A colon means “that is to say” or “here’s what I mean.” Colons and semicolons should never be used interchangeably. They can add sophistication to your written work.

There are two main rules that you should know:

  1. Use a colon to introduce an item or a series of items. Do not capitalize the first item after the colon (unless it’s a proper noun).

Examples:

You know what needs to be done: practise.

You may be required to bring many things: sleeping bags, pans, utensils, and warm clothing.

I want the following items: butter, sugar, and flour.

Avoid using a colon before a list if it directly follows a verb or preposition that would ordinarily need no punctuation in that sentence.

Not recommended:

I want: butter, sugar, and flour.

Recommended: I want butter, sugar, and flour.

OR

Here is what I want: butter, sugar, and flour.

2. A colon instead of a semicolon may be used to join an independent clause (a clause that makes sense on its own) to a word, phrase or clause with the idea that the second element is to explain, expand or illustrate the idea of first clause.

Examples:

He became a vet: he couldn’t stand to see animals suffer.

He set up an animal clinic: there were none in his city.

He got what he worked for: he really earned that promotion.

Here’s a handy video explaining the colon:

More examples and quizzes to be found at: http://www.grammarbook.com/punctuation/colons.asp

 

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