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Writing Tips: How To Use Colons

Updated on December 24, 2013

Colons are the most badly named punctuation marks in existence. If you don't believe me, do an image search. On the other hand, take my advice and don't do it; I'm pretty sure I've been scarred for life. (I'm only half-kidding!)

I was curious to find out how the colon got such an unfortunate name. Here's the etymology in case you're interested: 1540s, from L. colon "part of a poem," from Gk. kolon (with a long initial -o- ) "part of a verse," lit. "limb," from PIE base *(s)kel- "to bend, crooked" (see scalene). Meaning evolved from "independent clause" to punctuation mark that sets it off.

Poor, unfunny colon. *Sigh* Nobody in the world thinks you can be funny but me. Maybe I can convince others of your true worth! Maybe you have some fun and laughter hidden in that vacant stare!

I admit I don't use colons often, but when the time comes they're indispensable. As punctuation marks go they're not the most popular, or the coolest, but they have hidden talents that every writer should learn to harness. Let's go!

Source

Proper Usage

Colons inform the reader that what is to come either further explains, proves, or lists what was mentioned previously. It's a little difficult at first, but don't worry; you'll get it.


Colons should only be used after a full sentence that ends in a noun (person, place, or thing). There is no space after the noun, and one space after the colon. A good indication of whether you should use a colon is to replace it with the word namely.

Try this:

  • Learning grammar takes three things, namely, time, patience, and repetition.
  • There was only one thing Kate could think of, namely, helping people improve their writing.

Correct:

  • Learning grammar takes three things: time, patience, and repetition.
  • There was only one thing Kate could think of: helping people improve their writing.

Incorrect:

  • Learning grammar takes: Time, patience, and insanity.
  • Kate seemed focused on: Making colons moderately interesting.

Source

There's some argument about capitalizing the word following a colon. I'll spare you the petty details as it's a pretty boring debate and I have an easy solution. Only capitalize the word following a colon if it's a proper noun (name of a person, place, or thing). This will satisfy nearly all grammarians, including yours truly!

Correct:

  • Right now I have two responsibilities: finish this hub and fly South for the winter.
  • I know what you're thinking: Kate must dream about grammar at night.

Incorrect:

  • I need to buy some things at the store: Orange juice, toothpaste, and I can't remember what else.
  • You're doing well: You're starting to understand this colon thing, aren't you?


As with semicolons, colons go outside of parentheses and quotation marks.

Examples:

  • "This is an ugly grammar rule": colons outside of quotation marks look dumb.
  • (Kate can't think of many examples): it's not often you need to use a colon at the end of parentheses or a quote.

Source

Logical Consequence ("Syntactical Deductive")

Colons can introduce the logical consequence of the sentence that came before it.

Examples:

  • Kate didn't want to go on a walk: it was snowing outside.
  • Colons are awesome: they're super useful!

Description ("Syntactical Descriptive")

Colons can also introduce a description of like things in a grouping. This includes the keeping of time and reference to particular passages in popular texts like epic poetry, works of Shakespeare, or religious texts.

Examples:

  • Kate has three rules: work hard, do your best, and make fun of yourself whenever possible.
  • Learning about colons is fun: they're useful, minimalistic, and don't overstay their welcome.
  • The really bad Hollywood remake of a classic movie starts at 4:30 pm.
  • Matthew 5:5-14 is a pretty good read, especially if you need an excuse for being meek.

Introduction ("Segmental")

Colons are also used to introduce speech.

Examples:

  • The readers proclaimed the benefits of colons: their use is endless.
  • Remember this, young Skywalker: "I am your father!"

Source

Copyright © 2012 Faceless39. All rights reserved.

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    • profile image

      RobinV. 2 months ago

      Thanks! This will still be easier to remember then comma ussage. I'll just remember lists for now with a complete sentence and come back later to study the other ways it's used.

      After he got in he faced me silently for a moment. Scanning his uniform his name tag read, Roland. Well, I think that last comma is right, please correct me if I'm wrong.

    • Faceless39 profile image
      Author

      Faceless39 5 years ago from The North Woods, USA

      It takes a lot of practice, but hopefully some of these rules will be helpful.

      Thanks for all the wonderful comments!

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 5 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      Very helpful. I use colons all the time in Titles, and not so infrequently in my sentences. But you have once again given me some clarity. You have saved me lot of money on a remedial grammar class.

    • htodd profile image

      htodd 5 years ago from United States

      Great writing tips ..Thanks

    • billchucks profile image

      billchucks 5 years ago

      excellent hub;my writing should improve by this

    • Turtlewoman profile image

      Kim Lam 5 years ago from California

      Thank you for writing this review. I need to pay more attention to how I use colons!

    • Faceless39 profile image
      Author

      Faceless39 5 years ago from The North Woods, USA

      You're all very welcome. Thanks for reading and commenting! :)

    • profile image

      V Qisya 6 years ago

      thank you so much ;D

    • clara kish@yahoo. profile image

      Clara Kish 6 years ago from Mt. Perry. Ohio

      Thanks,I will try to practice on this when I am not so pressed for time ,I will keep this in mind .

    • profile image

      waxi 6 years ago

      Thanks kate for sending the link . Its so kind of you.

      Look forward to more Hubs from you and all my wishes for your success

      Waqxi

      Today's Quote: "An inche of gold cannot buy an inche of time " ---------[Ancient Chinese proverb]

    • Lateral3 profile image

      Lateral3 6 years ago

      Increasingly I have found myself using colons and semicolons over recent months. In fact the more I write the more I feel the need to refine the punctuation. I'll take a look at your other tutorials.

    • Faceless39 profile image
      Author

      Faceless39 6 years ago from The North Woods, USA

      Thank you all very, very much. However, I am a mere mortal just trying to make grammar fun. I appreciate your feedback and look forward to adding more grammar hubs soon. Thanks a lot! :)

      Waqxi, it's good to see you here again! Thanks so much for your praise; wow! I'm glad you found it so helpful. Hey, here's a great explanation of [sic]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sic :)

    • AUPADHYAY profile image

      ANIL KUMAR UPADHYAY 6 years ago from INDIA, UTTAR PRADESH STATE, KANPUR CITY

      The most essential part of writing is explained beautifully by you, in this hub. Appreciated and voted it as an awesome.

    • Kamalesh050 profile image

      Kamalesh050 6 years ago from Sahaganj, Dist. Hooghly, West Bengal, India

      A very beautiful, useful and interesting hub. And of course educative and nicely presented. Thank you very much for sharing. Voted Up.

      Best Wishes, Kamalesh

    • profile image

      waxi 6 years ago

      Dear Kate no pretentious glorifications for you a simple statement that rides on fact : you are the prettist face on which the sun shines .Your discourses on Grammer has a consecrated air that will pay handsomely to thoes who read and make use of them . They will be a great guide for my students to help them brush up their English skills.

      I beg of you to help me understand what Sic means

      Bless you wonderful Kate

      your fan : Waqxi

    • wanzulfikri profile image

      wanzulfikri 6 years ago from Malaysia

      You've been helping me a lot with the use of colons. Thanks for the grammar tips!

    • sweethearts2 profile image

      sweethearts2 6 years ago from Northwest Indiana

      Voted up - really useful, interesting and amusing. I need all the help I can get: I like getting it here.

    • shea duane profile image

      shea duane 6 years ago from new jersey

      I love your pictures! Great hub!

    • Faceless39 profile image
      Author

      Faceless39 6 years ago from The North Woods, USA

      @Mary615, as always I appreciate your feedback. To be honest colons are my least favorite punctuation mark. I'm pretty sure they're the least used (other than for writing time and smiley faces!) I literally used to rewrite sentences to avoid them, but I've been trying to embrace them more lately. :)

      @Jo_Goldsmith11, I'm so glad I could help you out! Yeah, I use (*) in informal settings and sometimes when I want to express something like a *cough.* Instead, if you italicize or use boldface, it'll be more professional. I have lots of other hubs on grammar if you check my profile page. For now, here's the one on semicolons: https://hubpages.com/literature/Writing-Tips-How-T... :)

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 6 years ago from Florida

      I try and avoid using a colon, because I'm never quite sure of how it should be used, so this was very helpful to me (as are your other Hubs) Maybe now I'll be brave enought to use a colon every now and again.

    • Jo_Goldsmith11 profile image

      Jo_Goldsmith11 6 years ago

      thank you so much! I was in real need of being careful about my colon use. This is so very helpful! You are the best! I voted up! quick question tho, I use (*) to emphasize a word, instead of caps. I as well thought, that when we use (;) too much, in our writing it isn't good either. I know, I need some english help! (lol)