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Improve Your English Grammar With 3 Types of Punctuation You Need to Know

Improve your English grammar significantly by using colons, semi-colons and dashes correctly.

Three parts of English grammar that are important for students to know are colons, semi-colons, and dashes. In this lesson, each of these parts will be explained.

Colons

A colon looks like one period above another one (:) but it is not a period at all. It is mainly used to introduce a list. When you want to tell someone a list of things and the list does not fit into the sentence naturally, use a colon to introduce that list.

For example, if you want to mention four types of cheese, you can use a colon to introduce the list and say: “the pizza contains four cheeses: mozzarella, cheddar, provolone, and parmesan.”

In the examples below, a colon introduces a list:

  • He only fears three things: snakes, spiders, and his wife’s mother.

  • The test is composed of four parts: speaking, listening, reading, and writing.

  • You only need two things to be happy: a sofa and Netflix.

You can also use a colon when you want to introduce a list of bullet points that starts below. For example, I should use a colon if I want to add three reasons why you should study English:

  • English allows you to communicate with people all over the world

  • Knowing English can provide you with better job opportunities

  • Learning a new language challenges your mind to think in a different way

You can see that the sentence above the bullet list introduces the list with a colon (“why you should study English:”). This makes the list seem more connected to that sentence. You could use a period instead after “you should study English” but then it wouldn’t introduce the bullet list as smoothly as with a colon.

As an added note, a colon was also used to introduce the first bullet list in this lesson.

It’s important to note that a colon is not used when a list fits into a sentence naturally. For example, if you say: “he is interested in soccer, basketball, and baseball”, there is no colon because this list of nouns fits naturally with the preposition “in”.

Semi-Colon

A semi-colon is a very useful part of English, because it can help connect two clauses together in the same sentence when a conjunction is not natural to do this. As you may already know, in English, it’s necessary to have a conjunction to connect two clauses together. In the examples below the conjunction is underlined and connects two clauses in a sentence:

  • She has never traveled anywhere far away because she is afraid of flying.

  • Our hotel room was really small and the service at the hotel was poor, too.

However, sometimes a conjunction seems awkward and unnatural in the middle of two clauses. When this is the case, you can use a semi-colon instead of a conjunction word:

  • "They went on the ride without me, I watched from a safe distance." – this needs a conjunction

  • "They went on the ride without me; I watched from a safe distance." – correct with a semi-colon

  • "The car ride back home was very quiet, nobody said anything." – this needs a conjunction

  • "The car ride back home was very quiet; nobody said anything." – correct with a semi-colon



Dash

A dash is a long line (–) and it is different than a hyphen. A hyphen is used in the middle of two words to connect them into one word (ex. “ninety-nine”) while a dash is used to connect more information to a clause (ex. “she said that she had only one true friend in her life – her dog.”)

The first reason that a dash is used is to introduce something extra in a clause instead of using two brackets ( ). The piece of information that you add with a dash is usually a side note that is not necessary in the main message of the clause. For example, if your main point was: “he still often returns to his hometown to support the community where he grew up” but you want to add that his hometown is Chicago, then you can add this with a dash before and after “Chicago” similar to how you could use brackets or commas to separate this piece of information:

  • “He still often returns to his hometown – Chicago – to support the community where he grew up.”

  • “He still often returns to his hometown (Chicago) to support the community where he grew up.”

  • “He still often returns to his hometown, Chicago, to support the community where he grew up.”

A dash can also add a dramatic pause before introducing a point that you want to emphasize. Imagine that you wanted to say: “Everyone comes to this restaurant for the same reason” and then you want to add this reason at the end with emphasis, you can use a dash, which is similar to how you would pause for a short moment of silence when speaking to add some drama:

  • “Everyone comes to this restaurant for the same reason (pause) the burgers.” – when speaking

  • “Everyone comes to this restaurant for the same reason – the burgers.– when writing

Practice

Add a colon, semi-colon, or dash where it’s appropriate in the next sentences:

1. Every employee on our team needs to demonstrate three things passion, commitment, and care.

2. People’s hopes for a resolution to the coronavirus situation depends on one outcome a vaccine.

3. It’s an extremely difficult test it takes over 3 hours.

4. The whole event was a disaster from start to finish I hope that I never have to experience that again.

5. Tim Hortons a popular Canadian fast food restaurant is planning to open new locations in United States.

6. The movie had everything that people want to see action, romance, suspense, and drama.

7. The leader of China Xi Jinping traveled to United States to work out a trade deal with the US government.

8. Many viewers were disappointed with the final episode of the show they felt that it left too many questions unanswered.

9. They bonded quickly over their mutual love for the same passion music.

10. My days consist of mostly the same things sleeping, eating, studying, and working.


Answers

1. Every employee on our team needs to demonstrate three things: passion, commitment, and care.

2. People’s hopes for a resolution to the coronavirus situation depends on one outcome – a vaccine.

3. It’s an extremely difficult test; it takes over 3 hours.

4. The whole event was a disaster from start to finish; I hope that I never have to experience that again.

5. Tim Hortons – a popular Canadian fast food restaurant – is planning to open new locations in United States.

6. The movie had everything that people want to see: action, romance, suspense, and drama.

7. The leader of China – Xi Jinping – traveled to United States to work out a trade deal with the US government.

8. Many viewers were disappointed with the final episode of the show; they felt that it left too many questions unanswered.

9. They bonded quickly over their mutual love for the same passion – music.

10. My days consist of mostly the same things: sleeping, eating, studying, and working.

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