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On Writing: Let’s Talk Grammar and Punctuation for a While

(Post Number Five)

The Elusive Colon

 What can we writers say about the elusive little colon that some people abuse so much, they should have a colon-oscopy!  Colons should be used infrequently, but when used properly, they can be a very effective little tool to get your point across. Let’s take a look at the little punctuation mark that looks like one period stacked on top of another. Here are its main uses and examples of each:

  1. The colon is used to introduce a list or a series: (case in point!)

Example 1 – Our seasonal calendar is divided into four main time periods: winter, spring, summer, and fall.

Example 2 – Freddie said his best friends were also his brothers: Bill, Mike, and Ed.

*Notice that the only time you cap the word after a list or series is if the first word is a proper noun.

2.    The colon is used to introduce a speaker or dialogue in a skit or play.

Example –

      Ben:  When my birthday comes around, I’m going to go on a skiing trip.

      Susie: When my birthday comes around, I’m going to be forty!

*Notice that the dialogue starts with a capital letter but has NO quotation marks in a play script. 

3.    The colon is used to introduce two or more sentences in close sequence.

Example –

      Bud had two job choices: Should he work at the mini-mart? Or should he work at the hamburger joint?

*Notice that the word “Should” is capped after the colon because it’s a full sentence.

4.   The colon is used in the greeting of a business letter or in the introduction to a speech.

Example 1 – Dear Senator Huey: (Letter)

Example 2 – To Whom It May Concern: (Letter)

Example 3 – Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury: (Beginning of a speech)

5.  The colon is used when writing scripture references.

Example – One of my favorite verses is 1 Corinthians 15:10.

So there you have a quick review of the most important uses of the little colon. Use them sparingly, but use them correctly, and your writing will move to a higher level.

Next time, we’ll look at periods. “Periods?” you’re probably thinking. “Everybody knows how to use periods. Well, check in on February 6th. You might be surprised to learn a few new things about this little dot that adds meaning to everything we write.

Keep on writing!

Marsha

 

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