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  1. Mechanics Colons, Semicolons, Dashes, Quotation Marks, End Marks

  2. End Marks All sentences have to have an end mark: period, question mark, exclamation mark. Question marks are easy: they come at the end of questions. Exclamation marks come at the end of exclamations, & while they’re not incorrect in the paragraph below, their overuse results in an ineffective & annoying style. I couldn’t help it! I couldn’t get out of the water! I didn’t know it was only 3 feet deep! I was panicking! Finally, someone threw me a life preserver! Periods come at the end of sentences that don’t have question marks or exclamation marks.

  3. Semicolons Semicolons have two uses: • They separate two independent clauses that are closely related: I arrived too late; my brother had lied about the time. Very frequently, a CONJUNCTIVE ADVERB + comma follow the semicolon: I arrived at 8:00; however, my brother had lied about the time of the meeting. You have received good grades; however, you must make an A on the final to receive an A in the class. • They separate items in a list when there are internal commas: I’ve lived in Bristol, VA; Greenville, SC; Athens, GA; and Lexington, KY. If you used commas instead of semicolons, the sentence would be confusing.

  4. Those two rules are hard & fast. You CANNOT put a semicolon anywhere except between two INDEPENDENT clauses & between items in a series if there are internal commas.

  5. Semicolon practice • • • (scroll to the bottom) • • •

  6. Colons Semicolons are used between two independent clauses; Colons are used at the end of an independent clause to indicate that what follows is a list or explains that first independent clause: I bought 3 types of fruit: bananas, grapes, & apples. John had a good reason for failing to attend class: he was in the hospital. The colon can be followed by a list or an independent clause. But one hard & fast rule here is this: a complete independent clause MUST precede it. You can’t say, “I like foods such as: nuts, raisins, & granola.” “I like things such as” is not a complete independent clause. You have two options: “I like foods such as nuts, raisins, & granola” or “I like foods such as these: nuts, raisins, & granola.”

  7. Colon Practice • • • Semicolon vs. Colon Practice • • •,12182,3440526-content,00.utf8.html •

  8. Parentheses Use parenthesesto include material that you want to de-emphasize or that wouldn't normally fit into the flow of your text but you want to include nonetheless. Thirty-five years after his death, Robert Frost (we remember him at Kennedy's inauguration) remains America's favorite poet. You don’t put a period in the parentheses, but you CAN include a question mark or exclamation mark if necessary: Thirty-five years after his death, Robert Frost (do you remember him?) remains America's favorite poet. If the material within your parentheses is written as a separate sentence (not included within another sentence), punctuate it as if it were a separate sentence: Thirty-five years after his death, Robert Frost remains America's favorite poet. (We remember him at Kennedy's inauguration.) Use parentheses sparingly.

  9. Parentheses Practice • (scroll to the bottom)

  10. Dashes The first thing to know when talking about dashes is that they are ALMOST NEVER required by the laws of grammar and punctuation. Overusing dashes can break up the flow of your writing, making it choppy or even difficult to follow, so don’t overdo it. Dashes are the opposite of parentheses: they EMPHASIZE what they set off. Everything he’s done—used & sold drugs, dropped out of school, robbed a bank—has made him the man he is today. Just like with parenthetical material, there are no rules where you can use dashes. They don’t have to be preceded or followed by anything in particular & can even be used individually (one dash & not two): Pork—that’s the other white meat. Note: dashes are longer than hyphens. When you type, a dash is two hyphens.

  11. Brackets Square brackets have two uses. First, when you have parenthetical material inside parenthetical material, you change the inside set to brackets: We went to the store (not the one that had been bombed [duh]). Not the greatest sentence in the world, but the point is that you can’t have one set of parentheses inside another. You have to change the inside parentheses to brackets. The other use of brackets involves quotes. Sometimes when you are quoting someone, you have to add material so that the sentence makes sense: “It was true that he [Obama] planned to postpone the implementation of Obamacare.” Since the quote is removed from its context, it is not clear who “he” is, so you have to add the name & put it in brackets.

  12. Quotation Marks Quotation marks aren’t hard to use. Whenever you quote someone’s exact words, you put quotation marks around those words. The trick is knowing what to do with all the punctuation involved. Semicolons & colons ALWAYS go outside quotation marks: “What a great idea”: those were his last words. He told me, “Grin & bear it”; he had no idea how hard that would be. Periods & commas ALWAYS go inside quotation marks: “I don’t know him,” she told me. She told me, “I don’t know him.” .

  13. With question marks & exclamation marks, it depends. You have to look at whatever is included between the quotation marks. If the quote itself needs one of those marks, they go INSIDE the quotation marks. If it doesn’t need one, they go OUTSIDE the quotation marks. He asked, “Does anyone have a pen?” Can you say “rubber baby buggy bumpers”? My friend was shouting, “The baby is missing!” Sit down right now & start reading “The Gift of the Magi”! The last one also brings into question when to use quotation marks with titles, but that’ll be in another lesson.

  14. Just as you can’t use parentheses inside parentheses, you can’t use quotation marks inside quotation marks. Well, you can, but they are single quotation marks: John said, “But I don’t want to read ‘The Gift of the Magi.’” It does look a bit bizarre in some fonts when you have a single quotation mark followed by a double, but it is correct, nevertheless.

  15. Quotation Marks Practice • • • (scroll to the bottom)

  16. Practices mixing commas, colons, semicolons • •