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Colons

Use a Colon:
  • (Rule 1) to introduce an explanation or example.
  • (Rule 2) to introduce a series, list, or quotation.​

Rule-1

​Use a colon to relate two independent clauses when introducing an explanation or example.

When a comma does not place adequate emphasis on the relationship between two independent clauses, you can use a semicolon. When a semicolon does not provide adequate emphasis, you can use a colon. A colon joins two independent clauses to emphasize the relationship between the two clauses and is often used to introduce an explanation or an example.
 
Example

When I picture my dream house, it is set in beautiful scenery: the beach or mountains, for example, would provide an ideal setting for a home.

In this sentence, the colon serves to introduce two examples of a dream home. The colon in this example strengthens the relationship between the idea of a beach or mountain home and the subject of dream homes in the first clause. A colon can also introduce an explanation such as in the following example:
 

 


For Example:

Dave and Stephanie’s presentation lacked the usual enthusiasm: this could be because they were at the office all night working on the ad campaign.

The second clause in this example explains the first clause and therefore may be introduced with a colon.
 

 

Check your work
Just as with semicolons, the choice to use colons can be a stylistic one. If you do choose to use a colon to introduce an explanation or example, make sure that both the preceding clause and the clause that follows are independent clauses.

Capitalize the clause that follows a colon if it is a formal statement or if the content that is introduced contains more than one sentence.

 
Example (formal statement):

Our club bylaws shall set forth the following: Rules for meetings, code of conduct, and membership procedures.

 
Example (more than one clause):

When thinking of a future career, there are many choices: Becoming a lawyer would be a good financial decision. On the other hand, teaching may provide more personal satisfaction.

Rule-2

Use a colon after an independent clause to introduce a series, list, or quotation.

Use a colon to introduce a series or list such as in the following examples:
 
Example

We need to get several things done before our trip: pay the bills, water the plants, and take the dog to the kennel.

Before we can take off, you must do the following: fasten your seat belt, turn off your cell phone, and return your tray table to its upright position.

The names of the people who made the volleyball team are as follows: Ruth, Mary Lynn, Amy, Sarah, Alicia, and Elizabeth.

 

Note that when the word following or follows is used to introduce a list or series you must use a colon. You should also use a colon to introduce a quotation.

 

Example

As people seek to build relationships and, in so doing, break down the walls of racism, they should remember Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous words: “I have a dream that [we] will one day live in a nation where [we] will not be judged by the color of [our] skin but by the content of [our] character.”
 

 
Check your work
Use a colon to introduce a series or list. Always use a colon if the clause that introduces the list or series contains the term follows or following.
 
Example

The following improvements need to be made to your house before you try to sell it: new carpet should be installed, the outside trim should be painted, and the fixtures in the downstairs bathroom should be replaced.

Do not use a colon if the list or series is introduced by phrases such as especially, such as, namely, for instance, for example, or that is unless the series is made up of one or more independent clauses.
 
Incorrect (colon introducing a series of phrases):

Some of my life goals, for example: to ski in the Alps, bungee jump from Victoria Falls, and visit the Great Wall of China.

Correct (colon introducing a series of independent clauses):

I have set some goals that I wish to achieve before I get too old to do so. For example: I want to ski in the Alps, bungee jump from Victoria Falls, and visit the Great Wall of China.

 
Note that a comma would work in this sentence as well. The colon following For example places more emphasis on the text that follows.

Do not use a colon to introduce a series that is the object of the verb in the sentence.
 
For Example

Incorrect:

After the maitre d’ seated us, I ordered: French onion soup, a Caesar salad, and filet mignon.

Correct:

After the maitre d’ seated us, I ordered French onion soup, a Caesar salad, and filet mignon.


You may use a colon to introduce a quotation and, in this instance, you must capitalize the first word of the quotation.

 
Example

The principles of this country are founded on the Declaration of Independence and its famous words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
 





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