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All of these punctuation marks seem to have the same purpose.

Is there any general guideline for picking one for each use case?

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What makes you think they all have the same purpose? Because they're not entirely interchangeable. –  simchona Feb 25 '12 at 1:49
    
@simchona, "not entirely" is the part that's confusing. Of course they have different uses but it's a bit ambiguous. Some clarification would be greatly appreciated. –  Absolute0 Feb 25 '12 at 1:54
    
Here's a guideline: informatics.sussex.ac.uk/department/docs/punctuation/… –  J.R. Feb 25 '12 at 2:56
    
@Absolute0 from english.stackexchange.com/faq#dontask: Your questions should be reasonably scoped. If you can imagine an entire book that answers your question, you’re asking too much. There are books on punctuation, so this isn't a good fit for the site. –  simchona Feb 25 '12 at 4:14
    
@J.R.: that's exactly what I was after. Thank you! –  Absolute0 Apr 15 '12 at 4:03
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1 Answer

All of these doesn't have the same purpose.

Hyphen (-)

Hyphens are used to link words and parts of words. They are not as common today as they used to be, but there are three main cases where you should use them:

  • in compound words
  • to join prefixes to other words
  • to show word breaks

More about - here

Semicolon (;)

The main task of the semicolon is to mark a break that is stronger than a comma but not as final as a full stop. It’s used between two main clauses that balance each other and are too closely linked to be made into separate sentences, as in these two examples:

The road runs through a beautiful wooded valley; the railway line follows it.

An art director searched North Africa; I went to the Canary Islands.

Comma (,)

A comma marks a slight break between different parts of a sentence. Used properly, commas make the meaning of sentences clear by grouping and separating words, phrases, and clauses.

Many people are uncertain about the use of commas, though, and often sprinkle them throughout their writing without knowing the basic rules. Here are the main cases when you need to use a comma:

  • in lists
  • in direct speech
  • to separate clauses
  • to mark off certain parts of a sentence

More about comma here

Round brackets ()

Round brackets (also called parentheses) are mainly used to separate off information that isn’t essential to the meaning of the rest of the sentence. If you removed the bracketed material the sentence would still make perfectly good sense. For example:

Mount Everest (8,848 m) is the highest mountain in the world.

There are several books on the subject (see page 120).

You could find hundreds of resources if you google :-)

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It's actually an em-dash. "—", not "-". –  timothymh Apr 2 '12 at 22:34
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