How To Use A Colon



There are two scenarios when it is appropriate to use a colon. The first is before items in a series. Now, there are two tests that you can conduct to see if it is appropriate to use a colon before items in a series.

The first is: check to see if you can replace a colon with the word “namely”. The second test is to make sure that there is a complete sentence before the colon, or an independent clause. If the scenario fails either of these tests, most likely you should not use a colon in that instance. This example sentence says, “I enjoy playing many sports: basketball, volleyball, and baseball.” Notice that there’s a colon before the items in a series. Let’s see if we can replace the colon with the word “namely”. “I enjoy playing many sports, namely basketball, volleyball, and baseball.” That makes sense. That sounds grammatically correct. It passes that test.

Then, we need to make sure all these words before the colon make up an independent clause. An independent clause is just a group of words that can stand alone. “I enjoyed playing many sports.” That can stand alone; that could be a sentence by itself. It passes both of those tests, so we know that it’s appropriate to use a colon here. Generally, if it passes one of these tests, then it’s going to pass the other as well.

The second example says, “Be sure to bring a pencil, paper, and a calculator.” Should we use a colon here? We have items in a list, so we could put a colon right there. Could we replace that colon with the word “namely”? “Be sure to bring, namely, a pencil, paper, and a calculator.” That doesn’t sound grammatically correct. We shouldn’t put a colon there. If you want to look at the second test as well, you could notice that “Be sure to bring” is not an independent clause. In this case, you don’t need to use a colon, and the sentence is grammatically correct without one.

The second instance when it’s okay to use a colon is between two independent clauses. Now, this is not a very common way to use a colon, but, nevertheless, it is still an appropriate way to use one. If you have two independent clauses, you can join them with a colon.

Again, an independent clause is a group of words that can stand alone. “Caitlin can cook many desserts” is a sentence, and “she can make cookies, brownies, and cakes” is a sentence. They’re both independent clauses that we’re joining with a colon. This is an appropriate case in which to use one. Again, you’re usually not going to see this. Usually, they would just be a period here, or maybe a semicolon, or maybe a comma and some type of conjunction. Those are the two times you use a colon with items in a series or between independent clauses.

Provided by: Mometrix Test Preparation

Last updated: 04/23/2018


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