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How To Use: Semi-Colons, Hyphens and Colons

June 23, 2022

If you are someone who creates content using words, it’s really important that you know how to properly use semi-colons, hyphens and colons.

Did I just hear a groan as you had a flashback to high school English class? I promise to make this as easy as possible and to give lots of examples.

Semi-colons, hyphens and colons; although not as well-known as periods, commas and exclamation marks; are just as important. These useful punctuation marks help us to sort our thoughts, organize our sentences and make your content easy-to-read and digestible for the reader (vs. confusing, jumbled and hard to understand.) In this blog, I’m going to show you how to use a semi-colon, hyphen and colon.

HOW TO USE A SEMI-COLON

A semi-colon looks like this ;

1. Linking Items In A List

The best and most common place to use a semi-colon is in a long sentence when you are listing a whole bunch of things that already have commas in them. It becomes a list within a list, and if you use all commas, it becomes hard to understand.

Example: When Tracy goes to the ice cream store she does the following:  says “hello” to the scooper; checks to see if they have mint chip, cookies and cream, or moosetracks available; decides if it’s a one scoop, or a two scoop kind of day; and then orders.

2. Connecting Two Sentences

Use a semi-colon to link two sentences that are closely related.

Example: Tracy had a horrible sleep; she barely slept a wink.

HOW TO USE A HYPHEN

A hyphen looks like this –

1. A Multi-Word Noun

When a mulit-word noun (person, place or thing) has a letter as its first element, you use a hyphen.

Example: x-ray, a-list

2. Two Nouns Put Together That Become One Thing

When two nouns (person, place or thing) are put together and become one person or thing with a different from what each of the nouns means on their own.

Example: Designer-Builder, Realtor-Broker

3. CO and ‘O

When the prefix (the first part) of a word is ‘co’ and the base word begins with ‘o,’ we use a hyphen. If the base word begins with another letter, omit the hyphen.

Example: co-operator, co-op and coworker, coparent.

4. Vowel Duplication

You can use a hyphen to avoid awkward vowel duplications in words.

Example: re-elect, instead of reelect.

5. To Indicate A Word Spelled Out Letter By Letter

This is useful when using dialogue and explaining what someone is saying.

Example: The teacher was telling the class how to spell Mississippi and said out loud, “M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I.”

6. A Multi-Word Adjective

Use a hyphen in a multi-word adjective (descriptor) that comes before a noun (person place or thing).

Example: a multi-unit hotel, 7-year-old son, never-before-seen movie

HOW TO USE A COLON

A colon looks like this :

1. Greeting

Use a colon after a greeting in a business letter or email.

Example: Dear Tracy:

2. A List

Use a colon to introduce a list to replace words like ‘for example’ ‘namely’ ‘following’ ‘including.’

Example:  Tracy helps her clients with a number of different marketing services: email marketing, website development, and copywriting.

3. Title Separation

Use a colon to separate the title from the subtitle of a book or course.

Example: The Sky Above You: A Guide to the Universe

Example: Content Unleashed: the most comprehensive content course out there.

4. Ratios

Use a hyphen to replace the word ‘to’ in ratio statements.

Example: Mix the flour in a 4:1 ratio with the butter.

5. Time

Use a hyphen to separate hours and minutes when expressing time.

Example: It is 2:36 p.m. in the afternoon.

I know punctuation can be a lot and semi-colons, hyphens and colons are no exception. I hope that you find these examples and rules helpful when you are writing copy and creating content for your business.

Check out this article, “How to Use A Comma: 5 Ways” if you’re looking for more punctuation and grammar help. And if you have a question about semi-colons, hyphens or colons, drop it in the comments and I’ll try to help!

If you want more help with your grammar and punctuation, I highly recommend checking out The Grammar Girl and/or installing the program ‘Grammarly’ on your computer – both extremely helpful!

From my kitchen table to yours,

Tracy Smith is a professional copywriter, brand strategist and the Founder of Kitchen Table CEOs. Through tips, writing templates and one-on-one consulting services, Tracy helps women entrepreneurs create the content, brand and online presence they need to launch and grow their business. For more information on her services and how to work with her, please click HERE.

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