Back to Basics: How to Use a Colon in a Sentence

We often come across a piece of writing where punctuation marks are misused or misplaced. One common confusion is in the use of a comma (,), a semicolon (;), and a colon (:).

Using a Colon…

It is used to introduce something in a sentence. More commonly, it introduces a list, an appositive, or a series. The following examples will help in understanding it better.

…in a Sentence

In a sentence, it always precedes and succeeds an independent clause. A single sentence can be separated by a colon only when both parts of the sentence are independent of each other.

e.g: Don’t overlook the first rule: follow your guide!

Here both parts of the sentence, before and after the colon, are independent clauses.

e.g: My favorite past times are: surfing the net and reading.

This is an example of INCORRECT usage. You can easily observe that the second part of the sentence is not independent and has no meaning of its own.

…in a List

The most common use of a colon is introduction of a list.

e.g: I need to shop for a few things in the store: a pair of shoes, a scarf, and a black skirt.

Here the sentence follows the aforementioned rule. One should remember not to use a colon if the first part of the sentence is not an independent clause.

…in Other Forms

➡ It is used after the salutation or a greeting in a formal letter.

e.g: Dear Mr. Watson:

➡ It is placed after each heading in a memo.

e.g: To:

➡ It is used to differentiate hours and minutes when time is written in a formal style.

e.g: 12:30 pm

➡ We often come across a colon in a title or a heading of an essay or an article.

e.g: Magnesium: Uses and Health Benefits

➡ It is used while writing the volume number, Bible verse, or the name and place of publication at the end of the book.

e.g: Vol 3:25

e.g: New Delhi, India: Penguin Publications, 2000

Examples

1There was a great choice of desserts: pastries, cocktails, and brownies.

2Famous Love Quotes: Sweet and Cute Sayings

3The fact cannot be ignored: he is smarter than you!

4Genesis 2:19-20

5“The President, Ladies, and Gentlemen:”

These rules are simple to understand and use. Avoiding grammatical errors in your piece of writing, professional or otherwise, will surely impress the readers.


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