Getting to Know Your Colon

The Rule:

Colons are used after independent clauses to call attention to the words that follow them. These words can be another independent clause, an illustration, or a list related to the first clause.

The Specifics:

Use a colon after an independent clause (clauses that could be sentences on their own, containing a subject and a verb) to direct attention to a list, an appositive, or an extended quotation.

Incorrect Example:

List: The adventurers’ quest was plagued with: swarms of killer bees, poison ivy, and ornery were-jaguars.

Correct Examples:

List: The adventurers were plagued with several misfortunes on their quest: swarms of killer bees, poison ivy, and ornery were-jaguars.

Appositive: There are two times when wizards never arrive: late and early.

Quotation: The battered knight raised his sword and bellowed the following order: “Begone, foul beast!”

Use a colon between independent clauses if the second summarizes or explains the first.


The enticing treasure glinted in the moonlight: you could loot it, but you’d be cursed for eternity.

Use a colon after the salutation in a formal letter, to indicate hours and minutes, to show proportions, between a title and subtitle, and between city and publisher in bibliographic entries.

  • Salutation - Dear Sir or Madam:
  • Time - 5:30 p.m.
  • Proportions - The elves outnumbered the dwarves 5:1.
  • Title: Subtitle - Experience Points and Gold: A Beginner’s Guide to Questing
  • City: Publisher - Boston: Bedford, 2005

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