More Tips On Punctuation

In addition to the tips previously published, clear writing also requires correct use of the semicolon, colon, dash, and ellipsis, and to be able to correctly distinguish between use of parenthesis and brackets.


A semicolon is commonly used to punctuate independent clauses not joined by a conjunction; it reflects a separation in thought.  It may also be used to separate a lengthy series of phrases.

“I’ll take you over the hill,” he whispered; “but, you’ll have to find your own way from there.”

This product is top of the line; it contains all of the current technologies.

The take off from the Denver airport was a bit choppy at first; but, after the plane climbed to an altitude of 38,000 feet, we enjoyed a smooth ride over the Rockies.

But don’t use a semicolon after the salutation in a letter; use a comma for informal letters and a colon for formal and business letters.


Use a colon to introduce a formal or direct quotation.

The Chairman of the meeting then recognized the main speaker, who began as follows:  “Mr. Chairman, I propose that…” 

Also use a colon to introduce a series that is used as an appositive (a grammatical relation between words that have the same relation to other words in the sentence, the succeeding words supplementing the first).

The table of organization of an infantry division normally includes at least three elements:  headquarters units, combat units, and support units.

My favorite baseball players of the post World War II era include the following: Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, and Bob Feller.


A dash should be twice as long as a hyphen.  It serves to set off emphatic interrupters and to denote an abrupt pause or breaking off of a sentence.

It should be understood that the tax effect of this  legislation  — the legislation was just enacted – is not included in our estimates.

Many precious metals — gold is a prime example — are used to hedge against inflation.  Other investments — for example, some common stocks — are not reliable for this purpose.


This mark uses three dots to show the omission of certain language from a quotation.  The first example is a partial quotation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven:

“…Eagerly I wished the morrow;–vainly I had sought to borrow

From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—

For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—

Nameless here for evermore.”

There has been widespread discussion among Poe’s biographers as to whether the reference in his poem “The Raven” to the   “…lost Lenore…the rare and radiant angel whom the angels name Lenore–Nameless here forevermore,” is meant to refer to his deceased wife or to someone else.

Distinguish between use of parenthesis and brackets.  Parentheses are used to   provide information in the least conspicuous manner, for asides, and for certain  business confirmations.  Brackets are used to show omitted matter from a quotation, and to insert explanations or corrections.

Coin collecting can be very interesting, historically speaking, as well as a good  investment.   Coin grading is subjective (a matter of opinion, which can change over time), so never buy any coin without first inspecting it.

Carson City silver dollars  (Morgan silver dollars [named for the designer, George T. Morgan] minted in Carson City, Nevada, between 1878 and 1893) are still popular today because of their attractive design and because they are a throwback to the Old West days.

Try to write clearly enough to make your sentences understood even if the punctuation marks were removed.

The next blog will be posted on Friday, 6/8/12.

Copyright © 2012.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

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Filed under clear writing, punctuation, Writing Improvement

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