Keep Colons in Your Punctuation Toolbox

September 24, 2010

Technology changes many things, including the formality of some of our written communication. Email is less formal than letters, for example. Many people don’t bother with a salutation (Dear Ms. Doe:) when writing email, but if they do, they keep it informal (Hi, Jane,). You’ll note in the formal salutation example that a colon is used while in the informal salutation a comma follows the greeting.

So, when do you use a colon?

  • Use a colon after a formal salutation (Dear Mr. Jones:).
  • Use a colon after an introduction beforeĀ  a list , a summary, or a long quotation (A good writer does these things: reads a lot, considers the reader, free writes, revises). By the way, capitalize the first letter in what’s written after the colon only if what follows is a complete statement, a quotation, or contains more than one sentence. Otherwise, keep what follows the colon in lower case.
  • Use a colon to indicate dialogue (Mary: I’ve missed you. John: And I’ve missed you.).
  • Use a colon after the words the following or as follows–even if the words are implied rather than stated (She required the event include: entertainment, food, cash bar, and table decorations.).
  • Use a colon when stating ratios (The odds are 3:1.).
  • Use a colon to separate a title from a subtitle (Why I’m Blessed to Have You as a Friend: The little things that mean a lot).

One caution: Do not use a colon directly after a verb (Her three favorite authors are: Ernest Hemingway, J. K. Rowling, and Agatha Christie.).

Happy writing!


How Hard Can It Be to Use an Apostrophe?

September 10, 2010

Most of us probably give little thought to the appropriate use of an apostrophe. I say that because I see it used incorrectly in printed messages on the television screen, in periodicals, and even online. And this stuff is written by writing professionals!

People plug in an apostrophe where it doesn’t belong and they don’t insert one when it’s required.

Here’s a primer to help you with this misused punctuation.

  • Apostrophe shows possession. Example: writer’s block.
  • Apostrophe indicates omission of letters or numbers. Examples: ’90s (notice the apostrophe precedes 90 rather than comes after it because the numbers 1 and 9 are omitted) and they’re (this is the contraction for they are and omits the letter a).
  • Apostrophe forms some plurals. Example: She earned all A’s.

There are only three basic rules for using an apostrophe, so I ask, “How hard can it be to use an apostrophe?” Not so hard, really.