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    When To Use Semicolons, Colons, And Dashes (with Examples)

    Home / Blog / When To Use Semicolons, Colons, And Dashes (with Examples)

    When To Use Semicolons
     Admin  Published On Jul 27, 2021 | Updated on Sep 12, 2023  General

    “No other piece of punctuation so completely captures the way in which our thoughts are both liquid and solid, wave and particle”- Semicolons: A Love Story.

    The age-old debate prevails to date: semicolon, colon, or dash. How to determine which punctuation is the accurate one for the sentence you are writing? Is it a clear choice where one can be used accurately, and the others are simply wrong? Or, whether is it more of a stylistic decision, like using the Oxford comma?

    There rarely is a situation where either a semicolon or a colon usage is accurate; it’s always the other option. The same rule applies for dashes, as well, unless you are purposely breaking the punctuation rules for a stylistic reason. You should know about types of sentences.

    If you are not sure what the difference between colon vs. semicolon is, then you have landed on the right page. We will break down and make it easy-peasy for you. In today’s comprehensive blog, we will walk you through certain significant guidelines along with unique examples that will help you use punctuations remarkably like a pro.

    Semicolons vs. Colons vs. Dashes

    Punctuation marks are terribly powerful when it lands in the right hands. They are silent allies, and you can easily train them yourself to exploit them. They do not just indicate sound patterns- they are remarkable symbols that can clarify the grammatical structure and sentence meaning. What follows below are certain fundamentals about three of the most powerful and commonly misused punctuation marks.


    A semicolon looks like this - ;.

    The semicolon is often confused with the colon. Grammatically, it almost always functions as an equal sign that states the two parts being joined are relatively equal in length and have the same kind of grammatical structure. Also, it helps you link those two aspects whose interdependency you desire to establish.  Now, let’s discuss in detail when to use a semicolon with the aid of lucid examples-

    • It is used to help separate items in a list when some of those items already include commas.

    Examples-I bought shiny, ripe apples; small, sweet, juicy grapes; firm pears; and delicious bananas.

    In the summer, I am travelling to Santa Fe, New Mexico; Sedona, Arizona; Whitefish, Montana; and Seattle, Washington.

    The HR department ordered a pizza with tomatoes, ham, and olive; sausage sub with lettuce, mushrooms, and ricotta cheese; and house salad with balsamic vinaigrette and croutons. 

    • To join two independent clauses connected by conjunctive adverbs or transitional phrases.

    Example- Sam thought Mark was inviting him to the picnic to enjoy a nice day out; as it turned out, Mark was planning a surprise birthday party.

    I am going out; however, I will be home by quarter to ten.

    I love listening to her speeches; she is full of helpful suggestions.

    • To join independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction (if the clauses are already punctuated with commas) or if they are lengthy.


    When I go to Fifth Avenue, I like to purchase makeup from Sephora, Clinique, and MAC; then, I head upstairs to look over handbags from Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Yves Saint Laurent.

    Be sure to take sunscreen, a new book, snacks, and beverages in your beach bag; also, make sure to check the weather for the morning, afternoon, and evening.


    A colon looks like this- :

    It is one of the most well-loved but most misunderstood punctuation marks. The colon is not simply used to introduce a list; it is far more flexible. It can be used after the first word or sentence or just before the final word of a sentence. You can get English essay writing help to complete your essays. The rules of the colon are strict but fairly easy to remember. Here’s when to use a colon accurately in a sentence-

    • To introduce an item or series of items

    Example- Humans use five important senses: sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch.

    There are three kinds of soda on the menu: Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, and Red Bull.”

    My father asked me to purchase five things at the store: a box of crackers, a cake of soap, a package of toilet paper, a head of lettuce, and a sack of flour.

    • It is often used between two independent clauses where the second sentence further explains or illustrates the first.

    Let’s see how we can do this-

    Example- I have got to finish wrapping the presents today: it’s already Christmas Eve!

    I am pursuing two subjects at the university: Physics and Chemistry.

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

    • To follow the salutation in a business letter or more formal letter.

    Example- To the Summer Valley Committee Chairman:

    • To express time, in titles, and as a part of other writing conventions.

    Example- (With numbers)- (2:1), ad Bible verses and chapters (Matthew 2:24)

    (Bibliography entries)- Mackenzie, M. (2008). Baking: The Cookbook of The Modern Era. New York, NY: Walker and Co.

    (With Subtitles)Everest: The Last Frontier.

    Should I Capitalise After Colons?

    Are you skeptical of whether to capitalise a word following a colon? This strictly depends on whether you are writing in American English or British English. In American English, the first word after a colon is capitalised when it starts a new sentence and when it’s a proper noun or acronym. In British English, the first word after the colon is only capitalised when it’s a proper noun or acronym. You can avail proofreading services.


    Dashes look similar to hyphens, just longer, right? While the two might look similar, they always function in different ways. Hyphens join two words together while dashes separate words. Now, there are two kinds of dashes to select from- the em dash and the en dash.

    Now, first, let’s take at when to use the em dash-

    Imagine an em dash as the punctuation you require when you interrupt yourself. The em dash (—)is a super versatile punctuation mark. Here are all the numerous ways you can use one-

    • Offset an appositive that includes commas
    • Offset parenthetical information
    • Interject or abruptly change the subject
    • Replace a colon for emphasis
    • Connect a list and another clause in the same sentence when the list comes first
    • Communicate that a word or a part of a word is missing, either as it’s purposefully omitted or is unknow


    I looked up, and there she was- the same women from the morning stroll and the book club.

    There was only one possible word to explain how I felt at that moment- like a pile of wet mush.

    He was shocked by her arrival-enough to drop his glass- and run for the door at the very first chance.

    Let’s take a deeper look into how to use the en dash-

    The lesser-popular en dash is all about the width of the lowercase letter ‘n’, which is why it is named the way it is. It falls somewhere between a hyphen and the stronger em dash. The en dash literally signifies ‘through’ and is often used in place of the words ‘till’ and ‘to’. This is why en dashes are primarily used with numbers and dates. Unlike the versatile em dash, the en dash just has three jobs to fulfill-

    • Replace the words to in ranges and scores
    • Create complex compound adjectives
    • Represent the conflict or connection between two nouns

    For instance,

    The music concert takes place tonight from 9 pm-12 am.

    For homework, please read from pages 45-89.

    We will be out of our city from May 18-31.

    Wrapping Up

    Punctuation can be complicated the deeper you go into writing. Always make sure to use punctuation sparingly. The academic paper that is filled with colons tends to look overly formal, and too many semicolons come off as pretentious. An excess of dashes makes a story feel choppy.

    With adequate practice, some of the more obscure use of commas, colons, semicolons, and numerous dashes will become easier. Remember these fundamentals rules given above, and your writing will become clearer and livelier.

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