Colons

When do you use the colon?

A construction signMany writers think the colon is such a confusing piece of punctuation that they simply avoid it altogether, but it can be fun to use a colon every now and then. Plus, the colon can add some important variety and excitement to your writing. So why not review this list of uses for the colon and give it a try?

In most cases, essentially, a colon signals “anticipation”—the reader knows that what follows the colon will define, illustrate, or explain what preceded it. This is certainly the case in the colon’s first three uses, as described below:

  1. Use a colon to separate two independent clauses (complete thoughts) when you want to emphasize the second independent clause.
Road construction in New York City might pose a problem if there is a zombie attack: It is best to know which streets are closed, as you do not want to end up lost during a dire situation.
  1. Use a colon to separate an independent clause from a list that follows the independent clause.
I have collected a wide variety of important items in case there is a zombie attack: canned food, bottled water, and wood for boarding my windows.

TIP! You shouldn’t use a colon when the introductory portion of the sentence is a dependent clause (incomplete thought). The first part of the sentence must be an independent clause or a complete sentence. So the following would NOT work:
I have collected: canned food, bottled water, and wood for boarding my windows.

  1. Use a colon to separate an independent clause from an appositive (a noun or noun phrase that renames or identifies a noun or noun phrase right next to it) that follows the independent clause.
I have the perfect solution to your problems with bullies at work: Chuck Norris.
  1. You should also use a colon at the end of a formal, business letter greeting.
To Whom It May Concern:
  1. And, of course, you should use a colon to separate the hour from the minutes when writing numerical time.
3:00 a.m.

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