A colon follows a clause that introduces something: a list or explanation or restatement or illustration:

They served authentic cobra foods at dinner: mice in garlic sauce, venom pancakes, and sautéed mongoose.

We tried to make him comfortable: we scattered peanuts in every room and played circus music.

Living in an unpunctuated environment can be dangerous: for instance, your clauses can fall down.

The rule is that a complete clause must precede the colon. If the material that follows the colon is part of the structure of the clause that precedes it, a colon isn’t correct:

ERROR: We asked him: to stop tickling the lion tamer. [The colon isn’t correct: to stop tickling is a completer of asked.]

ERROR: His best friends were: Pestilence, War, Famine, and Fang. [The colon needs to be removed: Pestilence, War, Famine, and Fang are completers of the finite verb were.]


2 Comments on “Colons

  1. Dr. Ron, I think you have a great website. You may want to recheck your page on WH-word clauses, though. You separated the copulative verb “are” from its predicate nominatives (a list of the adverbs that start with wh or h) with a colon. The space was omitted; it must have been a typo. Oh, the horror!

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