The colon

General definition of the colon

The colon is an extremely useful mark of punctuation. Think of it as an "arrow" that comes at the end of a complete sentence, pointing to some more useful information about what you just said. The colon can "point" to a word, to a list, to a sentence, even to a series of sentences or paragraphs.

Rules for the colon

1. Use a colon (after a complete sentence) to point to a single word:

• He started the business for one reason: money.

2. Use a colon (after a complete sentence) to point to a list:

• He started the business for three reasons: adventure, fame, and money.

3. Use a colon (after a complete sentence) to point to another complete sentence:

• He had always been a thrill-seeker: he once climbed the northwest face of Half Dome,

4. Use a colon (after a complete sentence) to point to a series of sentences or paragraphs:

• He started the business for three reasons: He wanted adventure. He wanted fame. He wanted money.

Notice in each of these cases that the part after the colon receives emphasis. For instance, what's the difference between these two sentences?

• He started the business because he wanted money.

• He started the business for one reason: money.

Emphasis! The word money in the second sentence seems to have a spotlight on it.

Now—which is the better sentence? We can't say, can we? It depends on context and how much emphasis we want to give to money.

But who is the better writer: the one who can write both kinds of sentences or the one who can write only the one without the colon? Probably the one who writes both kinds is better because that person has more tools to control emphasis.

Now let's look at another important mark for plain English—the dash.

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