Today’s lesson is about one of the least often used punctuation marks, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to know when or how to use it. When used properly, colons can add impact, clarity, and conciseness to your writing.
You can think of them like a flashing neon sign that reads, “This is what I’m talking about,” over a section where you clarify a statement you’ve already made. They’re added right before a phrase or list that explains or adds to the sentence before it.
They only had two ways out: fight their way through a small army or risk waking a family of sleeping bears.
There are three states of matter: solid, liquid, and gas.
In both examples, the colon lets the reader know they’re about to be told exactly what the options are in that instance.
So, is that their only use?
No actually. They can be used in one way that’s similar to one use of a semicolon, but with a twist. That is, you can use a colon to separate two independent clauses, if they are directly related, and the emphasis is on the second clause in the set.
Adwin preferred to face an army rather than bears: armies let you surrender.
Gas is my least favorite state of matter: it can be difficult to transfer from one container to another because it lacks a set shape or volume.
Is the capitalization rule the same as with semicolons?
Yes and no. British English follows the same capitalization rule laid out for semicolons, where you only capitalize the first word of the second independent clause if it’s a proper noun or an acronym. American English is a bit different. While the second independent clause is still left in lowercase most of the time, you capitalize it if what follows is two or more complete sentences.
As you can see above, where there is just the independent clause added after the colon, the second clause is not capitalized. However, if another sentence or two was needed to finish the argument, the second clause should begin with a capitol letter.
Our business plan has several steps: First we’re going to build a local following. Then we’ll buy a food truck and work the festival circuit all over our home state, filming and releasing vlogs and fun recipe videos to our company social media accounts. After that, we’ll establish new locations near the interstate.
Colons are great! I’m going to use them everywhere.
Hold on there a second. There’s a reason colons are rarely used punctuation marks. Go back and take another look at the examples. Notice anything about the parts of the sentence before them?
You only use a colon if what comes before it makes sense as a complete sentence all by itself. If what comes before ends in are or to, you don’t need a colon. Just add whatever it is and use commas if needed. Colons are related to parenthesis. They’re used the same way, but the information following them is of greater importance than what would be enclosed in parenthesis.
There you have the basics of using colons in your writing. If you have comments or questions, please leave them down below. I try to answer all questions within twenty-four hours.
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