Intrusive Misuse of Colons

By Mark Nichol

Writers often mistakenly introduce intrusive “colonization” where it is not necessarily. In each of the following examples, as explained in the discussion, the colon is superfluous.

1. Smith was invited to give the presentation: “Global Development and Global Practices.”

“The presentation” and the title of the presentation are appositive—one is equivalent to the other, just as in “global-development expert John Smith,” the person’s description and his name are appositive—and no intervening punctuation is necessary: “Smith was invited to give the presentation “Global Development and Global Practices.” (If the presentation previously was alluded to and is now being specified, set the title off from the first part of the sentence with a comma: “Smith was invited to give the presentation, “Global Development and Global Practices,” but otherwise do not replace the colon with a comma.

Also, if the wording is “Smith was invited to give a presentation on the topic of . . .,” the description of the topic is just that—a description—and should be lowercase and not enclosed in quotation marks.

2. An effective compliance program will include: governance and management oversight, policies and procedures, training, monitoring, quality control, and independent audit.

When include or includes (or “consist/consists of” or a similar word) precedes a list, a colon is superfluous, just as it would be between any verb and any single noun or noun phrase associated with the verb. This is true whether the information is presented as an in-line list (meaning that it is integrated into the sentence, as here) or it is formatted vertically, one item on a line, whether as is or set off with bullets or numbers: “An effective compliance program will include governance and management oversight, policies and procedures, training, monitoring, quality control, and independent audit.” (An exception is if what precedes the list is an independent clause, such as “An effective compliance program will include the following.”)

3. Management is secure in the knowledge that it: has considered all plausible scenarios, understands the organization’s breakpoint in the event of extreme scenarios, and has effective contingency-response plans in place.

The point of the previous example is true regardless of whether a verb precedes the colon or, because each item in the in-line or vertical list begins with a verb, the colon follows a word representing another part of speech; the fact that a sentence is more extensive and complex than if it had essentially a one-item list (for example, “Management is secure in the knowledge that it has considered all plausible scenarios”) is irrelevant: “Management is secure in the knowledge that it has considered all plausible scenarios, understands the organization’s breakpoint in the event of extreme scenarios, and has effective contingency-response plans in place.”

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3 Responses to “Intrusive Misuse of Colons”

  • Dale A. Wood

    “Intrusive Misuse of Colons – DailyWritingTips”
    Now the suggested next steps in the series are as follows:
    A. Intrusive Misuse of Semicolons – DailyWritingTips
    B. Intrusive Misuse of Dashes – DailyWritingTips
    C. Intrusive Misuse of hyphens – DailyWritingTips
    D. Intrusive Misuse of “@” – DailyWritingTips
    E. Intrusive Underuse of “&” – DailyWritingTips

  • Dale A. Wood

    Some writers are so fond of dashes that they insert odd thoughts right into the middle of a sentence, where these would be better off:
    A. At the beginning or the end of the main independent clause,
    B. I a different sentence altogether.
    For an example that I concocted, consider this:
    “I as walking on the Moon one day — blah, blah, blah — in the merry, merry month of December…”, where the “blah, blah, blah” attempts to explain the background of the Apollo Program and the astronauts’ landings on the Moon.
    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Some writers “go mad” with hyphens that are not necessary, and especially with prefixes and suffixes like {anti, counter, contra, demi, extra, giga, hemi, inter, kilo, less, maxi, mega, micro, mini, multi, pre, pro, re, semi, super, un, ultra}.
    Sadly, even when writing for a multinational and multicontinental audience, this is commonly a Briticism, too, and a Briticism of those non-Britons who want to “take on airs” and act British in their writing.
    ———————————————————————————
    Hyphens are not necessary in worlds like these, and in fact they are intrusive: multilateral, multinational, multistate, multiman, multicomputer, multiprocessor, multimillionaire, multiracial, multivariate, multiyear,…

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