3.3 Colons

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify the uses of colons.
  2. Properly use colons in sentences.

The colon (:) is another punctuation mark used to indicate a full stop. Use a colon to introduce lists, quotes, examples, and explanations. You can also use a colon after the greeting in business letters and memos.

Dear Hiring Manager:

To: Human Resources

From: Deanna Dean

Colons to Introduce a List

Use a colon to introduce a list of items. Introduce the list with an independent clause.

The team will tour three states: New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.

I have to take four classes this semester: Composition, Statistics, Ethics, and Italian.

Colons to Introduce a Quote

You can use a colon to introduce a quote.

Mark Twain said it best: “When in doubt, tell the truth.”

If a quote is longer than forty words, skip a line after the colon and indent the left margin of the quote five spaces. Because quotations longer than forty words use line spacing and indentation to indicate a quote, quotation marks are not necessary.

My father always loved Mark Twain’s words:

There are basically two types of people. People who accomplish things, and people who claim to have accomplished things. The first group is less crowded.

Tip

Long quotations, which are forty words or more, are called block quotations. Block quotations frequently appear in longer essays and research papers. For more information about block quotations, see Chapter 11 “Writing from Research: What Will I Learn?”.

Colons to Introduce Examples or Explanations

Use a colon to introduce an example or to further explain an idea presented in the first part of a sentence. The first part of the sentence must always be an independent clause; that is, it must stand alone as a complete thought with a subject and verb. Do not use a colon after phrases like such as or for example.

Correct: Our company offers many publishing services: writing, editing, and reviewing.

Incorrect: Our company offers many publishing services, such as: writing, editing, and reviewing.

Tip

Capitalize the first letter following a colon for a proper noun, the beginning of a quote, or the first letter of another independent clause. Do NOT capitalize if the information following the colon is not a complete sentence.

Proper noun: We visited three countries: Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador.

Beginning of a quote: My mother loved this line from Hamlet: “To thine own self be true.”

Two independent clauses: There are drawbacks to modern technology: My brother’s cell phone died and he lost a lot of phone numbers.

Incorrect: The recipe is simple: Tomato, basil, and avocado.

Exercise 1

On your own sheet of paper, correct the following sentences by adding semicolons or colons where needed. If the sentence does not need a semicolon or colon, write OK.

  1. Don’t give up you never know what tomorrow brings.

    ________________________________________________________________

  2. Our records show that the patient was admitted on March 9, 2010 January 13, 2010 and November 16, 2009.

    ________________________________________________________________

  3. Allow me to introduce myself I am the greatest ice-carver in the world.

    ________________________________________________________________

  4. Where I come from there are three ways to get to the grocery store by car, by bus, and by foot.

    ________________________________________________________________

  5. Listen closely you will want to remember this speech.

    ________________________________________________________________

  6. I have lived in Sedona, Arizona Baltimore, Maryland and Knoxville, Tennessee.

    ________________________________________________________________

  7. The boss’s message was clear Lateness would not be tolerated.

    ________________________________________________________________

  8. Next semester, we will read some more contemporary authors, such as Vonnegut, Miller, and Orwell.

    ________________________________________________________________

  9. My little sister said what we were all thinking “We should have stayed home.”

    ________________________________________________________________

  10. Trust me I have done this before.

    ________________________________________________________________

Key Takeaways

  • Use a colon to introduce a list, quote, or example.
  • Use a colon after a greeting in business letters and memos.

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