Punctuation: the Semicolon (;) & Colon (:)

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How to Use a Colon in a Sentence

Four Methods:

Colons are like flashing arrows: they are there to direct your attention to the information that follows them. Colons are used to connect sentences, to present information, and to set off lists and quotations. They call your attention to information following an independent clause, and that information amplifies, explains, or fulfills the information presented before the colon. Once you know how to use a colon, it's easy to remember.


Using Colons to Direct Attention

  1. Precede a list with a colon.Connect a full sentence with a list using a colon. The colon sets off your information, making it easy to sort. Consider these examples:
    • "I went to the store and bought a lot of fruit: peaches, apricots, grapes, kiwis, and nectarines.
    • "You're missing everything: the pre-game, the party, and the afterparty."
  2. Set off a noun or noun phrase with a colon.Colons can be used to join a full sentence with an explanatory noun, proper noun, or noun phrase. Use this to place a lot of emphasis on the noun.
    • You can write, "My nightmare revealed to me my deepest fear: solitude."
    • Another example could be, "The clouds broke to pour sun down on her favorite place in the world: her father's rose garden."
  3. Introduce a lengthy quotation.To quote a full sentence or more, lead with a colon. Don't do this if you are only quoting a few words. Proper usage might include any of the following:
    • 'In her poem "Houses," Laura Riding described the difference between lined and unlined panes of glass: "Windows give up their secrets, not mirrors."'

Connecting Full Sentences with Colons

  1. Join a sentence with another that explains it.Colons can be used to connect full sentences that are related. When the second sentence serves to explain the first, they can be connected with a colon. Here are some examples:
    • "Golf is more than a sport for me: it is an essential networking practice on which my business depends."
    • "I gave him my number: I wanted to see him again."
  2. Amplify a statement.Connect two full sentences with a colon if the second sentence serves to extend, or amplify, the first.
    • For instance, you could write, "Reading books makes me happy: reading in the morning fills me with a joy that illuminates my entire day."
  3. Introduce a conclusion.Connect a sentence that introduces a problem with another sentence that provides the conclusion. A colon may also imply that the second sentence is the result of the first.
    • For instance, you could say, "The teacher finally decided what to do with her rowdy class: she added a ten-minute playground break before storytime."
    • An example of an implied connection might be, "We brought too much bread to the picnic: the birds were very happy."

Avoiding Common Colon Mistakes

  1. Capitalize after the colon in certain cases.When you use a colon to connect two full sentences, you can capitalize the first letter of the second sentence or not. If you are writing a paper in a certain style, such as APA, MLA, Chicago, or AMA, you must follow their guidelines.
    • Do not capitalize the first letter of the second clause if it is not a complete sentence.
    • Do not capitalize the first letter of the second clause if you are writing a paper using MLA or AMA formatting, unless it is a proper noun.
    • Do capitalize the first letter of the second clause when using APA formatting.
    • When using Chicago formatting, capitalize the first letter after a colon only if it introduces two or more sentences. Example: "Masha had three options: She could cry. She could yell. Finally, she could pretend that nothing had happened."
  2. Do not use a colon after an incomplete sentence.A common colon error is to use the colon to introduce a list or noun after an incomplete sentence. Sentences that include common mistakes sound abrupt and disjointed:
    • "His list of goals was: go to Europe, fall in love, and get on TV."
  3. Use colons only to connect related sentences.Complete sentences that do not have a clear causal or thematic connection should not be connected with colons.
    • It would be incorrect, for instance, to write this: "I would have to go to the store in an hour: winter in Minnesota is cold."
    • A correct usage might be, "I would have to pick up a solid coat: winter in Minnesota is cold."
  4. Don't use a colon where a semi-colon should be.When you are connecting two full sentences that are of equal weight, a semi-colon will serve you better than a colon. A colon draws attention to the clause that follows it, while the semi-colon does not.
    • For instance, it would be incorrect to say, "The TV is next to the bookcase: the couch is flanked by two end tables." This is because the second clause does not explain, amplify, or answer the first. It merely adds more information.
    • Instead, you would write, "The TV is next to the bookcase; the couch is flanked by two end tables."

Colon Usage Cheat Sheet

Community Q&A

  • Question
    Is it correct to write a sentence like this: "Remember: if you don't listen carefully, you won't know what steps to follow."
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
  • Question
    Can I use a colon twice in a sentence after two or three words?
    Top Answerer
    It would be an extremely unusual--even awkward--sentence if it required two colons.
  • Question
    Would I use a colon after the word "of" when writing "in memory of?"
    Community Answer
    Generally, you wouldn't; mostly you use a colon to introduce a list, for example, 'the girl had two hobbies: reading mystery novels and playing the piano'. This works because the first part (the girl had two hobbies) could stand on its own.
  • Question
    Is a colon used inside of quotation marks?
    Top Answerer
    It can be.
  • Question
    Is this correct? "Give me: cheese, bread and butter."
    Top Answerer
    No colon needed.
  • Question
    Can a colon be used to link several sentences related to each other?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Yes, the colon is used in place of a period but acts like a period to end a sentence and to capitalize the following word. For example -- Carrots are a good source of vitamins: They promote healthy vision.
  • Question
    Is it correct? "But he wasn't free yet: he still had to get out of the room."
    Top Answerer
    It's OK that way, or you could write, "He wasn't free yet, however. He still had to get out of the room."
  • Question
    "Some of the necessary skills are: strong leadership ability, exemplary classroom management skills." Would this be a correct use?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    This is a correct use. A few pointers, however: 1. This would be an unusual and unnecessary way to write such a sentence in most contexts, since you can equally well just write the same sentence without the colon. 2. You should generally have 'and' before the last item in the series (and no comma in this case, since there are only two items). 3. 'Include' is a better word choice here than 'are'. 4. The most likely scenario for a construction exactly like the one you wrote would be a form that has been filled out. For example, a form or questionnaire can sometimes have an item ending with a colon, where the person filling it out needs to list whatever applies.
  • Question
    "January 1, 1917: my son and I planned to attend a dedication." Is this correct?
    Top Answerer
    It's not incorrect, but it might be better to write "on January 1, 1917 my son and I..."
  • Question
    Is this sentence correct? "The increase of student acceptance produced the second problem Streetman discussed: overcrowding; where large groups of students are put in classrooms that do not..."
    Top Answerer
    That colon is appropriate. The semicolon should be replaced by a comma.
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Quick Summary

The most common way to use a colon in a sentence is to introduce a list with it. But you can also use a colon to introduce a quotation or to join a sentence with one that explains it. For example, the following quote is two sentences, where the second explains the first: “I gave him my number: I wanted to see him again.” Structures like that can emphasize the second sentence as well, if they are well written.

Did this summary help you?
  • Many places in the world use a colon between the hour and the minute of a time reference.
    • 11:11 P.M.
  • Do not forget to use a colon between chapter and verse of Biblical reference.
    • John 3:16
  • Always remember to use a colon between independent clauses when the second clause gives a fuller explanation of what is stated in the first clause.
    • Family camp had an enormous effect on the families involved: they came home with a different perspective on life and with a genuine love for each other.

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Date: 07.12.2018, 01:37 / Views: 93293