Friday, August 25, 2006

the colon and how to use it

The colon.  So simple, yet so misunderstood.

Here's a simple rule of thumb:  a common use of the colon is to indicate a setup: payoff relationship.  The set-up portion should be an independent clause (has all  the grammatical parts to stand on its own as a sentence).  The payoff portion can be anything--a single word, a phrase, a clause.  Often, it's a list.

A common error is that the part of the sentence preceding the colon is not an independent clause.  Unless the writer is using some kind of inverted construction ("space:  the final frontier"), he has just committed an error.

CORRECT:  I went to the store and bought many items:  milk, eggs, and the ingredients for lasagna.

INCORRECT:  My purchases included:  milk, eggs, and the ingredients for lasagna.

CORRECT:  My goals are to go to college and then to law school.

INCORRECT:  My goals are:  to go to college and then to law school.

Examples of incorrect colon usage abound.  Please do NOT do your part in contributing to that abundance.  Use the colon correctly!

(njs)

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legalwriting/2006/08/the_colon_and_h.html

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Comments

In grade school I was taught that a colon stands for the words "the following" or "as follows." To this day I say those words in my head every time I type a colon. If neither makes sense at that place in my sentence, I don't use a colon. If one does make sense there, I do.

Posted by: Sue Liemer | Aug 28, 2006 7:11:48 AM

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