Less is the new more!
“We went to Disneyland last week, and it was super fun! My sister, her face all beaming, did a little happy dance when she met Cinderella, and a laugh riot ensued. On the whole, the delectable desserts, whimsical rides and Disney princesses can make any kid happy.”
Oh, that’s wonderful news, but aren’t you tired of using coordinating conjunctions and commas all the time? Why let your sentences ramble when thoughtful pauses can say so much more?
We went to Disneyland last week; it was super fun! My sister—her face all lit up—did a little happy dance when she met Cinderella; a laugh riot ensued. On the whole, Disneyland has everything a kid needs to be happy: delectable desserts, whimsical rides and Disney princesses.
In this article, we are going to familiarise ourselves with the tricky quartet: semicolon (;), colon (:), em dash (—), and parenthesis (). See the difference these little superstars can make to your writing.
Which is the most powerful punctuation mark? The most obvious answer would be the full stop. But which comes second? Some would say commas because they are extensively used, but semicolons disagree. Like a comma, a semicolon tells a reader to pause, but a semicolon is a stronger punctuation mark than a comma. A semicolon (;) separates grammatically independent sentences that are closely related.
Example: Amber always slept with the light on; she was terrified of the dark.
You can also use the semicolon to separate items in a list when some of those items already contain commas. For example, ‘I bought red, juicy strawberries, beautiful, ripe mangoes, and tasty bananas.’
The sentence is confusing; isn’t it? It’s tiring to figure out how many items were bought since there are a lot of commas involved. ‘I bought red, juicy strawberries; beautiful, ripe mangoes; and tasty bananas.’ See? It is a lot better this way.
Dashes (em dashes)
The first thing to know when using dashes is not to overuse them. It will make your sentences difficult to follow. Also, do not confuse them with hyphens—they are shorter lines and are generally used to indicate connections between words (full-time, far-off, ice-cold etc.) Undoubtedly, em dashes are extremely useful. Let’s take a look at some ways to include dashes in your writing:
a) Em dashes can be used instead of parentheses (). This way, more focus is given to the information between the em dashes. Em dashes are preferable in formal writing; they are fancier than parentheses.
Example: Timmy (his face all grim) walked towards the principal’s office. Here, the information provided within the parenthesis is not getting enough attention; therefore, we can replace it with em dashes. Timmy —his face all grim—walked towards the principal’s office.
b) You can use em dashes to indicate sentence introductions and conclusions.
Example: Food, shelter, safe drinking water —for many people even the basic amenities are still a dream.
c) Em dashes can also be used to break up dialogue.
Example: “I—I’m scared; let’s go back,” Jack whispered in a quivering voice.
A parenthesis is a curvy punctuation mark used to set off information that isn’t crucial to the main topic, like a second-thought or a funny joke. When they come in pairs, they are called parentheses; you must have both an opening and a closing parenthesis. Whatever the information inside the parenthesis, it should not be grammatically fundamental to the sentence. Also, overuse of parentheses can be distracting to readers.
Let’s look at some examples:
a) To show acronyms: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
b) To add extra information: The talent show will be held next week (on Tuesday).
c) To clarify preceding words: The bird sang in a high-pitched sound that is idiosyncratic (peculiar) to its species.
d) To enclose a comment (informal): Mary merrily made her way to the kitchen (I reckon it is a sugar-rush).
A colon is used to introduce phrases, lists and elaborations. It can also be used to introduce a quotation. Colons follow clauses that can exist on their own (independent clauses or complete sentences).
Example: This book has everything I need: adventure, mystery, and comedy.
Here’s an example of a colon introducing a single item: There is only one thing that can make me ecstatic: ice cream.
One of our previous blog posts— ‘The misunderstood Colon’— covers everything you need to know about colons. Check it out here.
We have come to the end of our article. So now do you know how to use your advanced punctuation marks?