Uses of the Colon

A colon is used to introduce a list. It can be a formal introduction using as follows, or less formal.

The ceremony to honor Dr. Mills included everything: a moving introduction, a recitation of her achievements, a series of testimonials, and a glowing forecast of her future in the new position.
The questions were as follows: Where did you last work? For how long? What was your job title? What were your primary achievements?

Also, use a lowercase letter after the colon unless the list is a series of complete sentences, as in the second example. Use a capital letter after a colon in the situations described below.

Introducing a quotation or formal statement

The colon is used to introduce a quotation or formal statement. An independent clause must precede the colon. Capitalize the first word of a sentence following a colon only if the text that follows is a quotation or formal statement.

The speaker made the following observation: “In the future, communication between people all over the world will lead not to an enriched culture but to a homogenous one.”

Introducing a restatement or explanation

A colon may be used between two independent clauses when the second clause explains or restates the first clause.

The program was an unqualified success: hundreds of people attended.
These shoes are the best: they are durable, inexpensive, and stylish.

Notice that when the colon is used in this way (like a semicolon), it may be followed by a lowercase letter.

To test whether you should use a semicolon or a colon between clauses, ask yourself whether you could logically insert the phrase that is after the punctuation. If you can, use a colon; if you can't, use a semicolon.

These shoes are the best: that is, they are durable, inexpensive, and stylish. (correct)

A colon is appropriate in the previous example. The second clause explains the first clause. In the next sentence, the phrase that is doesn't work. Therefore, a semicolon is correct.

He struggled for years; that is, success finally arrived. (not logical)
He struggled for years; success finally arrived. (correct)

Colons with quotation marks

When using quotes in a sentence, always place colons outside quotation marks.

The article was called “ The Last Word: his definitive statement.
This statement is from an article called “ Good Advice: “Before you decide to marry a man, check out his relationship with his mother.”

A colon is used in the following special situations:

  • To separate hours and minutes when writing the time

4:15 p. m.

8:00 a. m.

  • To separate volume and number, or volume and page number of a magazine

Entertainment Weekly VI:4

National Geographic 87:53‐56

  • To separate chapter and verse numbers for biblical passages

Matthew 4:16

  • To introduce a subtitle

Jane Austen: A Feminist's View

  • In the salutation of a business letter

Dear Dr. Aguinaldo: