Using colons

Posted: April 3rd, 2014, 5:29 pm   By: maggie.walter

“I can clean out your colon faster than one of those burritos with extra guacamole sauce!”—Damon Wayans, rivalling Shakespearean prose, as Major Payne


This week, we explain how to use colons.

Along with commas, colons stand among the most commonly misused punctuation marks. Well, get ready: It’s time to snap on our latex gloves, reach deep into the slimy, obsidian recesses of ignorance, and scrape out the polyps of misinformation. Take a breath and relax, because here it comes … but don’t worry, mastering the colon is easier than it sounds.

Basic rules

We’ll start exploring colons by laying out two simple guidelines. First, use a colon only after a complete sentence—never after a fragment. Second, capitalize the first word after a colon only if it is a proper noun or the start of another complete sentence.

  • Ex) While sane people vomit in horror, Eva Longoria foams at the mouth over her favorite potato chip flavors: chicken and waffles, Sriracha, and cheesy garlic bread.
  • Ex) Eva is a mendacious mountebank: She doesn’t eat potato chips.

Common uses

Following those simple rules, colons have four common uses:

  • Introducing lists, tabulations, etc.
  • Providing emphasis
    • Ex) After finally finding Waldo, little Billy learned one important thing: What has been seen cannot be unseen.
  • Marking dialogue, including question-and-answer interviews
    • Q: Who’s your favorite member of the X-Men?

      A: The guy who looks like that frog from Cameroon!

  • Introducing long quotations:
    • Ex) The blogger explained: “Because I get paid by the word, my editor doesn’t like when I just write a bunch of crap to add to the word count in a post. In fact, we’ve had several conversations about my blatant attempts to cash in. She said I’d get fired if I keep doing it.”

Now you’ve got clean and clear comprehension of colons. That wasn’t so bad now, was it?