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3.4: Colon

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  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)\(\newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    Think of the colon as the Vanna White of punctuation: it’s used almost exclusively to present the sentence’s really important content. A colon can introduce a list, a direct quotation, or an explanation (see, for example, the first sentence above). A colon almost always needs to follow a complete thought:

    • The treasures he found were impressive: rubies, diamonds, and the original VW Beetle. [ complete thought followed by list ]
    • Herman Melville begins his novel Moby-Dick with a simple yet intriguing sentence: “Call me Ishmael.” [ complete thought followed by direct quotation ]
    • The candidate lacks one of the most essential traits of an effective leader: integrity. [ complete thought followed by explanation ]

    You can’t use “such as” or a “be” verb like “is” or “are” in front of a colon. Like the semi-colon, it prefers to work alone.

    • Many school districts struggle to fund important programs such as: music and art. [ incorrect —colon disrupts the flow ]
    • Many school districts struggle to fund important programs such as music and art. [ correct ]
    • My favorite pizza toppings are: peppers, onions, and ham. [ incorrect — colon disrupts the flow ]
    • My favorite pizza toppings are peppers, onions, and ham. [ correct ]

    Be careful when writing letters. A comma after “Dear Jane,” is friendly; a colon after “Dear Jane:” means business.

    This page titled 3.4: Colon is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Frost & Samra et al..

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