Colons are one of the most misused punctuation marks. Maybe that’s because they can be used in so many different ways. But, if used correctly, they can really add some life to your writing. And you’ll look smarter if you use them correctly! The good news is, the rules for using colons aren’t that tricky. Here it is, the guide for how to use colons:
Eight Ways to Use Colons
+Introduce long quotes
+Make a formal salutation (in a business letter or email)
+Introduce dialogue in plays
The Rules for Using Colons
+In a sentence, a colon needs a complete sentence (subject + predicate) before the colon to use it properly.
+Words are not typically capitalized after a colon, but it is considered a stylistic choice and can be done. Just be consistent.
X-Don’t use a colon after a verb. (The people I want to talk to are: the dean, the president, and the president’s mother.)
X-Don’t use a colon after a preposition before a list. (I want to talk to: the dean, the president, and the president’s mother.)
X-Don’t use colons in headings if there is body text written underneath it, like in a resume (it just looks tacky).
-I claim to have two favorite sports: college football and golf.
-It came from President Bush’s mouth: “Read my lips.”
-The band was wildly popular: they sold out at the Coliseum. (Used much like a semicolon)
-I bought several things I didn’t go to the store to buy: Cheese Whiz, smokies, chicken wings, and some weird but tasty blue licorice.
Long Quotes (typically four lines or longer)
-One of my favorite things I heard him say:
-Engagement Design: A Humanistic Approach to Designing Complex Information
(in professional business letter format)
-Dear Dr. Dolittle:
-The horse had a 10:1 chance of winning.
-We stayed up until 2:30 last night watching Dumb and Dumber.
+Introduce a quote you like using colon.
+Write a list using colon, but without saying “the following” before the quote.
+Write two consecutive sentences that merit a colon more than a semicolon.