Semicolon: The forgotten mark
If you like rooting for the underdog, you’re going to love the semicolon. Although the en dash may be used even less, it’s not out of spite — no one’s ever heard of it. Not so with the semicolon. It is commonly rejected by lesser writers everywhere. Once you learn and apply the two simple rules for semicolon usage below, you’ll stand head and shoulders above the rest.
If you have two closely related independent clauses, separate them with a semicolon
To err is human; to forgive, divine.
He washes the dishes; I do the laundry.
If the link between the clauses is not so obvious, you can link the two clauses with a conjunctive adverb.
Conjunctive adverbs are words such as however, nonetheless, as a result. They make apparent the logical relationship between the two clauses. Here is a non-conclusive list.
He was, in most ways, a model employee; however, his kleptomania cost him many a promotion.
In the above example, the two independent clauses wouldn’t work without the semicolon and conjunction.
The main thing to remember is to use the semicolon rather than a comma. Using a comma where a semicolon is more appropriate creates a comma splice; if that happens, copious amounts of red ink will be spilled.
I’d like to thank my dog, my wife, Jennifer, my cat, and Randy Newman.
Pop quiz: How many people are being thanked in the sentence above, 4 or 5?
The answer is, we don’t know. The speaker’s wife may be Jennifer, his cat may be Jennifer, or Jennifer may be someone else entirely. Luckily, we have a solution to our ambiguity problem.
I’d like to thank my dog; my wife, Jennifer; my cat; and Randy Newman.
Now we know for sure that the speaker’s wife is named Jennifer.
Use a semicolon in a list when one of the items requires a comma itself. Think of the semicolon as comma’s back-up: It jumps in when the comma can’t handle the job alone.
- Semicolons join two independent clauses.
- Semicolons act as dividers in complex lists
Well, there you have it: Two simple rules for impeccable semicolon usage. Follow them and you’ll stand out as a writer, a lover, and a human being.
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Colon: The unfortunately named markThe colon is one of the most powerful punctuation marks we have. It signifies that what comes after is what you’ve been waiting for. It is the harbinger of the payload, a sign that says “information here” in big red letters.
If your English grammar is difficult for you, you can use the best essay writing service.
It also shares a name with a body part that one doesn’t discuss in polite company.
Where to use a colon
Colons are used when two parts of a sentence are dependent upon each other, but not that dependent.
The most common place to put a colon is just before a list.
He ate three things: chicken, eggs, and brains.
You do not use a colon if the list is introduced by a verb or preposition.
He ate chicken, eggs, and brains.
A colon is used with quotations if the quote is several sentences long and will stay in the paragraph, or just for dramatic effect.
He said just one thing about his diet: “It’s not like I’m eating people's brains.”
You can also use a colon instead of “namely,” “e.g.,” or “such as.”
He only ate brains from livestock: cows, sheep, and pigs.
Set off two fully independent clauses with a comma, not a colon.
He ate brains, but he didn’t eat liver.
Capitalization and the colon
Capitalize the word after the colon only if it is a proper noun or begins a complete sentence.
Three of us tried his stew: John and his sisters.
Their reactions were mixed: chiefly disgust, but some morbid curiosity.
John had only this to say: “That wasn’t albatross I ate on the boat.”
Is CDC singular or plural?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, is singular. Don’t let the fact that many people work in many centers at the CDC throw you off: In American English, any group or organization is a singular noun, even if the words themselves are plural.
Any rule comes with an exception — sports teams are often referred to as plurals. Go figure.
What is the rule for fixing misplaced modifiers?
Misplaced modifiers are fixed by moving the modifier right next to the word being modified.
Sitting on the couch, the TV is too far away to see.
Either you need to see an optometrist or the TV isn’t actually sitting on the couch.
Sitting on the couch, I can’t see the TV
or better yet
I can’t see the TV when I sit on the couch.
Think of the modifier as the groom and the modified as the bride: you wouldn’t stick anyone between them, would you?
How can you develop effective transitions in your writing?
The best transitions are the ones that clearly state how two ideas are related.
Transitions aren’t just syntactic sugar that makes your writing easier to read — they are logical constructs that inform the reader. Is the idea in the new paragraph a consequence of the idea in the preceding one? Is another entry is a series of ideas? Is it a continuation? Make the relationship between your paragraphs explicit and you’ll go a long way.
But in addition to logical constructs, transitions are a way to keep the reader reading. Every blank line is an opportunity to put the book down, throw out the résumé, flip forward past the ad. Tell the reader that these next few sentences are crucial to their well-being and happiness.
If that doesn’t work, lead off with a joke
Do I use a hyphen with “well”?
Hyphens can be tricky. Luckily, there is a hard and fast rule: Use a hyphen before a noun, drop it afterward.
That is a well-read book.
That man is well-read.
Again, it is a matter of understanding. Before the noun, the compound may be misunderstood as two equal adjectives. Afterward, not so much.
Does anyone actually use the en dash?
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