Using a Colon Correctly

Ever wonder how to use a colon? Here’s advice I came across today:

Do not place a colon between a verb and its object or between a preposition and its object.

Correct – but almost useless, in my opinion. You have to label the parts of speech in the sentence you’re writing – something most people haven’t done since high school (if they’ve done it at all).

And it’s telling you what not to do instead of helping you do it – not very helpful!

Here’s a much simpler explanation:

Use a colon only when a sentence stops before a list or explanation.

You can make it even simpler by just listening (inside your head) for that stop.

Here’s a little quiz for you (answers below): Which sentences require colons? (Listen for that stop!)

Stop Sign Wiki Commons

Quiz Instructions: Insert a colon where it’s needed in the sentences below. Not every sentence needs a colon. Answers are below.

1. The kit included twelve packages of yarn, two crochet hooks, and an instruction booklet.

2. Don’t load the car it needs to be moved first.

3.  Here’s what we still need for the party ice cream, plastic glasses, paper plates, and potato chips.

4.  I’m waiting for news about my aunt she had an operation this morning.

5.  This weekend you don’t need to bring linens, silverware, and soap.

ANSWERS

1. The kit included twelve packages of yarn, two crochet hooks, and an instruction booklet.

2. COLON: Don’t load the car: it needs to moved first.

3. COLON: Here’s what we still need for the party: ice cream, plastic glasses, paper plates, and potato chips.

4. COLON: I’m waiting for news about my aunt: she had an operation this morning.

5.  This weekend you don’t need to bring linens, silverware, and soap.

One more point: Should you put a capital letter or a lower-case letter after the colon? Authorities disagree, so you can decide for yourself. Just make sure you’re consistent.

Or ask your instructor, if you’re in school. Or check the style manual for the institution or company where you work. (Or suggest that they create one if they don’t have one yet!)

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4 thoughts on “Using a Colon Correctly

  1. AvatarKelly Pomeroy

    I submit that in items 2 and 4, it would be preferable to use a semicolon rather than a colon. (And item 2 is missing the word “be.”)

    I vote against capitalizing after the colon or semicolon.

  2. Avatarballroomdancer Post author

    I agree 100%. (I inserted the missing “be” – thanks!) A colon seems awfully heavy for the everyday sentences I wrote. But I’m hoping readers will hear the stop and understand the point about the colon.
    My husband’s newspaper always capitalizes after a colon. That surprises me, since newspapers usually default to lower case. Ah, the mysteries of language! I always tell everyone to lower-case after a semicolon.
    Always great to hear from you, Kelly!

  3. Avatarja

    Agree with Kelly (above). Also, the portion after the semi-colon should start with a capital if it forms a clause (subject and predicate).

  4. AvatarJean Reynolds

    No. Do not capitalize after a semicolon. The capital letter is optional after a colon.
    I avoid grammatical terms. If you have two related sentences, you can use a semicolon. Much easier!

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