Colons, Semicolons, and Dashes

Common rules for punctuation

A. Colons are used after a complete statement to set up a list or a quote.

I like the following poets best: Housman, Yeats, and Eliot. President Kennedy encouraged the nation with his stirring words: "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."

The colon must come after a group of words that is a complete sentence. You would NOT use a colon in the following sentence:

INCORRECT: The poets I like best are: Housman, Yeats, and Eliot.

The colon is incorrect in the above sentence because "The poets I like best are" is not a complete sentence. There should be NO colon after the verb "are."

B. Semicolons are used to join two sentences together. (See Note in Comma Rule C)

Wade held the ball for a second; then he passed to Wes.
The lane was poorly lighted; therefore, I was unable to see the box in the middle of the path.

C. Dashes can be used in place of commas to set off nonessential information that the writer wishes to draw attention to or emphasize. (See Comma Rule D)

Janet won the grand prize-a trip to the Bahamas-from the local radio station.
Mary is saving for a new bike-a Trek 5000.

(Note that you need to type two hyphens to make a dash.)