The Proper Way to Use a Dash and Hyphen; Semicolon and Colon

Like you probably know, dashes, hyphens, semicolons and colons are all punctuation marks but while a lot of persons know they are different, some still cannot help but make mistakes with either how each is used, or confuse one for the other.

Here in this article, my desire is to clear every doubt you may have as regards the use of hyphen and dashes or semicolons and colons. Shall we…


A hyphen (-) is generally used to join two or more words together. These words could be compound adjectives (twelve-year-old girl, well-educated boy), compound numbers (twenty-five, fifty-six), connected numerals (pages 15-18, 1923-1998), etc.

A hyphen is also used in writing if you must divide a word at the end of a line. Worthy of note is that words should only be divided between syllables or pronounceable parts. If you’re unsure of the correct place, consult your dictionary.

When a hyphen is introduced in a sentence where it is not supposed to be, it can alter the meaning of the sentence. Consider the following examples:


Bola, please could you re-count the balloons.

Bola, please could you recount the story.


In the first sentence, Bola was asked to count the balloons again whereas in the second, she was asked to retell the story she told at first.



Dashes could either be an en dash (-) or em dash (―). The en dash is a little longer than a hyphen but not as long as an em dash. Both dashes are used to create emphasis in a sentence, to indicate a change in thought, or an abrupt break.

They are used instead of places where you would use a bracket to explain or clarify something but don’t want to use a colon. It is important that you note that in formal writings, it is advised to use a bracket instead of a dash.

On reaching the junction, I saw Jide―the same person that refused to give me a lift with the excuse that he’d be late to work―chatting with every sense of abandonment with a lady I didn’t recognise.


I couldn’t forget how the whole incident made me feel-drained.

Please note that both types of dashes were demonstrated above. The second sentence looks like a hyphen―my reason for always choosing the em dash over en dash. Also note that both dashes and hyphens are not preceded or followed after by a space. Consider the above examples again closely.


Semicolons are used to separate two independent clauses not joined by a conjunction (such as and, or, but, for, nor, yet, so).

Genevieve Nnaji is neither married nor engaged, but her film Lion Heart is still viewed with delight by her fans.


Genevieve Nnaji is neither married nor engaged; her film Lion Heart is still viewed with delight by her fans.

The semicolon is also used to separate main clauses joined by a conjunctive adverb (such as therefore, however, furthermore, nevertheless).

In this part of the world, we still battle with the cold weather; however, people in the North can’t keep their clothes on while they sleep.


If you have a list with some or all of the items in the list having commas, separate them with semicolons instead of more commas.

The meeting was attended by Ms Ngozi, the English teacher; Mr Ese, the G&C; and Mr Clement, the Principal.


Colons are used to introduce a list especially after a sentence that uses such words as these, as follows, the following.


In order to gain admission into the university, most science students would require a credit in the following subjects: Chemistry, Physics, and Biology.

Note: if the list immediately follows a verb or a preposition, do not use a colon to introduce it.


In order to gain admission into the university, most science students require a credit in Chemistry, Physics, and Biology.


A colon is also used to introduce a long or formal quotation.

The following quotation appeared in Eleanor Roosevelt’s autobiography, This Is My Story: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Colons are also used between the hour and the minute of the precise time, between the chapter and the verse in biblical references.


 3:48pm    8:50am     Ecclesiastes 33:3     Proverbs 2:6-8

Lastly, Colons are also used between the hour and the minute of the precise time, between the chapter and the verse in biblical references.

Damaging Effects of Poorly Edited Articles/Books

It’s no doubt that you have heard one or two implications of a poorly edited article/book. In this post, I want to highlight them more clearly and show you how damaging they can be. Stay with me.

Difficulty in Understanding

When your write up is riddled with errors, one of the disadvantages is that your message doesn’t come out clear and therefore your attempt to pass your message or tell a story fails. Words are the building block of your message, when they are poorly arranged or weakly constructed, you make it difficult to pass your message clearly.

It’s not enough to write your thoughts or communicate your message, you have to ensure you use words and register most suited for your target audience and field. When a professional editor takes your manuscript, one of her jobs is to help you refine your writing to ensure that it suits the target audience. However, when it’s poorly edited, these things are not taken care of.

Loss of Respect

We often accord respect to people based on how they look and their general appearance. This reality is seen in the fact that even if someone is very good in what they do, if their dressing portrays them differently, we can’t help but judge them accordingly. The same reality applies in writing. Your readers accord you respect partly based on the kind of content they see you release because, most times, they don’t get to relate with you outside those contents.

I know you don’t eat respect from your reader, but it affects your message and your ability to positively influence your target audience. That’s why it’s wisdom on your part to ensure you don’t lose it with avoidable typos and grammatical blunders. When your work is poorly edited, you lose your respect with your readers and the consequence is that they may not read further or not trust you or your message again.

Waste of Your Reader’s Time

When your write up is riddled with errors, most of your target readers will stop reading you; but when they feel you have something to say, they will continue but with lots of difficulty in understanding what you are writing.

As a result, you waste your reader’s time as he tries to figure out exactly what you are saying. You make them reread almost every sentence or paragraph as they try to understand your point. This damages your reputation and goes a long way to weaken the perception of your message.

Misleading Your Readers

Some errors make you say something you don’t want to say and the implication is that you lead your readers to the wrong information; thereby confusing them. I have seen where the erroneous omission of the word ‘not’ changed the point an author was trying to make in his post. Same applies to the wrong use of punctuations; it communicates an entirely different message from what was intended. That’s something you don’t want to do because you may not be able to retract the erroneous article, mail, letter or book once you hit the send or publish button.

Many writers, business owners, bloggers, authors and preachers publish their beautiful ideas, stories and teachings poorly; but you don’t have to. You can have your ideas and stories refined so that it will speak to the target audience effectively and that’s why we are offering you our premium copyediting and proofreading services today. Get in touch with us to get started.

Why Your Articles/Books are Poorly Edited

If you are a writer or at least pass your message through writing and have noticed errors in your work after publishing, I want to show you why your writings are poorly edited.

I understand that many people make efforts to edit their writing; but reality is that many of those works are poorly edited. That’s why I want to start this post by showing you what a poorly edited write up really is.

A poorly edited write up is one that has grammatical, punctuation, spelling and capitalization errors riddled in it. It’s the one whose sentence structures are wrong and so weak that the target readers don’t even get the point being made in the write up. It’s the one that misquotes facts and figures erroneously.

So, why are they poorly edited?

Failure to Read Through

One of the reasons is that you are not meticulous in reviewing and editing your write up. From my experience as an editor, I know that there are many typos that won’t escape being caught by the eyes of the author if he/she had taken a second look before clicking post, publish or send.

For people like that, you need to first calm down after writing to see if there are typos you can spot in your writing. You may not be able to pick all of them, but if you pay close attention, you can pick a handful.

To make this even more effective, do you know what you should do? Drop your work for some minutes, hours or days after writing, depending on how much time you have before publishing and come back to it. It’s then that you can look at it with a fresh eye.

Unprofessional Editing

If you are not the person I just described above, congrats. For you, your work may have been poorly edited because you didn’t hand it over to an editor to give you a professional look, refine your sentences and spot errors which you are very likely to be blind to.

You see, editing is not the same thing as reading through your work. What many people call editing is actually having someone read through their work and they take it to mean that it has been edited. Editing is more than that. It actually involves the art of reading through your work by an eye trained to detect grammatical blunders, typos and weak sentences.

Unless your spouse, friend or co-worker is trained to detect grammatical errors, handing over your manuscript to them to read won’t give you proper editing. Their eyes have not been trained to detect sick sentences, punctuation marks that are illegal occupants and overzealous use of capitalization.

Rushed Editing

Another reason why your work is poorly edited is because you did rushed-editing. Editing is a meticulous activity and you have to give it time to be able to do a good job. When you rush it, you skip typos you would have seen if you had given it more time. That is why it is never recommended that an editor work on a book when he/she is exhausted. You need a high sense of alertness.

So, if you are using the services of professional editors, give them time to go through your work again and again. As an editor, I have found that when I go through a manuscript the second time after my clients had accepted changes; I see one or two other errors I didn’t see at first. So, when you have a deadline you are working towards, plan into it adequate time for your editors to do a thorough job.

For us at ThoroughProof, when we take a client’s manuscript, our target is to make sure that it is thoroughly edited. It hurts to see a manuscript that has passed through us still riddled with error, no matter how small. That’s why we always seek adequate time for our double editing which involves at least two pro editors.

Insisting on Being Your Own Editor

If you insist on editing your work, even if you are an editor, you are very likely to be blind to some errors in your writing. I once saw a good writer and editor I know, complaining on a group I belong on how he can’t see his errors on paper; but can pick other people’s own.

One of the reasons is that he is reading what is in his head; not what is on paper. It happens to everybody, including me. It takes practice and exercise to come to the point of reading what’s on paper instead of what I have in my head. That is why as an editor and writer, it is wisdom to contract your book or article to be edited by another professional.

Again, no matter how good you are, hand over your work to a second eye to look at. It’s usually another eye that can detect verbosity, repetition, and wrong characterization in your work; you should do yourself the favour of that second eye.

Many writers, business owners, bloggers, authors and preachers publish their beautiful ideas, stories and teachings poorly; but you don’t have to. You can have your ideas and stories refined so that it will speak to the target audience effectively and that’s why we are offering you our premium copyediting and proofreading services today. Get in touch with us to get started.