Friday, October 14, 2011

Colon Cleansing

The truth about the colon is hard to grasp. In order to get acquainted with the colon, you first have to know the basics. Sometimes a person can invite a colon over and the situation gets awkward. You really didn't know what you were getting in to. You just thought that the colon looked nice today, and now you're stuck with this thing in the middle of your sentence that you're not sure what to do with. Is it the right time? Maybe the colon isn't what you thought it was. Here is some basic information about the colon so that next time you see those sideways headlights you will be prepared:

1. Use the colon after a complete sentence to introduce a list of items when introductory words such as for example, such as, or namely do not appear. Think of the colon as a gate.

example: I want the following items: peas, a puppy, and knowledge of colons.

2. Use the colon after an independent clause when introducing a quotation.

example: My grocer's remark about me was complimentary: "She's here all the time. She always buys lots of q-tips and doughnuts....every time... q-tips and doughnuts."

3. Use a colon between two independent clauses when you want to emphasize the second clause.

example: I don't understand why anyone shops at that store: the grocers always stare awkwardly at people.

NOTE: There are some similar situations where a colon wouldn't fit. You would not put a colon after the verb in the sentence, since the phrase that precedes the colon must be an independent clause. You would not include a colon in sentences such as the following:

Her favorite food was chocolate ice cream.
His recipe included fish, peanut butter, and ham-flakes.

Since these sentences include words like included and was, and "Her favorite food was" is not an independent clause, there is no colon necessary.

Now that you know a couple of uses of the colon, you can use it with style and confidence!

You can also use it to make that gate.


1 comment:

  1. Michael Pollan is very fond of using the third type of sentence construction you provide. As I read _The Omnivore's Dilemma_ (excellent book, btw), I grew to hate that construction because he uses it so often.

    Another choice is using of an em-dash to emphasize the second independent clause. The em-dash is more stylish to my eyes. Writers can also use em-dashes to introduce fragmentary info, such as "That ginamarie writes helpful posts on EIU Writes--humorous and thought-provoking." Or here's another: "The doctor told me what I already knew I needed to do--exercise more often."

    Writers also use sentences ending with colons to introduce bulleted lists.