Recently I wrote about our much-misused friend, the semicolon; now that you’ve mastered the art of using the semicolon correctly, I thought I’d spend a little time talking about another misunderstood punctuation mark: the colon.
Here are several commonly known uses: 1) following a salutation in a formal letter or email (Dear Dr. Jones:); 2) in delineating hours and minutes (4:15); 3) when separating a book’s title and subtitle (The Wild West: A Study in Contrasts); 4) when indicating proportions (The ratio of cats to dogs was 4:1.); and 5) in writing bibliographic citations (New York: HarperCollins, 2008).
Perhaps less known or understood is its use in the following instance: after an independent clause (a sentence with a subject and verb that can stand alone). In this case, you would use a colon when you want to direct your reader’s attention to 1) a list, 2) a quotation, 3) an explanation or a summary, or 4) an appositive (a noun or noun phrase that sits right next to another noun and renames it or describes it in another way). Here are some examples:
- My morning ritual includes the following: yoga, a shower, a good breakfast, and meditation. (a list)
- Think about these wise words from Ben Franklin: “There never was a good war or a bad peace.” (a quotation)
- Happiness is like hope: It cannot be forced. (an explanation or a summary)
- My dog is guilty of two of the seven deadly sins: sloth and gluttony. (an appositive)
Here are the most common misuses of a colon:
After a verb(The best things you can do to lose weight are :control portion sizes and get plenty of exercise.) After a preposition(The book consists of :nine chapters and an afterword.) After for example, such as, and including(The recipe has just a handful of ingredients, including :flour, eggs, and vanilla.)
So now you know.