How to Use Colons Properly – A Short Guide

Do people use the colon frequently? This is tough to say, as the dash has often replaced it. From casual writers to professional ones, there has been an increase in the instances of the usage of the dash. However, what many are not aware of is that the colon is a versatile workhorse, and the range of functionality offered by it can stop the most stubborn naysayers in their tracks.

So here is a short guide that succinctly describes the various ways in which you can use the colons properly. Read and learn!

To point the reader’s attention forward

In this role the colon acts as a pointing finger, as if to warn the reader about a statement ahead: ‘wait for it…here it comes!’ As famous grammarian Henry Fowler says, its function is ‘that of delivering the goods that have been invoiced in the preceding words’. These goods can be a list, a summary, a conclusion or a contrasting statement.

E.g. Extremely enchanting, kindness personified, a voice like a melodious tune: Deepika was an object of desire to any man.

To introduce a list

This is perhaps the most common use of a colon.

E.g. The gym had everything: a jacuzzi, spa, sauna, salad bar and even a personal dietician.

When you have to present an explanation or example

E.g. The mutual fund closed its doors just after three months: not surprising when you saw its financial model employed.

Using the colon to introduce direct speech

While most purists insist that commas are the correct way to introduce direct speech, the use of colons also finds widespread usage.

E.g. The police commissioner strode up to the platform, opened his notes and glared at the assembly: ‘I assure you have not come here for nothing,’ he growled.

When you need to present a conclusion

E.g. Twenty years in the business had taught him there was only one certainty in life: the inevitability of change.

Using the colon as a substitute for a conjunction

For example, the writer prefer the punch of a colon to using conjunctions such as and or but.

E.g. Conor downed him with a precise left hook out of nowhere: Jose Aldo was out cold.

To introduce questions, quotations and subtitles

E.g. Qs: The essential question is this: did she or did she not seduce the film producer?

Quotation: Mayank’s thoughts were neatly summed up by Rohan: ‘There was no way a person could bring total transformation within a few weeks.’

Subtitle: Gilbert White: Observer in God’s Little Acre

Using colons to link contrasting statements

This is a battle between the colon and the semi-colon. The result is the writer’s choice of style.

E.g. She cooks: I eat

Amish has only one fault: he was a pathological liar.

Finishing Notes: A colon is never followed by a capital letter, except with proper nouns: Priyanka, Ferrari, McDonalds, etc.


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