Rhetoric and Composition/Colons

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Colons are used to draw attention to certain words. They are used after an independent clause to direct attention to a list, appositive or quotation, between independent clauses when the second clause summarizes or emphasizes the first clause, or after the greeting in a formal letter. Some examples follow.

Use of Colons
Case Example Note
  • I have three sisters: Catherine, Sarah and Mary.
  • Sandwich requires several ingredients: bread, butter, cheese, ham and tomatoes.
  • My mom has three pets: two cats and a dog.
? There was only one possible explanation: The train had never arrived.
Quotation In the words of Homer: "Doh!"
Between independent clauses Life is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you're going to get.
Introduction of a definition Hypernym of a word: a word having a wider meaning than the given one. Is a special case of appositive.
After salutation Dear Sir or Madam:
In a dialogue Patient: Doctor, I feel like a pair of curtains.
Doctor: Pull yourself together!
Separation of title from subtitle Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Separation of the chapter and the verse numbers of religious scriptures
  • John 3:14–16 (or John III:14–16)
  • The Qur'an, Sura 5:18
Separation within time of the day
  • The concert finished at 23:45.
  • This file was last modified today at 11:15:05.
Common Misuse of Colons
Case Example Note
Between a verb and its object
  • Some important computer programs are: Word, Excel and Publisher.
  • Sandwich requires: bread, butter, cheese, ham and tomatoes.
By omitting the colon, the example becomes correct.
Between a preposition and its object My cars of choice consist of: Honda Accord and Ford GT. By omitting the colon, the example becomes correct.
After "such as", "including" or "for example"


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Semicolons · Apostrophes