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 before 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.).