What is the colon punctuation mark, and when should you use it when writing? (Please see chart in the introduction to punctuation marks workshop)
: = Colon
Colons follow independent clauses (clauses that could stand alone as sentences) and can be used to present an explanation, draw attention to something, or join ideas together.
Always remember, an independent clause is a group of words that can stand on its own as a sentence: it has a subject, a verb, and is a complete thought.
Use the colon (:) to introduce a list. The colon is strong, it creates a lot of expectation for the reader.
Colons can only be used after a complete sentence or complete thought.
• Robin’s new car is luxurious: the leather car seats have been customized with an internal device that automatically warms them in the winter, and cools them in the summer.
Did you notice the word following the colon, wasn’t capitalized? When using the colon, the same rule applies as with the semicolon; proper nouns should only be capitalized.
The newly built precinct is located near the elementary school: District 6 Precinct is spacious, modern, and was designed to withstand hurricane winds.
District 6 Precinct = proper noun
The colon replaces the period when you the writer, wish to add something after the end of a sentence.
• The makeup artist loves to wear makeup: mascara, eyeliner, and lipstick are essential grooming items.
Mascara is not a proper noun so it should not be capitalized. (Please review parts of speech nouns in our basic rules of grammar category).
You can use a colon to connect two sentences when the second sentence summarizes, sharpens, or explains the first. Both sentences should be complete, and their content should be very closely related.
• The comedian’s jokes were offensive: no one laughed at his jokes. The entire audience was outraged.
When a colon introduces a complete sentence, you may capitalize the first word after the colon if you are using certain writing styles like the APA style, which we will discuss in one of our future workshops. The general rule however, is not to capitalize words after the colon unless it’s a proper noun or acronym.
In the above sentence example, did you notice that the colon came after the independent clause (clauses that could stand alone as sentences)?
In the above sentence example, we used the colon punctuation follwing the independent clause to emphasize the next independent clause related to it. Stylistically and grammatically if the writer didn’t want to place emphasis on an independent clause following a colon, the writer may simply choose to use commas to separate a list or independent clause.
• The comedian’s jokes were offensive, no one laughed at his jokes. The entire audience was outraged.
The colon has primarily three grammatical uses and several non-grammatical uses.
1. The colon is used to introduce a list of items.
2 The colon is used to separate two independent clauses when the second explains or illustrates the first. The colon serves almost like a semicolon when used this way.
3. The colon is used to place emphasis on what comes next, following the first sentence or independent clause.
Avoid using a colon before a list if it directly follows a verb or preposition that would ordinarily need no punctuation in that sentence.
• For their honeymoon they went to: Chile, Mexico, and Japan.
to = preposition
• For their honeymoon they went to Chile, Mexico, and Japan.
(No colon needed)
• I want: milk, eggs and cheese.
The colon separates the verb want from its complements.
• I want milk, eggs and cheese.
(No colon needed)
Here is what I want: milk, eggs and cheese.
Non-grammatical use of the colon
The colon is used to separate hours from minutes, with no space before or after the colon.
The colon is used to express a ratio of two numbers, with no space before or after the colon.
3. Biblical references
The colon is used in biblical references to separate chapter from verse, with no space before or after the colon.
• Matthew 24:14
• Psalms 83:18
• Revelations 21:3
The colon can be used after a greeting when writing.
• Dear Sir or Madam:
Do you have to place the colon punctuation after words like such as to introduce a list?
No. This is a common misconception by many people. The colon serves the same purpose as the words, such as – to introduce, so using both of them would be redundant.
• Mrs. Wilson enjoys high-end fashion such as: designer shoes, handbags, and couture gowns.
Correct sentence example
• Mrs. Wilson enjoys high-end fashion such as designer shoes, handbags, and couture gowns.
This same rule applies when using words like including and for example. Remember, the rule is only use a colon at the end of a complete sentence.
Now it’s time to test your knowledge on the colon punctuation mark. Please complete the Colon Worksheet. You’ll find it on our website. Just click on the menu section at the top, and then select worksheets.
We hope you enjoyed this workshop!
*Keep up to date with all of our free workshops.
Follow us on Twitter @dfoww_edu
Follow us on Facebook @dfoww