Colons are among the most misused writing punctuation marks.
Often, a beginning writer knows that a colon is used with lists, but so many are just not aware of other times it should be used.
For example, the colon needs to be used after independent clauses. The following rules tell you when a colon must be used: Rule #1 – Colons must be used after independent clauses and before lists.
- I bought quite a few items at our local store: milk, bread, fruit, and eggs.
- I am really enjoying this semester’s classes: English 121, History 225, and Psychology 101.
Do you notice that in the above sentences, an independent clause is preceding the colon? In our following sentence examples, we can’t find an independent clause, so it would be incorrect to use a colon:
- Not correct: I bought quite a few items at our local store such as: milk, bread, fruit, and eggs.
- Not correct: I am really enjoying this semester’s classes, which are: English 121, History 225, and Psychology 101.
Rule #2 – Use colons after independent clauses and before quotations
- My writing teacher gave me great advice for my essay: “Just be sure that everything in your essay is relating to the thesis statement.”
- The poetry teacher regularly used his favorite Robert Frost quote: “Nothing of gold can stay.”
Rule #3 – Use a colon between independent clauses if the second one explains or emphasizes the first clause
- My father gave me great advice: he said that I should get a good education and should always work hard.
- Whi I always recommend our local Italian restaurant to our visitors: it offers quite an extensive menu and its prices are very reasonable.
Note that a colon must also be used after salutations in a business letter.
- Dear President Robertson:
- To Whom It May Concern:
Next Lesson: Independent and Dependent clauses
Last Updated on April 8, 2021.