Friday, August 25, 2006
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!