Punctuation

The Colon: What a Party Animal

Even though the semicolon and the colon walk alike and talk alike, they are not alike. Unlike those annoying twins Patty and Cathy, the colon and the semicolon are not interchangeable. Here's how to use the colon.

  • Use a colon before a list.
  • Example: The new ice-cream parlor offered a choice of the following flavors of the month: chicken fat ripple, pork and beans, and prime rib chip.
  • Use a colon before a long quotation, especially a formal one.
  • Example: Abraham Lincoln said: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
  • Use a colon before part of a sentence that explains what has just been stated.
  • Example: Life is a series of rude awakenings: It is what happens to you while you are making other plans.
  • Use a colon after the salutation of a business letter.
  • Examples: Dear Mr. President:, To Whom It May Concern:
Quoth the Maven

Often, the word following is used to introduce a list.

Take My Word for It

Place colons outside closing quotation marks.

  • Use a colon to distinguish chapter from verse in a biblical citation, hours from minutes, titles from subtitles.
  • Example: Song of Songs 4:15

Semi-Tough

Add semicolons and colons as needed to complete each sentence.

  1. Old postal carriers never die they just lose their zip.
  2. Documented sightings of UFOs go back a long time in fact, the first sightings were reported in 1896.
  3. Woodrow Wilson appears on the $100,000 bill Grover Cleveland appears on the $1,000 bill.
  4. There are four dimensions width length depth and time.
  5. Old magicians never die they just lose their hare.
  6. Here's a fascinating fact about the writer Mark Twain Halley's Comet appeared when he was born in 1835 and again when he died, in 1910.

Answers

  1. Old postal carriers never die; they just lose their zip.
  2. Documented sightings of UFOs go back a long time; in fact, the first sightings were reported in 1896.
  3. Woodrow Wilson appears on the $100,000 bill; Grover Cleveland appears on the $1,000 bill.
  4. There are four dimensions: width, length, depth, and time.
  5. Old magicians never die; they just lose their hare.
  6. Here's a fascinating fact about the writer Mark Twain: Halley's Comet appeared when he was born in 1835, and again when he died, in 1910.
book cover

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style © 2003 by Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book direct from the publisher, visit the Penguin USA website or call 1-800-253-6476. You can also purchase this book at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.