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  1. Commas
  2. Run-On Sentences
  3. Compound Sentences
  4. Complex Sentences

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Run-On Sentences

Run-on sentences occur when writers try to combine more than one idea into a single sentence. They cause confusion because readers are not sure when one idea ends and the next one begins. Read our entry and test your knowledge with our quiz!

Colons, Semicolons, and Dashes

Colons tell the reader that what comes next is directly related to what preceded it.  A colon always follows an independent clause (complete sentence). Colons are often used to list things, but a clarification can also follow a colon. You may write complete or incomplete statements after a colon. 

Example: My English teacher has two favorite foods: pasta and ice cream.

 In rare cases, you can reverse the normal order of your clauses for a different effect.

Example: Wealth, fame, power: One man had acquired all of these worldly things. 

Semicolons separate two related independent clauses (complete sentences).

Example: I hope to spend a great deal of time reading on vacation; I just purchased the latest Stephen King novel.

There is one other use for semicolons. Normally, we use commas to separate items in a list. Sometimes, however, each item in a list will itself contain commas. In this situation, commas do not clearly communicate where one list item ends and another begins. Use semicolons instead of commas in these situations. 

Example: I brought three friends on my journey: Jeff, the tough guy; Annie, the brain of the group; and Shirley, who can bake a mean pie.

Dashes set up a break in the sentence or to separate a long appositive from the rest of the sentence.

Example: The bank teller - who incidentally also works at Starbucks on the weekends - does not like to drink coffee.

* An appositive is a phrase that either renames the noun or the phrase right before it.  For example:  My teacher, an expert in Middle Eastern politics, gives us many quizzes.  The appositive - "an expert in Middle Eastern politics" - is not necessary to the general content sentence, but does provide extra information.