Commas, Colons, Semicolons
1. Don't use a comma to join two independent clauses. The result is a comma splice.
Don't write: We tried to splice the film with cellophane tape, the film broke again when we ran the projector.
Like the tape on the broken film, a comma is not strong enough to hold these two clauses together.
2. Don't use a semicolon to join an independent clause to a subordinate clause or a phrase.
Don't write: The novelist Frances Burney achieved success at a young age; a rare feat for an author.
3. Combine a semi-colon with a comma when using however or another conjunctive adverb to join two independent clauses.
Write: Online registration has made it easier to schedule courses; however, I don't have access to a computer.
If the adverb does not come between two independent clauses, set it off with two commas.
Write: In the beginning, however, I was nervous about talking on the phone with strangers.
4. Use colons to introduce a list or an example (the colon takes the place of the phrase such as):
Write: The titles of Octavia Butler's novels suggest her interests in Psychology and Sociology: Adulthood Rites, Kindred, Mind of My Mind, and Survivor.
Hyphens and Dashes
1. Use hyphens to connect compound words and numbers, especially when they serve as adjectives.
Compare the following:
Francis Bacon articulated the criteria of the New Science at the beginning of the seventeenth century.
Francis Bacon was a seventeenth-century author.
2. Use dashes (sparingly) to set off comments inserted in a sentence or to indicate emphasis or change of thought. Type dashes as a long line, two hyphens, or a hypen surrounded by spaces.
The total eclipse of the sun - the last in this century - can be viewed in southern England as well as Asia.
The concert will go on as planned - unless the band's bus breaks down again.
1. In American usage, place commas and periods inside quotation marks unless they precede parentheses:
Write: Audre Lorde chills her audience by fusing images of beauty with shouts of racism in "Every Traveler has One Vermont Poem."
Write: New York City itself, not Ringling Brothers, is the subject of "Big Apple Circus" (Lorde 45).
2. Put semi-colons and colons outside quotation marks:
Write: We began the class by discussing Cicero's essay, "On Friendship"; Shakespeare obviously had this essay in mind when he wrote The Winter's Tale.
3. In American usage, indicate quotations-within-quotations by using single quotation marks:
Write: Sherry Turkle notes, "We remember that Lacan stresses that the ego is formed by a composite of false and distorted introjections so that 'I' and 'Other' are inextricably confused in the unconscious language of the self" (Psychoanalytic Politics 103).