Three Times to Use the Colon


Today I’ll tackle when to use colons. (Semicolons and colons are not interchangeable. They serve entirely different functions.)

I recently gave you the three semicolon rules. Colons are completely different. The colon is like the blare of a trumpet, alerting you to what’s coming. It comes after a complete sentence and introduces one of three things:

An example: We needed only one thing: a large piece of wood.

A list: Before we went camping we stocked up on the following:  bread, chocolate, marshmallows and beer.

A quotation: The doctor’s words were encouraging: “You do not need to lose weight and can stop exercising and eat as much pasta as you want.”

Yes, it’s that simple.


Filed under All things having to do with the English language

2 responses to “Three Times to Use the Colon

  1. I note that your examples are all grammatically complete before the colon. What are your thoughts on using a colon to introduce examples or dialogue when the introductory text is not a complete sentence? For example: is this to be avoided? He added: “Thanks for your response.”


    • Hi. I appreciate your comment. Your example is commonly seen and I can’t say it’s not valid. I’m perpetrating the basic rules of grammar and punctuation. In the case of s colon, most grammar texts recommend that a colon follow a complete sentence. But exceptions always can be found and defended. Another example is using a colon after the abbreviation “Ex.”

      I’m so glad you wrote, and I appreciate your question and feedback. Do stay in touch.


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