The Colon and the Dash 

What's the difference between the colon ( : ) and the dash ( -- )?

  1. Colons are used after independent clauses to introduce lists, appositives, or illustrations. They should not separate verbs from their complements or prepositions from their objects.

    A perfect sandwich requires three ingredients: bread, peanut butter, and jelly.

    A perfect sandwich requires: bread, peanut butter, and jelly.

  2. Dashes are used for abrupt interruptions or to announce a long summary or appositive. The dash is less formal than a colon or parentheses.

      Then they saw a horrifying sight--a huge, hissing, angry rattlesnake.

      His only excuse for his behavior--if there even is one--was that he had been drinking.

Parallel Structure

It is very important to keep elements in a sentence parallel. Look at the following sentences.

  1. The nightclub was noisy, crowded, and it cost a lot to get in.
  2. I like to jog, swim, and hiking.
  3. Getting a good job requires persistence, patience, and it helps to be dedicated.

Each of these sentences contains faulty parallelism. Now look at the corrected sentences below.

  1. The nightclub was noisy, crowded, and expensive.
  2. I like to jog, swim, and hike.
  3. Getting a good job requires persistence, patience, and dedication.

Notice how in the corrected sentences each element in the series is the same part of speech: adjectives in sentence 1, infinitive verbs in sentence 2, and nouns in sentence 3. Observing parallel structure will add clarity to your writing.

The Most Common Usage Errors

Read the following short paragraph. Can you find the usage errors? How many errors are there?

(1)Frank had alot of money and he wanted to go shopping for new clothes. (2)He went to Saks Fifth Avenue in New York. (3)Because its famous. (4)He saw a lot of clothes that he liked, but were not his size. (5)Being seven feet tall, the salespeople had difficulty finding clothes for Frank.


  1. A lot is two words, not one.

  2. Sentence 1 is a run-on sentence. A run-on sentence is a sentence containing two independent clauses separated by a conjunction but no comma. The corrected sentence is: Frank had a lot of money, and he wanted to go shopping for new clothes.

  3. Sentence 3 is a sentence fragment. A sentence fragment is a sentence that lacks a subject, a verb, or both. To correct the sentence we would simply connect it to the previous sentence: He went to Saks Fifth Avenue in New York because it's famous.

  4. "Its" should be it's. Its is possessive. It's = it is.

  5. Sentence 4 is a comma splice. A comma splice occurs when a comma is used to separate a clause or clauses that are not independent. The corrected sentence is: He saw a lot of clothes that he liked but were not his size. OR He saw a lot of clothes that he liked, but they were not his size.

  6. Sentence 5 contains a misplaced modifier. A misplaced modifier is a modifier, such as an adjective or adjective clause, that seems to modify the wrong element in the sentence. The corrected sentence is: The salespeople had difficulty finding clothes for Frank, because he was seven feet tall. OR Being seven feet tall, Frank was difficult for the salespeople to find clothes for.

Special Uses of the Present Tense

Verb tense usage in English can be confusing, with many "rules" having exceptions. The present tense, for example, usually indicates action happening at the time of speaking, but has several special uses as well.

  1. To indicate future actions:
    We leave tomorrow.
    The seminar ends at 2pm.
  2. To state general truths:
    The sky is blue.
    The devil finds work for idle hands.
  3. To indicate recurring action:
    I walk to school every morning.
    The library closes at midnight.
  4. To discuss the content of books, movies, etc:
    H.G. Wells' work explores the human condition through science fiction.
    The movie has lots of action and suspense.
This last special use of the present tense is especially useful in writing term papers and reports, in which the present tense is used almost exclusively.

Know Your Ending!

Many times, writers begin writing with no idea of what the ending of their story, essay, or paper is going to be. While this may be an acceptable approach in poetry, for example, it is certainly not advisable in other types of writing.

Knowing how and where your writing project will end is essential to remaining focused throughout the writing process. Developing and organizing your ideas, thoughts, details, data--whatever the elements of your writing are--ahead of time, including the ending, will not only keep you focused on the task at hand but also help you finish your writing assignments on time.

Italics and Quotation Marks

When to use italic type and quotation marks.

  1. Italicize titles of works that are produced separately from other works, such as books, plays, periodicals, movies, etc.

    I have seen Star Wars three times.

    I subscribe to the Washington Post.

    Have you read The Age of Innocence?

    NOTE: Notice in the last example how the question mark is NOT italicized. Do not italicize a punctuation mark unless it is part of the title.

  2. Use quotation marks for all other titles (songs, essays, articles, etc.)

    The Beatles? album, Revolver, contains the song "Dr. Robert."

    We read Keats? poem "Ode on a Grecian Urn" in class this week.

    Lean and Effective Prose

    Keep your prose lean and effective by trimming excess verbiage. Don’t use several words where one word can do the job. Here’s a handy guide:

Instead of . . .
at all times
for the reason that
due to the fact that
by means of
in the final analysis
for the purpose of
in the event that
Men's San Francisco 49ers Majestic Scarlet Strong Will Synthetic Shorts,Green Bay Packers Polystyrene Snowman Figurine,Antigua Carolina Panthers Icon Polo - Black.Arizona Cardinals Tervis 24oz Cheap New York Giants Jerseys Sale. Bubble Up Water Bottle,Infant Baltimore Ravens Purple Field Goal 3-Pack Bodysuit Set,Youth Denver Broncos Navy Tactical Polar Fleece Full-Zip Jacket.Women's Denver Broncos '47 Orange On the Fifty Super Bowl Champions Flanker V-Neck T-Shirt,Men's Oakland Raiders New Era Black/Gold Gold Collection Original Fit 9FIFTY Snapback Adjustable Hat,Women's San Francisco 49ers Klew Scarlet Big Logo Ugly Sweater Dress.Mens Chicago Bears Mike Ditka Nike Navy Retired Player Game Jersey,Men's Detroit Lions Ameer Abdullah Nike Blue Player Pride Name & Number Short Sleeve T-Shirt Cheap New York Giants Eli Manning Jersey.Men's Pittsburgh Steelers Klew Black Dots Walkshorts,New York Jets Plush Football New York Giants History.Men's Seattle Seahawks Antigua College Navy Finish Desert Dry Polo,Youth Los Angeles Rams Todd Gurley Nike Navy Game Jersey,Youth Minnesota Vikings Teddy Bridgewater Nike Purple Team Color Game Jersey.Women's Pittsburgh Steelers Touch by Alyssa Milano Black Bella Tank Top,Men's Cleveland Browns Woven Poly Striped Tie,Women's Los Angeles Rams Pro Line Gray Reversible Jacket.'47 Brand Arizona Cardinals Infant Basic Team Logo Adjustable Hat - Cardinal,Women's New England Patriots Navy Blue Wild Card Mesh V-Neck T-Shirt,Men's Kansas City Chiefs Nike Charcoal Speed Performance T-Shirt Cheap New York Giants Jerseys Sale