or that is before an explanation
Use a dash to meannamely, in other words, or that is before an explanation.
  • Amanda joined the chorus for only one reason—she loves to sing.
  • Very few people in this class—three, to be exact—have not completed their projects.
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