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.
  • 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.
  • 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.