Unlike many writers, I actually like punctuation…to a point.
I think my fondness for punctuation began when I was a preschooler watching The Electric Company on PBS. I loved their singing and dancing and acting out of the period, question mark, and exclamation mark. (Who else remembers the Short Circus singing “I Want You” while the exclamation mark noisily formed at the end of that sentence?)
Alas, The Electric Company never taught me the rules regarding the colon, semicolon, em dash, en dash, and oh-so-troublesome hyphen.
The rule that I follow for the semicolon is a rule I learned in junior high (aka middle school). Don’t use a semicolon unless you could substitute a period for it and still have two complete sentences. That was easy enough to follow.
Now, about the colon…I learned (also in junior high) that one must never use it unless one is making a list using “the following.”
INCORRECT: These cookies are made of: flour, oil, sugar, baking powder, and chocolate.
CORRECT: These cookies contain the following ingredients: flour, oil, sugar, baking powder, and chocolate.
ALSO CORRECT: These cookies are made of flour, oil, sugar, baking powder, and chocolate.
Of course, The Chicago Manual of Style (CMoS) lists different rules for using the colon, which I am committing to memory now and with which I will not bore you here.
I am also committing to memory the CMoS rules regarding the hyphen. I keep having to look those up. Eventually the rules will be tattooed to the inside of my eyelids, as my college chemistry professor used to say. The hyphen is my nemesis. Do I hyphenate “smartly dressed”? No! I am not supposed to use a hyphen with an adverb ending in -ly when it comes before the adjective that it is modifying.
Which punctuation rules are your nemeses, dear readers?