Punctuation—Where, When, Why, and How to Use It


The colon is used after an introductory statement when the following statement explains, reaffirms, elaborates, elucidates, illustrates, or summarizes the preceding statement. Everything that follows a colon should be directly related to the topic in the introductory clause. The first word following a colon, even if it is the beginning of a complete sentence, should not be capitalized unless it is a proper noun. For stylistic reasons, it might be capitalized, but only do so for a good and defensible reason (especially to your editor). There is no space before a colon. You may find either one or two spaces after a colon. As with spacing after a period, it is becoming more common to see only one space after a colon.

1. Time

Example: 9:30 a.m.

2. Business salutation

Example: Dear Sir or Madam:

3. Headings

Example: Truck for sale: Dark blue, automatic, short box.

4. Title: subtitle

Example: Hiking in Glacier National Park: A Guide for Beginning to Advanced Hikers

5. Introduction of a series or list

Example: Beth painted her bedroom three colors: purple, pink, and blue.

5A. Don’t use a colon if one or more of the items in the list are needed to complete the introductory statement.

5B. Use a colon after the terms “as follows” and “the following”

5C. Don’t use a colon if a list is introduced with a phrase such as “such as”

6. A colon points the way to a revelation (the colon adds emphasis to the final clause)

Example: Beth put on her gloves, slid the envelope of pictures in her purse, and picked up the rope: it was time to complete her revenge.

7. A colon points to an explanation. (Answers the question “why?”)

Example: Billy stared at the wall: he couldn’t look her in the eyes after what he had done.

7A. Answers the question “what?”

Example: I have a secret: I robbed the bank.

8. A colon can point to an elaboration

Example: He was cautious with the people he made business deals with: he hired a private investigator to look into their backgrounds before agreeing to anything.

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I felt like I was back in English class! These were great refreshers, some rules I wasn’t even familar with!

Thank you for the refresher course. I am a casual writer and probably break these rules frequently. It must drive you crazy!

I was always told never to put a comma before the word ‘and’ so it’s interesting to learn that’s not always the case!

I think I need to go back to English class!! I have to! lol. This helped me to remember this important things

This topic can’t be communicated enough! It is crazy how many mistakes are made… (I don’t exclude myself here :))

Thank you for sharing! It is so useful. I thought i was good at punctuation but realise i get confused with semi-colons and don’t know the other uses for others x

After leaving school,I have never really payed attention to the way i write and all the grammar rules. But ever since I have started writing again, I feel like I need to go to the library to get back all those grammar rules books. So thanks for this post, it helped me a lot.