Depending on whether they’re used correctly, punctuation marks can often make or break a content piece. Not only do they help make your writing clear, they also help with content flow so your readers actually keep reading.

There are many punctuation marks that are often misunderstood and misused. Here are a few of the more frequently misused punctuation marks and information on how to use them correctly.


Colons are mostly used for clarification purposes. They are almost always used after a complete sentence to denote that a list, definition, description or explanation is incoming. Because the portion before the colon should be a complete sentence, the part after the colon does not necessarily have to be a complete sentence as well. Below are some examples.

List Colon

  • “Yesterday, I had my favorite lunch: potato chips, Reuben sandwich, orange soda and an orange.

Descriptive Colon

  • “Tom is dating Julie, the loveliest woman in school: her laugh is infectious and she’s been volunteering at the homeless shelter.”

Colon for Definition

  • “I was reading Julius Caesar this weekend and had to look up the meaning of “ides of March: The 15th of March.

Explanation Colon

  • “I had a great day: I won the lottery and married the man of my dreams.”


Almost no point of punctuation, in the experience of this editor, gets erroneously used more than the semicolon. It is correctly used in mainly two ways: joining clauses that are closely related and helping out in lists that are too complicated to just use commas. When used with clauses, the clauses need to be independent so that they are able to stand on their own.

Semicolon for Related Clauses

  • “I used to live in France; I moved to Belgium when I was 3.”
  • “She likes coffee; I prefer soda.”

Semicolons in Lists

  • “This weekend I drove through Paris, Tennessee; London, Ohio; and Rome, Kentucky.


Hyphens are used to turn two descriptive words into a single word. They can also be used for typesetting purposes, but most word processing programs do that kind of thing automatically now.

Hyphens for Joining Words

  • “The man-eating shark was finally caught a few miles up the coast.”
  • “The four-year-old boy loved to eat apples and cookies.”

Tools in Your Toolkit

English has lots of punctuation marks, so it can be difficult to figure out what goes where and when. Luckily, the biggest offenders are actually pretty easy to remember how to use. My writing teacher once described punctuation as the tools in our writer’s toolkit. Knowing your tools and when to use them will help you construct better, more clear and more understandable articles.

The semicolon, colon and hyphen are some of the most common punctuation marks that, if used correctly, can set your writing apart. So, brush up on this punctuation while we wait for the more obscure marks (like the interrobang or irony mark) to come into common usage.