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nonexpert's avatar

Can someone educate me on the use of semicolons and dashes?

Asked by nonexpert (563 points ) April 25th, 2012

When writing sentences I avoid using either a ; or – because I’m unsure where to use them. It’s difficult because unlike a question mark or fullstop it’s not obvious where they should be used. Do you use them? Any tips? (I know I can google the rules, but I thought someone could explain them more easily.)

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7 Answers

CWOTUS's avatar

The semicolon – apart from its use as an occasional list separator such as when items with commas are included in the list – functions as a conjunction; that is, it’s a ‘joining’ punctuation between two independent clauses. Other conjunctions that could also perform in the same capacity to join independent clauses – obviously with different meaning – are “for”, “and”, “nor”, “yet”, “but”, “or” and “so”.

The hyphen is often used instead of parentheses to separate a phrase or dependent clause from the rest of the sentence. I’ve given you examples of each above.

nonexpert's avatar

Thanks CWOTUS. I still have questions; I’ll get back to this later.

Was that right?

CWOTUS's avatar

Perfectly correct.

Rarebear's avatar

CWOTUS has it exactly correct.

nonexpert's avatar

Cool. It wouldn’t make as much sense if I had separated the two sentences with a fullstop – I can see that. In the details of my question I could’ve used a hyphen instead of the parentheses, right? Hmm, it seems there is no hard and fast rule; you just have to use your judgment. Am I getting better? ^.^

I don’t remember ever being taught much, in detail, about sentence structure and punctuation at school…

Now to fix my over-reliance on commas and find out about the whole independent and dependent clauses thingy.

CWOTUS's avatar

Your use of parentheses in the original question was correct. Since that was an independent, complete sentence and it wasn’t contained within another sentence the hyphens would not have been correct. Parentheses were correct because the observation wasn’t directly related to the question, either. (You could have left them off if you wanted, too, and that would have been okay.)

nonexpert's avatar

Ohhh I see, starting to make much more sense now, thank you.

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