Punctuation: Tips on Using the Colon

Using the COLON

1. The colon is used like an equal sign: that is, information on both sides of it are equally important.  This use (introducing an appositive independent clause) is mostly utilized in creative literature to emphasize a point but can also be used in essays and academic writing.  An example  of it would be this:  Barney won the race: he was ecstatic.

WHY use the colon instead of a period or a semicolon? The use of the colon shows that the two sentences are equally important. A period would not have given the same effect. The semicolon would have only hinted that they were highly related.

2. The most common use of the colon is that it acts as an introducer to lists and also long quotes.

Example: I will take the following children: Mary, Sally and Steven. Note, the colon comes before the list.

RULE TO REMEMBER: The statement to the LEFT of the colon MUST be a complete thought. WARNING: A colon can NEVER come after words like is or are.

The following sentence is NOT correct:

i) The things I am bringing with me to Australia are: khaki shorts, a pith helmet, hiking boots and camping gear.

You can not put the colon after “are” because it is not an independent clause.

One way to correct the sentence is to change it so it reads this way:

i) These are the things I am bringing with me to Australia: khaki shorts, a pith helmet, hiking boots and camping gear.

Another very common error is as follows:

ii) At the end of the day I will go to:  the cleaners, the grocery store and the bank.

You can NOT have the colon after the word “to” because it is not an independent clause.

You could change the sentence this way:

ii) At the end of the day I will go to these places: the cleaners, the grocery store and the bank.

Of course there are several ways you can correct the sentence. What I am showing are common errors and how to correct them.

Practice:  Put in punctuation where necessary.

  1. I’ll take the following people: Tammy Nick and Amanda.
  2. Everyone wants to invest in the company for two good reasons a proven sales record and a growing product demand.
  3. Chris is the one who always rises to the top Ali said the following that kid has several career choices she always manages to rise to the top of whatever she does.
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