Chapter 3-3-1: When to Use a Colon
The colon (:) is "les deux points" in French. It focuses the reader's attention on information that follows it. It is important to remember that you may only use a colon after an independent clause if it is used in a sentence, although titles have a different rule. You use a colon whenever more information can be expected. On this page, there are explanations for three main situations in which the colon is used: to introduce a list, to set off a quotation, and to define or clarify meaning.
One way you can use a colon is to introduce a list after a complete independent clause. Often times, readers will be expecting more information when the independent clause ends with “the following” or “as follows”:
A second way a colon can be used is to set off a quotation:
A colon can also be used to define or clarify meaning. In these examples, notice how the colon serves to throw the reader’s attention forward. An independent clause may follow the colon, although this is not necessary:
Apart from the three functions of the colon mentioned above, there are also a few other formatting situations in which the colon may be used.
Remember that colons can be used in titles, connecting the main title with a subtitle.
Titles do not contain an independent clause. A sentence must contain an independent clause, so notice that sentences and titles will look different.
Titles do not need any particular structural items such as verbs, subjects, or end punctuation.
The colon may also be used in the salutation of a letter when writing in the formal register:
The colon is used when writing the time, inserted between the hour and minute: