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What is the second biggest writing mistake that students make when writing an essay? Educator Summer Dittmer says punctuation! In this video, Ms. Dittmer reviews the difference between colons and semicolons.

About the Writing No-No video series: Ms. Dittmer created a series of videos based on her experiences in helping students and adults learn how to improve their writing skills. These videos provide quick yet valuable lessons on what NOT to do when writing an academic paper.

Also watch the #1 Writing No-No: Never using 1st or 2nd person.

Watch the video (2:14):

Punctuation: How to use colons and semicolons | WriteCheck from Turnitin on Vimeo.

Read along:

The Misused Semicolon

The #2 Writing No-No is incorrect punctuation. In this video, I will specifically address the semicolon. So what, exactly is a semicolon? Let’s talk specifically about the semicolon.

A semicolon is used to join two independent clauses. Have I already lost you?  Don’t fret- independent clauses are also known as complete sentences; because they are independent- they can stand alone. Many writers use semicolons instead of conjunctions (and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet). Keep in mind, writers use them because the ideas that they are connecting are closely related, therefore they flow well.

Sarah loves to read and books are her best friends.

Sarah loves to read; books are her best friends.

I always tell my students that when they use a semicolon between two independent clauses, then those independent clauses must be given equal position or even an equal right. Neither is more important than the other; it just helps the flow. Let’s look at an example:

Johnny got an A in math; he is a human calculator.

See how it helps the flow of two related ideas with equal value. You would never write:

Johnny got an A in math; he just purchased a washing machine.

Let’s also take a quick look at where students go wrong. The most common error is using a semicolon where a colon should be used.  Colons are used to introduce something to the reader or to join two things of unequal weight. The independent clause can be followed by a dependent clause (also known as a fragment).  This brings me to the second most common misuse of a semicolon-students use it with one independent clause and one dependent clause, as shown in this example.

Example:  Rashad tasted the lemonade; too bitter.  INCORRECT

Rashad tasted the lemonade: too bitter.  CORRECT!


There were three types of ice cream; chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. INCORRECT

There were three types of ice cream: chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. CORRECT

Here’s a helpful hint: if you can’t remember which one to use, a colon or a semicolon, keep in mind, the SEmicolon connects two complete SEntences; they both begin with SE.

Thanks for listening, and good luck with your writing! Stay tuned for my next Writing No-No.


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