Friday, November 2, 2012

Punctuation 101: The Colon

by Jill Williamson

It's time for another punctuation lesson. I know... boring! But I see colons misused often in the manuscripts of new writers, along with semicolons, dashes, and ellipses. I promise to post only one punctuation lesson a month.

Today's lesson: The Colon

Capitalization

How do you know whether or not to capitalize the first word following a colon? Always have the word be lowercase except in the following circumstances:

1. If the first word is a proper noun.
Ex: The people who should be on the bus are the following: Mark, Christa, Drew, and Kelley.

2. If the colon precedes a definition or a direct quote.
Ex: When Christy got angry at Karen, Jill told her not to Jake out: An act or instance of turning into a werewolf. (Inspired by the book Twilight.)
Ex: The poignant words of Douglas Adams state: “Flying is learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.”

3. If the colon comes before two or more related sentences.
Ex: Robert had three options: He could walk the six miles to the library. He could call someone and beg a ride. Or he could just take Grandma Nan’s car.

4. If the colon introduces dialogue lines in a speech or drama.
Ex: Juliette: Then, window, let day in, and let life out.
Romeo: Farewell, farewell! One kiss and I'll descend.

Where to use a colon
A colon means as follows. It's used to introduce something (or a series of things).

1. Use a colon after a complete sentence to direct attention to a list.
Ex: Marcia’s daily workout was supposed to include at least the following: twenty sit-ups, ten push-ups, and fifteen minutes of cardio.
Ex: Give us the following construction materials: wood, hammers, and nails.
Ex: This summer our family plans to visit four western states: ArizonaUtahColorado, and New Mexico.

2. Use a colon after a complete sentence to direct attention to an appositive: A word or phrase that means the same thing. Appositives are common in fiction.
Ex: Shelby was shocked at what she saw: her reflection.
Ex: We found Fluffy sleeping in her favorite spot: the tree in the backyard.
Ex: There is one obstacle I must conquer before graduation: passing all my classes.

3. Use a colon after a complete sentence to direct attention to a quotation.
Ex: Consider the words of Mother Theresa: “Even the rich are hungry for love, for being cared for, for being wanted, for having someone to call their own.”


**Note: These rules are for writing books. My source is the Chicago Manual of Style. If you're writing articles, some of the rules are a bit different. Refer to the Associated Press Stylebook if you are writing articles.

16 comments:

  1. Thank you, Jill!! I was just wondering about this and the semicolon a day or to ago. :D

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    1. You're welcome! I'll get to the semicolon soon. :-)

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  2. Not boring, helpful! I always have trouble with colons and semicolons. But I also have this weird sense...it's kind of like as I read the sentence (or write it) in my head, I feel the "rhythm" and that helps me know where commas, semicolons, etc. go. Yeah, it's crazy, I know...

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  3. Jill, this is so much help! Punctuation is something we all need to learn!

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    1. Yeah... I wish they made Schoolhouse Rock cartoons for all types of punctuation. Nobody teaches like Schoolhouse Rock!

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  4. Thank you so much for this! And this is totally not boring! I was wondering about this not that long ago and am so happy for it!

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  5. Hey this is pretty helpful! I'm definitely not so afraid to use colon's in fiction anymore, especially now that I see how the can be useful in something other than non-fiction. :)

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  6. I look at punctuation posts and go 'bleh, really?', but now I've learnt when to capitalise after a colon, so I can't actually complain. =)

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  7. This was super helpful! Colons and semicolons always confuse me a bit, but this helped clear things up.

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  8. Could you do next months punctuation lesson on semi-colons? It would be so helpful :)

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    1. Yep! Next month will be semicolons, then I'll do dashes and ellipses together, I think.

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