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What is a colon in writing? Find out when to use a colon in a sentence with examples, when to use a colon or semicolon, and how to use a colon in a list.
When to use a colon in a sentence is between two clauses where the second clause (dependent) clarifies, highlights, reveals or adds emphasis to the first clause (independent); to introduce a list after a complete sentence; to introduce an indented block quotation; before speech/dialogue; and more.
If you’re not sure how to use the colon (:) in writing in order to be grammatically correct, which is not to be confused with a semicolon, read on to find out when to use a colon in a sentence with examples.
1. Between two clauses where the second clarifies, highlights, reveals or adds emphasis
Use a colon in a sentence if you have two clauses where the second clause (dependent) clarifies, highlights, reveals or adds emphasis to the first clause (independent). The first clause needs makes sense on its own, but the second clause doesn’t need to be stand-alone.
When to use a colon in a sentence with examples:
When to use a colon or semicolon?
The colon is often confused with the semicolon in similar sentence constructions. But a semicolon is used when both sentences/clauses are independent and make sense on their own (contains a subject and verb and expresses a complete thought).
Also, there is no need to capitalise the first word if you are providing just one sentence after a colon, use capitals and the appropriate punctuation as you would normally if there are two or more sentences.
2. To introduce a list after a complete sentence
Use a colon to introduce a list after a complete sentence when there isn’t an introductory term: for example, as follows, such as, namely these:
The following examples show how to use a colon in a list:
The same applies when introducing bullet lists.
There are mandatory sections you are required to complete:
It isn’t always necessary to capitalise the first word and use full stops/periods when providing single words and phrases with bullet points. But it is usual if you are writing complete sentences. Whichever style you follow, remember to be consistent.
3. To introduce an indented block quotation
Use a colon to introduce quotations that are usually longer than three lines:
Love's Labour's Lost is one of William Shakespeare's earliest comedies. Here is an extract from Act IV: Scene 3 spoken by the character Lord Dumaine:
Quotation marks are not used because the indentation indicates it is quoted material. Also, leave a blank line above and below the quoted text, and you should use single spacing. Check the relevant style guide, if you are using one, if you need to indent from the left margin only or both.
4. Before speech / dialogue
Use a colon before speech / dialogue (when the prior sentence is complete):
5. More examples of colons used in writing
Some style guides (e.g. Chicago Manual of Style) recommend using a colon when writing the time:
Between the chapter and verse of a Biblical reference:
Use a colon to separate the main title in books and articles from a subtitle:
It is sometimes required to use a colon following a greeting (salutation) in formal business communications whether you are using the person’s first name, their full name or title (a colon or a comma can be used for personal documentation):
In conclusion, the following applies when using a colon in a sentence:
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