The Colon


What, exactly, are colons? How are they different from semi-colons? How does one use them correctly? Here are the answers to all your questions – or at least the main ones.

Show the way:

  • Use colons to direct a reader’s attention toward a list or quotation, for example:
    • Just a few kinds of foods make up a typical college meal: carbohydrates, sugar, and then more carbohydrates.
    • Thomas Wolfe claims that home is never the same place after you’ve moved away: “You can’t go home again,” he writes.

Clarify

  • Between independent clauses when the second explains the first, for example:
    • The biggest problem in America relates to money: there is a huge separation between the rich and the poor.

Avoid some common mistakes (don’t insert colons here):

  • Between a verb and its compliment (“…a typical college meals include: carbohydrates, sugar…”)
  • Between a preposition and its object (“…a typical college meal consists of: carbohydrates, sugar…”)
  • After such as, including, or for example (“…such as: peas, carrots…”)

Miscellaneous Uses:

  • After the salutation in a formal letter 
    • Dear Sir or Madam:
  • Times
    • 4:45 o Ratios
  • Between titles and subtitles
  • Between city and publishers in a worked cited

Colons can come in handy in a lot of writing, both to make the sentences flow more smoothly and add variety to your sentence structures. They have many different functions and when used correctly can add a lot to everyday writing.

Information taken from A Writer’s Reference by Diana Hacker (available on the shelves). For more information, see: http://leo.stcloudstate.edu/punct/colon.html or The Brief Penguin Handbook, which is located on the bookshelves in the Fred Meijer Center for Writing and Michigan Authors.

To view or print our Helpful Handout, click here: Colons

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Page last modified February 27, 2019