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The punctuation mark colon

Posted by Manjusha Filed in English Writing

The punctuation mark colon (:) is almost always used after a complete sentence. Its function is to indicate that what follows is an explanation or elaboration of what precedes.

  • We decided not to go on holiday: we had too little money.
  • Mother may have to go into hospital: she has got kidney trouble.
  • I decided to buy some clothes: I had nothing to wear.
  • She decided to stay at home: it was raining.

A colon is used when famous sayings are quoted.

In the words of Murphy's Law: 'Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.'
Solomon says: 'Of the making of books there is no end.'

A colon can introduce a list.

  • We need three kinds of support: economic, moral and political.
  • These are the things we have to take with us: a flask of tea, some biscuits, sandwiches and fruit.
  • The poets I like best are: Milton, Wordsworth, Shelly and Keats.

A colon is never preceded by a white space, and it is never followed by a dash or a hyphen.

In British English, it is unusual for a capital letter to follow a colon (except at the beginning of a quotation). However, this can happen if a colon is followed by several complete sentences.

In American English, colons are more often followed by capital letters.


Semicolons (;) are sometimes used instead of full stops, in cases where sentences are grammatically independent but the meaning is closely connected.

  • Some people work best in the mornings; others do better in the evenings.
  • Womenís conversation is cooperative; menís is competitive.
  • The Hobbit was published in 1937; the first volume of The Lord of the Rings followed in 1954.
  • Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; writing an exact man.
  • Some are born great; some achieve greatness; some have greatness thrust upon them.

Commas are not usually possible in cases like these.

Sections in this article

Full stops, question marks and exclamation marks
Colon and semicolon
Quotation marks




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