colon (punctuation)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

colon - punctuation
"The colon is the magician of the punctuation world," says Noah Lukeman. "It holds its audience in suspense, waits until just the right moment, then voilà: it pulls back the curtain to reveal the result" (The Art of Punctuation, 2006). (Comstock Images/Getty Images)

Definition

The colon ( : ) is a mark of punctuation used after a statement (usually an independent clause) that introduces a quotation, an explanation, an example, or a series.

In addition, the colon usually appears after the salutation of a business letter (Dear Professor Legree:); between the chapter and verse numbers in a biblical citation (Genesis 1:1); between the title and subtitle of a book or article (Comma Sense: A FUNdamental Guide to Punctuation); and between numbers or groups of numbers in expressions of time (3:00 a.m.) and ratios (1:5).

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Etymology
From the Greek, "a limb, the mark ending a clause"

Examples and Observations

  • "There are three choices in this life: be good, get good, or give up."
    (Dr. House, House, M.D.)
     
  • "My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music."
    (Vladimir Nabokov, Strong Opinions, 1990)
     
  • "It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them."
    (Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson 's New Calendar, 1897)
     
  • "The airplane plip-plopped down the runway to a halt before the big sign: WELCOME TO CYPRUS."
    (Leon Uris, Exodus, 1958)
     
  • "A liberal arts education creates citizens: people who can think broadly and critically about themselves and the world."
    (William Deresiewicz, "Faulty Towers." The Nation, May 23, 2011)
     
  • "There is no insurmountable solitude. All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are."
    (Pablo Neruda, "Towards the Splendid City." Nobel Lecture, December 13, 1971)
     
  • "I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: 'O Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.' And God granted it."
    (Voltaire)
     
  • "The City is termite territory: thousands of heads-down workers serving an unacknowledged queen, a fear motor buried deep in the heart of the place."
    (Iain Sinclair, Lights Out for the Territory. Granta Books, 1997)
     
  • "The disease was bubonic plague, present in two forms: one that infected the bloodstream, causing the buboes and internal bleeding, and was spread by contact; and a second, more virulent pneumonic type that infected the lungs and was spread by respiratory infection."
    (Barbara Tuchman, A Distant Mirror, 1978)
     
  • "These were rituals that were right and lasting: the lighting of pipes, the pale hands that moved knitting needles in the dimness, the eating of foil-wrapped, chill Eskimo Pies, the coming and going of all the people."
    (Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine, 1957)
     
  • "A boy can learn a lot from a dog: obedience, loyalty, and the importance of turning around three times before lying down."
    (Robert Benchley)
     
  • "The four most beautiful words in our common language: I told you so."
    (Gore Vidal, quoted in The Independent, November 1, 2000)
     
  • "If the Government wants to get more people walking they'd be far better advised to deal with the real impediments: the snakes in the grass, the dodgy paving stones, disused mineshafts, and chronic laziness."
    (Will Self, "Best Foot Forward." The Independent, July 5, 2008)
     
  • "I was going to buy a copy of The Power of Positive Thinking, and then I thought: What the hell good would that do?"
    (Ronnie Shakes)

     
  • "If I loosed my eyes from my shoes, the gravel at my feet, or the chaos of ice at the shore, I saw what newborn babies must see: nothing but senseless variations of light on the retinas."
    (Annie Dillard, "An Expedition to the Pole." Teaching a Stone to Talk. Harper, 1982)
     
  • "Right in the middle of the dispersal, while the mournful rooms were still loaded with loot, I had a wonderful idea: we would shut the apartment, leave everything to soak for a while, and go to the Fryeburg Fair, in Maine, where we could sit under a tent at a cattle auction and watch somebody else trying to dispose of something."
    (E.B. White, "Goodbye to Forty-Eighth Street." Essays of E.B. White. Harper, 1977)
     
  • "Perhaps it is only in childhood that books have any deep influence on our lives. In later life we admire, we are entertained, we may modify some views we already hold, but we are more likely to find in books merely a confirmation of what is in our minds already: as in a love affair it is our own features that we see reflected flatteringly back."
    (Graham Greene, "The Lost Childhood," 1947)
     
  • "There are so many elements that go into making a classic motion picture: the writing, the direction, the acting, the nudity, the quality of the trailers shown with the film, whether your seat was broken, whether you had to sit next to strangers with umbrellas, how much Bruce Willis was paid--there are just so many facets to consider."
    (Libby Gelman-Waxner [Paul Rudnick], "Letters to Libby." If You Ask Me, 1994)
     
  • Colons, Semicolons, Commas, and Dashes
    - "Mandela understood the ties that bind the human spirit. There is a word in South Africa—Ubuntu—a word that captures Mandela’s greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that are invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us."
    (President Barack Obama, speech at the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela, December 10, 2013)


    - "Death has got something to be said for it:
    There's no need to get out of bed for it;
    Wherever you may be,
    They bring it to you—free."
    (Kingsley Amis, "Delivery Guaranteed," 1979)
     
  • Using the Colon for Emphasis
    "The colon seems an unlikely candidate for dramatic effect, but now and then it serves that purpose well: Smith had only one passion: pornography of every sort."
    (Rene J. Cappon, The Associated Press Guide to Punctuation. Basic Books, 2003)
     
  • Multiple Meanings of Colons
    "A colon can be used to smooth over a rough logical connection. It has a verbal content ranging anywhere from 'namely' to 'thus,' and it can function to let the writer off the hook."
    (Paul Robinson, "The Philosophy of Punctuation," in Opera, Sex, and Other Vital Matters, 2002)

     
  • Capital Letters (or Not) After Colons
    - "Note that what what comes after the colon is not usually a sentence itself—a point on which colons differ from semicolons. Style manuals agree (Chicago Manual, 2003; Oxford Guide to Style, 2002) that the word following the colon stays in lower case, unless it's a formal quotation, slogan or motto. For example:
    On the laboratory door was a new sign: Trespassers prosecuted.
    The word following a colon in the subtitle of a book or article may be capitalized."
    (Pam Peters, The Cambridge Guide to English Usage. Cambridge University Press, 2004)

    - "[S]hould we use a capital letter after the colon? With quotations and direct speech, as we see, the answer is yes. It's yes also if what follows the colon is a series of sentences:
    Two things would follow: First, the rivers would overflow.
    Second, the low-lying villages would be flooded.
    Showing that the sentences are parallel is felt to be the more important issue: both sentences relate back to Two things.
    (David Crystal, Making a Point: The Persnickety Story of English Punctuation. St. Martin's Press, 2015)
     
  • Colons for the Young and Old
    "When we are very young, we tend to regard the ability to use a colon much as a budding pianist regards the ability to play with crossed hands: many of us, when we are older, regard it as a proof of literary skill, maturity, even of sophistication: and many, whether young, not so young, or old, employ it gauchely, haphazardly or, at best, inconsistently.”
    (Eric Partridge, You Have a Point There: A Guide to Punctuation and Its Allies, rev. ed. Routledge, 1978)
     
  • Two Pricks
    "A pause is a distinction of a sentence, though perfect in itself, yet joined to another, being marked thus with two pricks (:)."
    (Ben Jonson, The English Grammar, 1640)
     

Pronunciation: KO-lun

Format
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "colon (punctuation)." ThoughtCo, Nov. 29, 2016, thoughtco.com/what-is-colon-punctuation-1689868. Nordquist, Richard. (2016, November 29). colon (punctuation). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-colon-punctuation-1689868 Nordquist, Richard. "colon (punctuation)." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-colon-punctuation-1689868 (accessed November 19, 2017).