Punctuation: Colons, Semi-colons and Dashes.

Number 60 of 74 in B2 - UPPER-INTERMEDIATE

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COLON =   :

SEMI-COLON =   ;

DASH =     –

 

Examples.

  1. The police finally discovered the murderer: Jim the gardener.
  2. The police finally discovered the murderer; Jim the gardener was arrested.
  3. The murderer – Jim the gardener – was discovered by the police and arrested.

A COLON (:) can only be used at the end of a complete sentence. It is followed by information that confirms or explains what the sentence has said:

  • There are two very good ways of learning English: Listening and Reading.

You can sometimes think of it as a list:

  • In the year 1900 only four cities had more than 2 million inhabitants: Berlin, Paris, New York and London.

With a colon you can imagine someone opening a curtain and showing you the next sentence with a wave of the arm (Look!).

Usain Bolt hasn’t just broken all records: He’s destroyed them!

A SEMI-COLON (;) can sometimes be a substitute for a full stop (.) when it connects two related sentences. In many cases it implies ‘so’ ‘but’ or ‘because’.

  • It’s been snowing for hours; We should get some gloves and scarves.    (= so)
  • Dogs are loyal pets; Cats are easier to keep.    (= but)
  • I’m feeling a bit delicate this morning; I think I drank too much last night.      (= because)

A semi-colon connects two sentences in a way that a full stop does not.

A DASH (-) is a technique to attract attention to something. As a general rule you use two dashes in a similar way to two commas or two brackets ( ), but the effect is more dramatic:

  • In the end I found out that it was Squeaky, my cat, who was making the noise.
  • In the end I found out it was Nick (my cousin) who ate all the sausages.
  • In the end I found out it was Sarah – my own sister – who had stolen my money!

In the first two the writer gives you some extra information to explain who Squeaky and Nick are, but they do not have the drama of the third sentence. In the last example you may already know that Sarah is the writer’s sister, but the scandal or shamelessness of the situation is emphasised.

OK? Now it’s your turn. Add punctuation (colons, semi-colons or dashes) to these sentences:

  1. I like fish. James only eats meat.
  2. There was only one way to pass the exam. Cheating.
  3. Whenever I see James almost every day I cross the road to avoid him.
  4. Holidays especially in the Carribean are the best way of forgetting about work.
  5. I broke my leg playing football. I won’t be playing again for a few months.
  6. For years football was dominated by two names, Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

 

Answers!

 

  • I like fish;James only eats meat.
  • There was only one way to pass the exam: Cheating.
  • Whenever I see James – almost every day – I cross the road to avoid him.
  • Holidays – especially in the Carribean – are the best way of forgetting about work.
  • I broke my leg playing football; I won’t be playing again for a few months.
  • For years football was dominated by two names: Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
  •  

level.