Use of Semicolons, Dashes, Parentheses, and Commas
The semicolon has two primary uses. First, it is used to join together two main clauses that could be separated by a period; second, it is used for clarification when there are multiple commas in a series.
A semicolon may join two main clauses, each of which could stand alone.
- It would be wise to take umbrellas; those clouds coming from the north look ominous.
- I hope that Jill will be able to play; she is the best forward we have ever had.
A semicolon may also join two main clauses which are joined by conjunctive adverbs, such as therefore, hence, however, nevertheless, accordingly, on the other hand, thus, then.
- The day was cold and blustery; therefore, we did not go out jogging.
- Many people like butterscotch on ice cream; however, those with refined tastes prefer chocolate.
In addition, semicolons may replace commas in a series to avoid possible confusion.
- He has lived in Buffalo, New York; Shreveport, Louisiana; Afton, Wyoming; and Ivins, Utah.
- We took exams on September 2, 1999; November 15, 1999; and December18, 1999.
- A semicolon may join two main clauses, each of which could stand alone.
The dash is for an abrupt break in thought (the highest degree of interruption). Such a dash points the reader's attention to the material within the dashes or following a single dash.
- One of them—-let me call him Jim Prude–is an Ivy Leaguer.
In some instances–although few will admit it–the police overreact to situations.
NOTE: THE DASH IS ALSO USED AS A LINKING DEVICE:
The dash can be used to mean "that is to say" before an explanation.
- Jefferson believed in a decentralized governmental system–the political power was to be in the hands of the people.
- Our hearts usually go out to those with a terrible affliction–the exception may be the too-common response to those with AIDS.
Use a dash when the word or word group that follows it constitutes a summation, an amplification. or a reversal in tone or idea from that which went before it.
- English, psychology, history, and philosophy–these were the courses I took last quarter.
- If he was scolded, he became violent–a reaction all of us resented.
- Emily Dickinson probably overused the dash–but with a brilliant effect.
Use a dash to introduce an internal list of items.
- As we drove through Zion National Park, many animals–snakes, squirrels, wild turkeys, and deer–appeared on the side of the road.
- The dash can be used to mean "that is to say" before an explanation.
Parentheses are used for incidental, explanatory information (the middle degree of interruption).
- All the students were charged a paper fee (usually 50 cents) during the last two school years.
- During the post-war years (at least from 1946 to 1952), the law was not challenged.
Commas are used for breaks in the flow of the sentences (lowest degree of interruption). A comma points the reader's attention forward to the material that is yet to come.
- The professor, the man on your left, is a noted occult authority.
- Her theory, while I can't be absolutely positive, is not original.