8 Feb 2015

Why do we need a colon?

Today I want to discuss one of the punctuation marks, as it happened that I used it incorrectly a few times, and I had thought that I was good at punctuation. Well, we learn the whole lives.

Colon is not often used, and often misused. It has three functions and introduces the list, quotation and idea.

Let's start with the list as it is its main function. There is one trap, and also my problem with this structure. We may use a colon when the clause preceding a colon is an independent clause. There is NO place for a colon between a verb and a noun following. 

There are four ingredients in this meal: sugar, pasta, basil and cheese. 

My best friends are John, Mary and Tom. (No colon)
I have a few best friends: John, Mary and Tom. 

There are my best friends: John, Mary and Tom. 

Before the text which is quoted we may use a colon or a comma, depends on the style.

My dad told me: 'Go and tidy your room!'
or
My dad told me, 'Go and tidy your room!'

The last but not the least function of a colon is to introduce an idea.

All these sentences are from the Bristol University, Faculty of Art, Improve your Writing:

I really can't stand cold rice pudding.
I really can't stand one thing: cold rice pudding.
There is one thing I really cannot stand: cold rice pudding

The one country I would really love to visit is Mexico.
There is one country I would really love to visit: Mexico.

You have no choice but to accept the referee's decision.
You have no choice: accept the referee's decision

The two things the company's success was founded on were service and value for money.
The company's success was founded on two things: service and value for money.

Climate change is the most serious threat to mankind's survival.
Mankind is facing the most serious threat to its survival: climate change.

Notice, how these sentences with colons highlight, strenghten and emphasise the ideas. It is a great tool in writing in English, and surely worth mastering.
Do not use it too often, but just when you want to introduce something important.

I do like writing: it's my life.
Romeo has only one true love in this life: Juliet.
Mankind is able to defeat many enemies but one: Mankind.

There is only one way to improve your writing: writing everyday.


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