Punctuation makes writing easier to comprehend. It lends meaning to words and gives the reader clues regarding the ideas the writer is expressing. One commonly misused punctuation mark is the colon. It is located on the keyboard with the semicolon, and is produced by pressing the shift key in combination with the semicolon key.
A colon has a few different uses. The most common use is to link two clauses together. In this case, the first clause must be complete. In other words, the first phrase must be an independent clause that can stand alone (a subject and a verb). The phrase that follows it does not have to be complete; however, it does have to extend or amplify the idea of the earlier phrase. If the second phrase could stand alone, capitalize the first letter on the other side of the colon. Examples include,
I drink two types of coffee: coconut mocha lattes and hazelnut brew.
Larry offers a variety of treats at his store: ice cream, donuts, and gelato.
My parents agreed with my brother: Our family should go on a cruise.
It was New Year’s Eve: The announcer counted the seconds before the ball dropped.
Other uses of the colon include writing a ratio (e.g., The proportion of people who preferred vanilla ice cream to those who preferred chocolate was 7:1) and separating the name of a city from the name of a publisher in the reference list (e.g., Pasadena, CA: Harper). Many writers make the mistake of using a colon after an introduction phrase that cannot stand alone. In academic writing, be sure to use the colon only after an independent clause.
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