Keep Colons in Your Punctuation Toolbox

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.).

Happy writing!


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