Grammar & Punctuation: Proper Use Of The Colon

Frequent misuse of grammar & punctuation is common. Although there are only a few rules governing the use of the colon, this form of punctuation is frequently misused.

The colon (:) is most often used to formally or emphatically introduce series, lists, appositives, and quotations. Generally, a colon implies a "promise," and what follows the colon "delivers on" that promise.

1. When extra emphasis or a degree of formality is desired, a colon can be employed to introduce a word, a phrase, or a clause used in apposition to a substantive (a noun or a noun substitute) in the introductory statement.

EXAMPLES

WORD

There is one thing a human being simply cannot do without: hope.

PHRASE

Her goal was easily stated: the state championship.

One factor cannot be ignored: the bottom line.

CLAUSE

There was only one question left to answer: who had sent her the first warning?

Don't overlook the most important rule: never argue with the boss.

2. A colon is frequently used after an introductory statement that clearly indicates that something--a list or an enumeration, for example--is to follow.

EXAMPLES

The children were asked to bring certain supplies the next day: crayons, scissors, glue, glitter, and ribbon.

A number of unexpected problems cropped up: the orders didn't go out on time, there was a breakdown in communication with the branch offices, and our top salesman was recruited by another company.

The major holidays for the upcoming academic year are as follows: Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day, and Memorial day.

3. If a quoted passage is formal, long, or paragraphed separately, a colon is used to separate the introductory statement from the quotation that follows.

EXAMPLE

John F. Kennedy issued this stirring challenge: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."



4. A colon is used after the salutation of a formal letter or a business letter. (A comma follows the salutation of a friendly letter or an informal letter.)

EXAMPLES

Dear Sir or Madam:

Gentlemen:

To the Selection Committee:

5. A colon is used to separate the title of a book or article from its subtitle.

"High Risk: Children Without a Conscience"

______

COMMON MISUSES OF THE COLON

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

WRONG

She was in charge of: registration, cabin assignments, and camp clean-up.

CORRECT

She was in charge of registration, cabin assignments, and camp clean-up.

2. Do not use a colon to separate a verb from its objects.

WRONG

I like to play: soccer, racquetball, and ice hockey.

CORRECT

I like to play soccer, racquetball, and ice hockey.

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

WRONG

I enjoy playing physically demanding sports such as: soccer, racquetball, and ice hockey.

CORRECT

I enjoy playing physically demanding sports such as soccer, racquetball, and ice hockey.

4. After a word, phrase, or clause has been introduced by a colon, the sentence must end with the introduced element. (The main clause cannot be picked up again after the introduced element.)

WRONG

We were offered a choice of desserts: pudding, an assortment of pastries, and a fruit cocktail, but we were too stuffed to eat another bite.

CORRECT

We were offered a choice of desserts: pudding, an assortment of pastries, and a fruit cocktail. Unfortunately, we were too stuffed to eat another bite.

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