Colons, Dashes, Semicolons, and Three Dots to Extend Sentences
The Quick Answer
Four Essential Writing ToolsHere are four essential tools to control emphasis and reading flow and to add variety to sentence structures:
|Tool||Use and Example|
Use a colon (:) to give more information about something mentioned previously in the sentence. For example:
Use a semicolon (;) when a slight break is preferable to starting a new sentence. For example:
Use three dots (...) as a pause for effect. For example:
|If you can't remember any of the rules above, use a dash ( — ). It covers all three.|
Using ColonsA sentence can be extended with a colon when the writer wishes to expand on something already mentioned in the sentence. (A colon is used to introduce some more information about something previously mentioned in the sentence.) For example:
- There were two pets in the house: a budgie and a cat. (two pets: a budgie and a cat)
- He blamed his divorce on one thing: beer. (one thing: beer)
The "Punchline" Is an Appositive. The words after the colon are known as an appositive. (It just means an "equal phrase.") You can also use the term "in apposition to." For example:
- There was only one fish in the vicinity: a great white shark. (In this example, "a great white shark" is in apposition to "only one fish.")
- This company has always had the same motto: Try it twice and then sack it. (Here, "Try it twice and then sack it" is in apposition to "the same motto.")
Using SemicolonsA sentence can be extended with a semicolon when a slight break is preferable to a new sentence. For example:
- No one was hurt in the accident; the only real injury was a broken finger.
- Never pick a fight with an ugly person; they've got nothing to lose.
- Everybody knows he is guilty; however, it will never be proven.
- Her own guest was declined; as a result, she left.
- This business will collapse if you do not invest in the staff's well-being; of course, that is just my opinion.
Using Three DotsIf you want to create pause for effect, use three dots (called ellipsis). For example:
- I don't want to achieve immortality through my work...I want to achieve it through not dying. (Actor Woody Allen)
- She had a bath once a year...whether she needed it or not. (Author Mark Twain)
- Bart, with $10,000, we'd be millionaires! We could buy all kinds of useful things like...love! (Homer Simpson)
- As I moved the bushes, I was not confronted by the deer I had been tracking for two days but...a Bengal tiger.
- (This is real-life example from a newspaper.)
- The magazine claims: "The scene in the 1970s was...controlled by The Ramones.
Using DashesConfused about colons, semicolons, and ellipsis? Use a dash. The dash performs all the above-mentioned functions of the colon, the semicolon, and ellipsis for a pause. For example:
- He blamed his divorce on one thing – beer. (Here, the dash replaces a colon.)
- No one was hurt – the only injury was a broken finger. (The dash replaces a semicolon.)
- As I moved the bushes, I was not confronted by the deer I had been tracking for two days, but – a Bengal tiger. (The desh replaces three dots.)
- (This is a real-life example from a magazine. A dash has been used to replace an ellipsis used as pause.)
- Julia Thomas – the 64-year-old lady from Boston who swore she would never have a facelift – removed the bandages to find...a 40-year-old version of herself.