Grammar Guru Part 4: Colon Usage

The Mighty Colon

Colons aren’t used nearly as much as other punctuation marks. Chances are, they just received a passing mention when you were in grammar school.

A colon is, however, a nifty element of punctuation because it sets the reader up for more information. It sends an alert that the words following it either explain the previous assertion or prove its point.

Lists 

Often used when writing lists, a misused colon can easily bring out the grammar nazi in your reader. A good rule of thumb regarding colon usage is that the clause proceeding it must be able to stand on its own.

The following sentence features an incorrectly used colon:

“Writing is easier when you have: peace, quiet and a stiff drink.”  

A better alternative would be: “Three things make writing easier: peace, quiet and a stiff drink.”

Or:

The following three things make writing easier: 

  • peace
  • quiet 
  • a stiff drink

Separating Independent Clauses 

A colon can also separate independent clauses as long as they are truly independent. The clauses also must be expressly related to each other with emphasis on the second one.

Writing is not for the faint of heart: it requires tenacity and thick skin. 

You can also use a colon after an independent clause to correctly introduce a quotation.

Lizzie was ready to embark on a writing career: “I have wine to shore up my resolve and determination!”

When doing your final grammar check, be on the lookout for misused colons or instances where a colon is the best choice of punctuation.

About the author 

Katie S has been writing for many years, either for academic reasons or for her own pleasure. She has been a freelance writer, concentrating on crafting concise, interesting and exciting copy for a variety of clients in many different industries, including the fields of law, medicine, sports and more. 

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