Punctuation and the Colon Help (page 2)
Both the colon and the semicolon can be used to build better, more interesting sentences. Good writers use these marks of punctuation to build memorable sentences. You know that you can use a semicolon to join two sentences to create a compound sentence when the two thoughts are closely related. On the other hand, you can use a colon when the first sentence creates an expectation in the reader that the second sentence will explain, illustrate, or fulfill the idea stated in the first sentence.
We've quoted John F. Kennedy; now fast-forward to Barack Obama's one line in his speech to the Democratic Convention, August 2008.
- That's the true genius of America: America can change. Our union can be perfected. What we've already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.
What does the colon accomplish in the first sentence? It clearly helps fulfill the expectation set in the first half of the sentence. What is the true genius of America? The answer follows the colon.
Here is another example of building ideas with punctuation from Barack Obama's acceptance speech in Chicago:
- And for the sake of our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, I will set a clear goal as President: In ten years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East.
What is the clear goal? The answer follows the colon.
After all the rules you've learned about various punctuation marks, you'll find the colon has very few. However, the colon offers the writer an opportunity for variety in sentence structure; consequently, it is a valuable addition to your writing power.
How to Use the Colon
- Use a colon to introduce a list, as in the following sentence.
- Use a colon to introduce an explanation.
Assemble these ingredients for the cake: flour, sugar, baking powder, eggs, and vanilla.
I have a motto about getting distasteful chores done fast: Make a list of the chores, put a limit on the time you will devote to the work, and start with the one you dislike the most.
When you use the colon correctly, the information that comes before the colon should be able to stand alone as a complete thought. Otherwise, you should not use a colon.
- Incorrect: I ordered: potatoes, sugar, flour, eggs, and coffee.
Also, if the information that comes after the colon is a complete sentence (as in the first example for Rule 2), use a capital letter, as you would normally do in the beginning of a sentence.
Look at another example:
- Children will take up activities if you supply some good ideas for play: Color and paint in an art center that you create, cut up used holiday cards and paste them as stickers, choose a costume from a costume box and create a play or dance routine.
NOTE: In the preceding sentence, the words before the colon could stand alone as a sentence. What would happen if you added the words which are after good ideas for play?
- Children will take up activities if you supply some good ideas for play which are: color and paint in an art center that you create, cut up used holiday cards to paste as stickers, choose a costume from a costume box and create a play or dance routine.
You now see a common colon error. To avoid it, do not use a verb before the colon—in this case the verb is the word are.
Colon Practice and Answers
Correct the colon errors in the following sentences.
- Expect to do the following as a part of your job open the office at 8:30 A.M., take messages from the answering machine, and distribute the mail.
- Find these files before you leave Premium Plumbers, Apex Office Furniture, and ABC Business Management.
- The board members' places at the table were covered with these pages of information, an agenda for the meeting, a schedule of meetings for the year, and the bylaws.
- Although we had never met before, the young man gave me much-too-much information he was asking his girlfriend to marry him, he had just received a raise, and he was going to shop for a new car.
- If you go to the store, buy these, hammer, nails, and bathroom tiles.
1. …your job: Open the office… mail. 2. …you leave: Premium Plumbers… Management. 3. …information: an agenda… bylaws. 4. …much-too-much information: He was asking… new car. 5. …buy these: hammer, nails… tiles.
Other Uses of the Colon
Use a colon after the salutation in a business letter:
- Dear Dr. Murphy:
- Dear Mrs. Light:
- Use a colon between numbers to show the time:
- 1:45 P.M.
Colon Additional Practice and Answers
Correct the colon errors in the following sentences.
- You should also take the following warm clothes, boots, and raincoat.
- Kindergarten dismisses at 1145 A.M.
- We know you'll need the following for our camping trip a tent, bug spray, a flashlight, and easily prepared foods.
- Dear Professor Keene,
- Dear Ms. Boxer,
- Dear Mom and Dad:
- Call me anytime after 900 A.M. on the weekends.
- We'll meet at 12: Noon.
- Take my advice on the following prepare your home for Christmas early, shop all year for small gifts, and learn to relax with your family.
- We gave everyone a choice we could eat out, order in, or let everyone just choose something for themselves.
I'm applying for the job you advertised in the Times Weekly.
1. …the following: warm clothes, boots, and raincoat. 2. …dismisses at 11:45 A.M. 3. …trip: a tent, bug spray, a flashlight, and easily prepared foods. 4. Dear Professor Keene: 5. Dear Ms. Boxer: 6. …Dad, 7. …after 9:00 A.M… 8. We'll meet at 12 noon. 9. …following: Prepare your home… 10. …a choice: We could eat out…
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