Top Punctuation Howlers – The Colon

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!

27 Comments »


1

Here is another great article regarding the use of colon. Thanks Penny!

Comment provided July 6, 2012 at 9:35 AM

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2
Thiet ke logo writes:

This is really great use of colon

Comment provided July 6, 2012 at 9:37 AM

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3
Kat Helms writes:

Very good information.

I *think* I’ve always used colons properly, although I don’t think I’ve ever seen the proper usage explained like this.

Often I pick up grammar and style from lots of (non-internet) reading. Although many authors take leeway in novels and such, after enough reading you can form a pretty good picture of most rules.

Comment provided July 6, 2012 at 9:40 AM

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4
Edmund Sykes writes:

I am extremely flattered to have been quoted about the digestive tract: I cannot think of a higher praise.

My original post postulated that every colon required a capital letter for the next part of the sentence but, having studied Fowler’s, I now admit that this is not a rule but a matter of preference.

I just love your articles, Penny!

Comment provided July 6, 2012 at 9:58 AM

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5
Edmund Sykes writes:

The colon is also used, at least in Continental Europe, for witing the time, as in “I’ll see you between 13:00 and 13:50 tomorrow”.

Comment provided July 6, 2012 at 10:07 AM

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6
Martin Helm writes:

It took me years to master the colon and, like most masters, I’m still not convinced I always get it right.

The trend towards using a hyphen or period (or ‘full stop’ as we like to call it over here) is well established, though even racier still is the ellipsis, fast making its mark in the email arena.

When I was first building my website I had great difficulty explaining the rules in ways which people would understand and, more importantly, feel comfortable using.

So much of what we write and speak is the result of usage … the style we’re familiar with. If it works, why throw it away?

And while we’re at it, please don’t pick me up on that example of ending a sentence with a preposition. Yes I know it should be ‘the style with which we are familiar’ but my version flows more easily. OK?

Comment provided July 6, 2012 at 10:11 AM

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7
Randall Magwood writes:

I think I use a comma more than a colon sign, but this blog post helped me to understand where and when I should insert colons in my articles. Thanks for the great tips.

Comment provided July 6, 2012 at 2:39 PM

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8
Joe writes:

“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)”

Those are semi colons, which are not used interchangeably with colons – or at least as far as I know.

Comment provided July 6, 2012 at 3:42 PM

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Joe,

In this example, the semi-colons were not used interchangeably with the colons. Here we were demonstrating how the colon will accompany a list or series after expressions such as ‘for example’ in this case.

~Vanessa

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Joe writes:

Duh. Somehow missed that colon after ‘For example’.

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9
Salihu S Dikko writes:

The tips given and high lighted are not only good, but are very great, and would assist a lot of the Expert Authors that are fortunate to make good use of the readings contained therein.
For the sake of time factor, such tips should always be made as brief as humanly possible. I always think that time is against only me, due to the simple fact or reason of researching most of my times.

Comment provided July 7, 2012 at 6:24 AM

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10

colon? it’s sound is great. Nice article penny ..

Comment provided July 7, 2012 at 8:47 AM

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11
BBCOR writes:

Thanks. For whatever reason I always got the colon and semi colon mixed up.

Comment provided July 8, 2012 at 8:59 AM

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12
Jeff Turner writes:

The following may not be entirely correct but it is funny.

An English professor wrote the words:

“A woman without her man is nothing”
on the chalkboard and asked his students to punctuate it correctly.

All of the males in the class wrote:
“A woman, without her man, is nothing.”

All the females in the class wrote:
“A woman: without her, man is nothing.”

Punctuation is powerful !

Comment provided July 9, 2012 at 3:37 AM

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13
Andy writes:

I find the best way to know if your article has the correct punctuation, is to read it back to yourself out loud. If it doesn’t make sense, then something is very wrong with it.

Comment provided July 9, 2012 at 3:42 AM

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14
Salihu S dikko writes:

The use of colon as said, is very important, for it makes the reader of the article knows or believes that the writer knows much of what he is writing about or commands English properly.
All expert Authors particularly with Ezine should make out more time and be concentrating on the proper us of these tips given to us every now and then.

Comment provided July 9, 2012 at 5:58 AM

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Edmund Sykes writes:

Salihu S, the point of an article is to impart information in a concise and readable manner and not to make the reader think that you know more than you do!

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15
Tre Cummings writes:

Thanks for this informative article. This information will greatly help me when writing, allowing me to better reach my audience.

Comment provided July 9, 2012 at 8:45 AM

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16
Terry Newell writes:

I was working on an article earlier today and spent a ridiculous amount of time on a dilemma over a colon. I sure could have used this information. I’ve saved this, but was wondering if the same information about the semicolon will be showing up anytime soon. I’ll keep checking back – thanks

Comment provided July 13, 2012 at 10:34 PM

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Hi Terry,

Stay tuned to the blog as we will be covering the semicolon in the very near future!

~Vanessa

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17
Terry Newell writes:

I’m so glad I found this blog. I think it’s so sad that students are no longer required to learn grammar and punctuation in school anymore. Not in high school in Texas, apparently teachers are happy if students pick up on any of the basics. Kids are graduating from HS and they can’t even write a letter using proper punctuation & grammar. My son’s guidance counselor told me teachers don’t have the time to teach P & G because it’s too difficult for mainstream kids to learn, however, it is available as an elective if a student wants or needs to learn how to write. Maybe other school districts do it differently, but I feel like my two youngest kids got a raw deal.

Comment provided July 16, 2012 at 11:09 PM

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18

Just read a NewYorker article on colons and semicolons, and this one is equally as informative. Great Job! :)

Comment provided July 20, 2012 at 10:07 AM

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19
Vijay Khosla writes:

I liked the article. Ofcourse, Jef Turner made it more enjoyable with his contribution!

Comment provided July 24, 2012 at 1:34 AM

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20
Elena writes:

I was wondering when the colon and semicolon would be brought up. Thank you for the illustrations. You’re right punctuation can be powerful when used correctly.

Comment provided August 3, 2012 at 7:49 PM

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21
Stephen Monday writes:

Nice post Jeff.

You gave some great examples concerning the use of colons, and semicolons.

Best Regards,

Stephen Monday

Comment provided August 4, 2012 at 12:34 PM

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22
James Garety writes:

I have always avoided the colon, but I now will use it tentatively and experimentally!

Comment provided August 15, 2012 at 2:22 PM

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23
Vijay Khosla writes:

Hi Jeff,

Your post on Punctuation Howler is very interesting. I have taken the privilege of noting it down separately to make my students understand the same in an interesting way.

Thanks once again.

Comment provided August 17, 2012 at 11:33 AM

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