Colons, Parentheses, Dashes, Brackets, Hyphens, Apostrophes, Ellipses, Asterisks, Bullets, Slashes, Underlining, Italics, Abbreviations, Numbers

    I. Colons

          A. There are lots of times to use colons that you probably already know about: 

    In times (5:15 AM)

    In business letter greetings (Dear Senator:)

    In referencing volume and page (Encyclopedia Brittanica  IV:312) or

                            chapter and verse (John 3:16)

                Before subtitles (as in the book Chef Doortay: Hooray for the Paste Gourmet)

                With ratios (girls outnumber boys 3:2)

                In play script dialogue, instead of quotation marks (Fred: Come here, doggie!)

                After words like caution, wanted, or note. (Caution: Rabid Squirrels.)

    Before a long, formal quotation (Governor Davis stated to the press: … )

    1. You also know you use a colon before some lists—particularly after these phrases: these are, there are, the following, as follows, such as, or these things. (My hobbies are the following: DJing, eating paste, and pelting possums.) Note: you don’t always need a colon after just the words is or are, before lists.      (My hobbies are DJing, eating paste, and pelting possums. [No colon!])
    2. But the main time to use a colon is to say, “here comes an example” or “here is what I’m talking about.” This is where people leave it out the most, wrongly using a comma or semi-colon instead. (I love one treat most of all:  mega-paste.) (Janie understood her longing for love through nature imagery: "Oh, to be… any tree in bloom, she thought." [p. 13]). 
    3. If the first word after a colon begins a complete sentence, you may capitalize it. But you don’t have to. It’s your choice. (She was the greatest dancer ever: Even the gods stole her moves.)


    II. Parentheses, Dashes, Brackets. 

    1. Parentheses and dashes are used in many of the same places—to enclose unnecessary phrases. Dashes, as in the last sentence, can often also be used in place of a colon. So there's overlap between parentheses, dashes, and colon usage.
    2. 1. Punctuating parentheses: If a complete sentence falls inside parentheses, and the parentheses stand alone, put the period inside. For example: Look at me. (I’m the teacher.) Listen up.                                                                                    2. However, if a complete sentence falls inside the parentheses, but the parentheses are part of a larger sentence, it does not get capitalized, and there will be no period inside, just outside. You may use a question mark or exclamation point inside. For example: Don’t eat that (it’s mine); I’m saving it for Christmas. Or:  We loved the paste casserole (it’s great!). Or: I’m old (isn’t that sad?).        3. If there is no complete sentence inside the parentheses, punctuate outside the parentheses: When I’m hungry (like now), I dream of paste (my favorite food).
    3. Dashes. 1. A dash = two hyphens: --. Either put no space before or after a dash (like this--more common), or a space on either side (like this -- less common).

    2.      Like commas or parentheses, dashes can be used in pairs, to surround a parenthetical (by-the-way-type) phrase. Use parentheses to de-emphasize the phrase, commas to be simply matter-of-fact, and dashes to emphasize the phrase. (The buffet (especially the paste) was yummy. The buffet, especially the paste, was yummy. The buffet—especially the paste—was yummy.)

    3.      Like a colon, a single dash can be used to emphasize the phrase that follows it, or to sum up a list or idea. (That's my last paste bucket—don't hog it.) (Red, white and blue—those are the colors of my gums.)

    1. Brackets. 1. Use brackets to insert one parenthetical comment inside another parenthetical comment. Example: My cupboard (which is usually full of paste [my favorite snack and meal!] and spoons) was EMPTY!

    2. Use brackets to insert your own editorial comments into quoted material--including the sign [sic], which means, "the person I'm quoting made this error, not me." Example: Mike said, "We all want Z-man [Chad Zimmerman] to make the paste-off, since he is the goodest [sic] paste-eater ever."


    III.             Hyphens, Apostrophes, Ellipses, Asterisks, Bullets, Slashes

    A.      Use hyphens with two word numbers (fifty-four), compound adjectives (low-flying plane, devil-may-care attitude), certain prefixes (pro-life, ex-wife, T-shirt), double last names (Wilson-Abramson), to spell out words (P-A-S-T-E), or to mean through (read pp. 1-8,796).

    B.       Use an apostrophe with nouns to indicate ownership (the nice lady's paste). Use it to indicate missing letters (10 o'clock, you're, I like 'em). Do NOT use it with possessive pronouns (write theirs, not their's); do NOT use it with plurals or years (write tomatoes, not tomato's; 1990s, not 1990's.)

    C.      Ellipses are three periods in a row. Use them to indicate that some words have been left out of a quotation ("I am the … king"), or to indicate slow-downs in thought or conversation. (Then slowly… gently… a kiss.)

    D.      Asterisks (*) say "look at the bottom of the page for an additional note."

    E.       Bullets are used to highlight or separate items in a list.

    F.       Slashes or hyphens are used with dates (1/7/02 or 1-7-02). Slashes are used with fractions (1/2) or to mean per (60 miles/second). They are also used with pairs of words to mean and/or (he/she, the soup/salad lunch, the March/April issue).


    IV.             Italics, Underlining, Abbreviations, Numbers

    A.    Italics and Underlining are equivalent, but italics are usually preferred unless writing by hand. Use either for the titles of major works, such as books, movies, newspapers, plays, and magazines (The New York Times, The Royal Tenenbaums). However, use quotation marks, NOT italics or underlining, for songs, stories, poems, articles or chapters ("Stairway to Heaven," "Escalator to Purgatory").

    B.     Use italics or underlining for foreign words (I ordered coq au vin), or for talking about words (Pneumonia is hard to spell.) (Quotes are also okay for the latter).

    C.     Avoid all abbreviations in formal writing, except with people's titles (Dr. What).

    D.    Many write out numbers one to nine, and use numerals for 10 and up; the important thing is to be consistent (not: 30 deer and forty hares). Write out ordinals (first, tenth); use numbers for addresses and page numbers.

Last Modified on August 17, 2016