Colon Punctuation

Rules and Examples


Punctuation marksThe colon is one of the easiest form of punctuation in the English languageת because it basically does one thing.

Colon punctuation is used to introduce. Colons can introduce a word or words, a phrase, a list or a quotation.


How to use a colon

A colon is made of two equal dots (or periods). One dot sits on top of the other with a small space between ( : ).

To insert a colon on a traditional American keyboard, press SHIFT and the colon/semicolon key beside the L. There is always one space after a colon.

Examples:carrots
  • I like many healthy foods: carrots, broccoli, apples, spinach and oranges.
  • In writing, colon punctuation is used for one thing: to introduce.

  • Mary has only one thing on her mind: work.
  • My mom always told me to follow the Golden Rule: "Treat others as you want to be treated."

  • I have lived in a few states: Alabama, Kansas, Colorado and California.

A colon gives emphasis to whatever you are introducing because the reader must come to a full stop at the colon, which causes them to pay attention to what comes next.

Example:
  • Richard was the best person for the job because he had experience in one key area: teaching.

    This sentence introduces why Richard was the best person for the job and makes the reader focus on that reason: teaching.

  • He was the best person for the job because he had experience in teaching.

    This sentence does not focus on the reason he is best for the job. It does get the point across, but it does not place any emphasis on the word teaching.


Colon punctuation can also be used after the salutation (greeting) of a formal letter or a business letter.

Examples:
  • Dear Sir or Madam:

  • To Whom It May Concern:

  • Gentlemen:

  • Superintendent of Schools:

  • Dear Selection Committee:


Common misuses of the colon

1. Do not use a colon to separate a preposition from its object.

A preposition is a word that is used before a noun to show its connection to another word in the sentence. Here are a few common prepositions:
  • with
  • by
  • for
  • from
  • in
  • tocooking
Incorrect: He was responsible for: cooking dinner, washing dishes and taking out the trash.

Correct without a colon: He was responsible for cooking dinner, washing dishes and taking out the trash.

Correct with a colon: He had a few responsibilities: cooking dinner, washing dishes and taking out the trash.

Incorrect: She went to the concert with: Amy, Lisa, Nick and Richard.

Correct without a colon: She went to the concert with Amy, Lisa, Nick and Richard.

Correct with a colon: She went to the concert with her friends: Amy, Lisa, Nick and Richard.


2. Do not use a colon after a verb in a sentence.

swimmingIncorrect: Her favorite activities in the summer are: biking, swimming and playing baseball.

Correct without a colon: Her favorite activities in the summer are biking, swimming and playing baseball.

Correct with a colon: She enjoys many activities during the summer: biking, swimming and playing baseball.

Incorrect: I like to eat: pizza, chicken and chocolate pie.

Correct without a colon: I like to eat pizza, chicken and chocolate pie.

Correct with a colon: I have a few favorite foods: pizza, chicken and chocolate pie.


3. Do not use a colon after "such as."

crayonsIncorrect: I need to buy a few items before school such as: pencils, paper, glue and crayons.

Correct without a colon: I need to buy a few items before school such as pencils, paper, glue and crayons.

Correct with a colon: I need to buy a few items before school: pencils, paper, glue and crayons.


These were the uses of colon punctuation. Now that you know them, it is time to practice! Read and do exercises.

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