How do I use a colon?

Most writers know there is a rule that says they can use a colon to introduce a series. They write sentences such as the following.

The American flag is: red, white and blue.
This model has: volume, balance, bass and treble.

The series after the colon is correct. The mistake is what precedes the series. The colon should be used after an Independent Clause (sometimes called a Main Clause). To check this, think of the colon first as a period.

The American flag is.
This model has.

Well, yes, the flag exists, but that is not what the writer meant, and just what does this model have?  The following sentences reflect the intended meaning.

The American flag has three colors.
This model has the typical features.

Once you have a complete sentence, you can change the period to a colon and add a list of what the last word contains or means.

The American flag has three colors: red, white and blue.
This model has the typical features: volume, balance, bass and treble.

Colons may also be used after a sentence that is followed by an example or explanation. The colon must be preceded by a complete sentence. What follows may be a word, a phrase, or a sentence, but it must illustrate or explain what was said before the colon.

Sax Rohmer's place in popular culture was assured when he created his most famous character: Dr. Fu Manchu.

Dr. Fu Manchu is instantly recognizable: he's the tall Chinese villain with the long drooping moustache.

For additional help, see your handbook.

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