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Three Tips for Using Colons

Not to be confused with a semi colon, a colon has three main uses:

  1. Use a colon between two main clauses when the second clause explains or clarifies the first. A clause is a group of words containing a verb that can either stand alone as a complete sentence or make up part of a more complex sentence. You can learn more about clauses here.

    Here are some examples of colons used in this way:

    • She soon discovered the secret to spelling success: practise as often as possible.
    • The journey won’t be easy: the buses are infrequent and there are often railway engineering works on the weekends.
    • She had one motto in life: never give up.

  2. Use a colon to introduce a list. You can learn more about the correct punctuation for formatting lists in writing here.

    Here are some examples of colons used before a list:

    • Please make sure all students pack the following: toothbrush, pyjamas, change of clothes, pocket money, waterproof jacket.
    • All applicants require qualifications in the following subjects: Maths, English, Science, IT, and French.

  3. Use a colon before a quotation (and sometimes also before direct speech). Read more about how to punctuate direct speech here.

    Here are some sentences that show colons introducing quotes and speech:
    • The sign read: ‘Please keep off the grass!’
    • He knew what she was going to say before she said it: ‘I love you.’
    • In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet is famous for asking: ‘O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?’

Our blog covers a range of topics from spelling and grammar tips, to unusual word origins, to idioms on every theme. If you found this article useful, why not take a look at some of our other posts?

18 Oct 2018
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