Colon Rules

Use a colon to signal a series of words, phrases, or clauses after a complete sentence.

The baseball coach claimed that his team's success stemmed from three things: solid hitting, consistent pitching, and good fielding.

The Marketplace has several specialties: a sliced roast beef dinner, a fried chicken strip dinner, a fresh salad bar, and several types of pasta.

Use a colon to signal a second complete sentence that explains a closely related preceding sentence.

The professors advice was straight to the point: I won't tolerate students who can't get to class on time.

Religion and politics can be touchy subjects: Many people hold opinionated views and are easily offended by other people's remarks.

Use a colon to signal a name or description at the end of a sentence when you want to put a lot of emphasis on that name or description.

The local college had a nickname for their students that had amused the town's residents for years before the tornado made it appropriate: Gusties.

The preoccupied vandal didn't notice who was standing behind him: a smiling Campus Safety officer.

Use a colon to introduce a long quotation.

In his book, Language is Sermonic, Richard M. Weaver described how language may influence us:

Sophistications of theory cannot obscure the truth that there are but three ways for language to affect us. It can move us toward what is good; it can move us toward what is evil; or it can, in hypothetical third place, fail to move us at all. (60)

Colons can also be used to:

  1. Separate titles and subtitles
    • William Shakespeare: The Greatest Playwright.
  2. Express time
    • The robbery occurred at approximately 1:45 p. m. on Tuesday March 13, 1856.
  3. Cite a legal or biblical passage
    • According to Minnesota penal code 1:49:S2, it is unlawful to feed licorice or peanut butter to goats.
    • According to John 3:16, God loved the world so much that he sacrificed his only son.
  4. End a salutation
    • To Whom it May Concern:
  5. Separate the place of publication and publisher in a bibliographic entry
    • James, Gerald. How to Write Best Sellers. New York: Henry James Publishing, 1973
  6. Adapted from The Brief English Handbook by Edward A. Dornan and Charles W. Dawe.