Lessons on how to use a colon, along with other punctuation rules, can come in handy to make someone a better writer. Without knowing how to effectively use colons, a writer can end up just putting colons everywhere, nowhere at all, or interchanging the colon with a comma.
There are six key rules for colon usage that should always be followed:
1. Use a colon after a sentence or independent clause when introducing a list of items.
Incorrect: "All dogs must get: food, water, and healthcare."
Reason: The part of the sentence before the colon does not illustrate a complete thought.
Correct: "There are three things that every dog needs: food, water, and healthcare."
2. Colons should never come before a list unless the colon is following a sentence.
3. Use a colon after a complete sentence which is following by a bulleted list.
4. Use colons between two sentences only if the second sentence illustrates the first. If there are two sentences that follow the colon, then capitalize the first word of each sentence. If there is one sentence following the lead sentence then you should not capitalize the first sentence.
5. Use a colon to introduce a quotation that is more than three lines long. You should not use quotation marks and you should single space the quotation and indent from the left margin only.
6. Use a colon following a greeting (also known as a salutation) in a business letter. It does not matter if you are using the person’s first name, their first and last name or their title, you should always use a colon if the letter is a formal business letter. If the letter is a personal letter, then either a colon or comma is appropriate.
- Dear Joan:
- Dear Joan Smith:
- Dear Madam:
The grammar rules for using a colon are pretty simple and straightforward. All you need to truly remember is that a colon is not a comma nor is it interchangeable for a comma.
Knowing when to use a colon is one of the easiest grammatical lessons to remember. All it takes is time and practice to better equip yourself with the rules of learning and usage of colons.