Punctuation Quiz #5: Colons
All but one of the following sentences demonstrate incorrect use of the colon; revise the sentences as necessary:
1. The three types of rock are: igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic.
2. That’s the key: What to do about rust.
3. Try the following steps: Rinse, lather, and repeat.
4. Smith said: “That’s the way I look at it.”
5. For example: Compare the two images below.
Answers and Explanations
The function of a colon is to separate two phrases or clauses when the second element amplifies or illustrates the first element.
Original: The three types of rock are: igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic.
Correct : The three types of rock are igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic.
A colon is redundant to a verb and should never follow one.
Original: That’s the key: What to do about rust.
Correct : That’s the key: what to do about rust.
Do not capitalize the first word of a phrase or an incomplete sentence that follows a colon unless it is a proper noun. (Some style guides recommend capitalizing the first word following a colon only when the explanatory content consists of two or more sentences. However, others consider that suggestion too restrictive and advise capitalizing one or more complete explanatory sentences; I endorse this style.)
Original: Try the following steps: Rinse, lather, and repeat.
Correct : Try the following steps: Rinse, lather, and repeat.
The imperative statement following the colon is a complete thought; this sentence is correct.
Original: Smith said: “That’s the way I look at it.”
Correct : Smith said, “That’s the way I look at it.”
An attribution should be followed by a comma, not a colon. (Exception: Use a colon if the attribution is a complete thought, as in “Smith summed up his viewpoint tersely: “That’s the way I look at it.”)
Original: For example: Compare the two images below.
Correct : For example, compare the two images below.
Always use a comma, not a colon, after an introductory phrase.Recommended for you: « Answers to Questions About Restrictive and Nonrestrictive Constructions »
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3 Responses to “Punctuation Quiz #5: Colons”
Mark, thanks for the response on the word “and”. It really helped!
However, if you or anyone can still help, I have another question: Is “A colon is redundant to a verb and should never follow one.” a without-exception rule?
Would I, therefore, be wrong to write, “You may also like: Daily Writing Tips, Uncle Google, and Grammar Girl.” Or, “The main areas to cover are: Kyotera through Kasasa, Kakuuto through Kalungi, and Rakai through Kibale.”?
(The colon that follows the verbs “like” and “are” is redundant?)
The short answer is, either way is correct, but be consistent. Here’s a previous DailyWritingTips.com post about the topic.
I really find it confusing to understand: do we put a comma before the “and” between the two last items of a list, like you did in the first and third sentences — that’s, after “sedimentary” and after “lather”? I always omitted it. Was I wrong all this time?