When to Use a Colon: a Grammar Guide With Examples

Though there are many rules, there is no definite answer…

Though there are many rules, there is no definite answer to “when to use a colon?”

A colon introduces a piece of information or a series of information that adds to or explains what came before it. A semicolon shows a close connection between two independent clauses.

The colon is a handy tool to connect sentences and place the focus on a word or phrase. But, like all other punctuation marks, the colon is tied to grammar rules that many people find difficult.

We don’t use colons when there is a simple list of items, a single word, or a single sentence.

Let’s quickly dissect what colons are and when to use them so that your writing can always be readable and concise.

A colon is a type of punctuation mark used to break up a sentence.
When to Use a Colon

What Are Colons?

A colon is a type of punctuation mark used to break up a sentence. The colon looks like two vertically placed dots (:). The colon can be used in many ways. Colons could be used to start a list, explain something, introduce a quote, or link two sentences that go together.

A colon is a punctuation mark used to break up a sentence. The colon looks like two vertically placed dots (:). There are many ways to use a colon. We can use colons to start a list, explain something, introduce a quote, or link two sentences.

Colons inform the reader what transpired before the colon pointed to or described what went after the colon. (This is very different from the semicolon, which separates two independent parts of a sentence with the same meaning.)

Rules to Keep in Mind

A colon always comes after a complete sentence. Never put a colon at the end of a sentence fragment.

You can also remember when to use a colon with the following rule.

Full-sentence + colon + list, fragment, or complete sentence makes the first whole sentence clearer or gives more information.

A colon introduces something that illustrates, clarifies, or contributes to the statement before it.

When to Use a Colon in a Sentence

1. to Introduce a List/noun or Noun Phrase/quote, or Example/explanation.

You can bring attention to many things in your writing by using a colon. The categories below often overlap, so don’t worry too much if your use of the colon doesn’t fit exactly into one of them.

Colon With List Example

We represented the class well in the competition: dance, etiquette, cooking, and fashion.

Colon With Noun/noun Phrase Example

He gave me what I really wanted: His time and money

Colon With Quotation Example

Frank Sinatra made the ultimate statement: “The best revenge is massive success”

Colon With Example/explanation

There is a dark side to fame: chronic stress, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders.

2. Combination of Sentences

You can connect two sentences with a colon when the second sentence sums up, clarifies, or explains the first. Both sentences should be complete and have a lot in common with each other.

Keep in mind that too many colons can break up the flow of your writing. So don’t let your colons get the best of you!


Nothing is softer or more flexible than water: nothing can resist it.

3. Writing and Time Conventions

In writing, there are a few places where it is normal to use a colon. Here are just a few:

Colons are used to separate ratios, bible verses and chapters, units of time, etc


Colon With Time

  • 5:25:10, meaning 5 hours, 25 minutes, and 10 seconds.

Colon With Ratios

  • 2:1, 4:3, 7:4

Colons With Bible Verses and Chapters

  • Matthew 2:24, Psalm 15: 8-12

4. Bibliography Entries

Example: Frances, B. (2012). Character: A conflict of emotions. James and Co., New York, N.Y.

5. Titles and Subtitles

Use a colon to separate the title from the subtitle.

Devils Advocate: “the last man standing.”

6. Formal Letters

In a formal letter, you can use a colon right after the greeting (less-formal letters tend to use a comma in this location).


To Whom It May Concern: Kindly accept my application for the position advertised in the Guardian newspaper.

To Wrap Up

Colons are most commonly used in a way which varies according to the sentence. There are times when a colon could fall in between sentences or when used as a combination of sentences to make a point.

The key is to really understand the context in which you are using the colon. Following the rules above for when to use colons will help you avoid errors in your writing.

Frequently asked questions

What happens if you put a colon after a verb?

Imagine a flashing arrow that points to the information that follows. When a colon appears in a sentence, it usually gives the impression of “as follows,” “which is/are,” or “thus.”.

Where do you put a colon in a sentence?

This colon is used to provide emphasis, introduce dialogue, introduce lists or text, and clarify composition title. Capitalize the first word after the colon only if it is a proper noun or the beginning of a complete sentence.

How do you use example?

Noun, he set an example for the rest of us. The program was helpful, as she gave several examples. We have selected three examples of contemporary architecture for closer inspection.

How do you know if a sentence needs a colon?

Rule 2: A colon usually follows a complete sentence in a list. The key to successful sales is to: (a) dress appropriately, (b) ask customers about their needs, and (c) follow through.

What is the proper way to use a colon?

To join sentences. When the second sentence summarizes, sharpens, or explains the first sentence, you can use a colon. Both sentences should be complete, and their content should be closely related. Use colons in this manner too often to break up your writing.

What are the three rules for using a colon?

  • A bulleted or numbered list may be introduced by groups under Rule 3.
  • Which is a colony?
  • A Colon Uses Correctly.
  • Introduce an item or list using a Colon Rule 1.
  • Rule 2: Use lines between two sentences.
  • 5: Use a colony following a greeting.
  • Incorporating Extended Quotations in a Colon is Rule 4.

How do you list things after a colon?

If using single words or phrases preceded by letters, numbers, or bullet points, capitalization and ending punctuation are optional when listing items one by one, followed by a colon, or after a coleman. If each point is a complete sentence, capitalize the first word and punctuate it with appropriate ending punctuation.

When should a colon be used examples?

A colon can connect two separate sentences. The colon is used on the second sentence to clarify or explain the first sentence. For example, I and my sisters are excited about our trip to Disneyland!

Can you end a sentence with a colon?

Colon Basics. By using comlons, you communicate that what comes next is directly related to the previous sentence. After complete sentences, they are used. Remember, a colon will not be used after a sentence fragment.

How do you use a semicolon in a list examples?

A full-text list contains semicolons. According to the Council, there are ten members: three members from Sydney, Australia; four members from Auckland, New Zealand; two members from Suva, Fiji; and one member from Honiara, Solomon Islands. Semicolons are tightly related independent clauses.

How do you continue a sentence with a colon?

  • Don’t use capital letters with your second sentence if the sentence after the colon is closely related to the first sentence.
  • If the first sentence introduces a quotation, use a capital letter.
  • Your first paragraph should be followed by a capital letter if you’re using the colon to introduce a series of related sentences.

What is the difference between a colon and a semicolon?

The colons introduce or define something. Semicolons are used to join two main clauses. Semicolons and colons are different in that they can combine two independent clauses, but their primary use is to join independent clause relationships with a list or a noun.

How do you use a colon to connect two sentences?

There are many ways to introduce or emphasize a word, list, phrase, or sentence with the help of colons. Divide two complete sentences in a sequence: Combined sentences when the second sentence completes, explains, or illustrates an idea in the first sentence.

How do you use a colon and semicolon in a list?

In addition to using a semicolon, there is also using colons. A semicolons separates items within a list, while a colon precedes and introduces a table.

How do you use a colon in a sentence examples?

  • There are three states that start with M: Michigan, Mississippi, and Maine.
  • Three cities in Italy he wanted to see were Rome, Florence, and Venice.
  • We knew who would win: the Eagles.
  • You have two choices at this moment: run away or fight.
When to Use a Colon: a Grammar Guide With Examples

Pam is an expert grammarian with years of experience teaching English, writing and ESL Grammar courses at the university level. She is enamored with all things language and fascinated with how we use words to shape our world.

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