Lists, Independent Clauses, Expressions, Quotations, and More
Punctuation can be difficult to get right. As one Expert Author put it, “how can anyone learn English when colon means a punctuation mark and the lower part of the digestive tract?”
The colon is more commonly used to introduce a list, a quotation, or to explain the preceding part of the sentence. The colon is also used in declarations, proclamations, formal salutations, and more. It can be a fun little piece of punctuation, but most authors tend to steer clear of its formality and confusing usage by exchanging it for the period or the more exciting hyphen.
Discover how this stout punctuation mark can add clarity and amplify your message when properly used with these tips!
A colon is often used to introduce a list or series.
Doris is afraid of three types of furniture: chaise lounges, stools, and ottomans.
A colon traditionally will not accompany a list or series after expressions such as namely, for instance, for example, or that is. However, when the colon is used in a series consisting of one or more grammatically complete clauses, then it’s acceptable.
Doris is afraid of three types of furniture, namely, chaise lounges, stools, and ottomans. (No Colon)
For example: the devious chaise lounge is half sofa and half bed; the stool will totter without its back or arms; and the ottoman, with its hidden compartments, threatens to swallow her whole. (Colon)
A colon will follow the expressions as follows and the following.
According to celebrity bears, Winnie the Pooh, Smokey the Bear, and Yogi Bear, the way to a bear’s heart is as follows: honey, fire prevention, and pic-a-nic baskets.
Colons are also used for announcements, clarification, and elaboration.
Hedge Trimming for Hedgehogs: A How-to Guide (Title)
My teenage son has one hobby: sleeping.
Listen up, Toots: while you were shopping, I earned a doctorate, won the Nobel Peace prize, and studied krill off the coast of Antarctica.
A colon can be used to join two independent (complete) sentences when the second sentence amplifies the first sentence.
Several of the world’s greatest, unsung leaders have stories to be told: many were led through trials and tribulations before reaching success in their later years.
Colons are used to introduce lengthy quotations.
On November 19, 1863, a monumental speech was delivered to the world:
“… The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
– Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address
Don’t use a colon to separate a verb from its complement or separate a preposition from its object.
A dedicated brewer requires: a brew pot, a brew spoon, a grain bag, etc. (Incorrect)
A dedicated brewer requires a brew pot, a brew spoon, a grain bag, etc. (Correct)
A dedicated brewer requires many supplies: a brew pot, a brew spoon, a grain bag, etc. (Correct)
Proper punctuation protects us from: appearing spammy, losing credibility, and confusion. (Incorrect)
Proper punctuation protects us from appearing spammy, losing credibility, and confusion. (Correct)
Proper punctuation protects us from the following: appearing spammy, losing credibility, and confusion. (Correct)
Finally, there’s always a space after a colon (unless indicating time, chapters, or legal citations). Also, with the exception of proper nouns, it isn’t a fixed rule whether you must capitalize the word after a colon.
Please allow me to introduce you to my friends: Mario, Luigi, and Yoshi.
We could spend all afternoon discussing colon usage and other colon blunders! Use these colon tips to strengthen your writing skills, as well as maintain your credibility as an Expert Author. We will have more punctuation howlers coming up in the next few weeks, so stop by the Blog for the latest and greatest tips to error-free articles.
Did you miss our last edition of Top Punctuation Howlers? Find out more about the comma here!