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
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
For additional help, see your handbook.
A number of my courses link to this page.
Please, use your browser's "Back" button to return to your previous page.
Or go to the Composition Courses
Copyright © 1998-2000 Lawrence J. Knapp
All Rights Reserved