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How to Use Colons

Learn how to use colons correctly from Gotham Writers' Workshop instructor Stephanie Paterik in this Howcast grammar video.


I'm going to talk to you about colons and how to properly use them, and also just how they function in a sentence. I like to think of colons as sort of the ta-da of the punctuation world. They tend to have that effect when you see it's like you have a setup and then a colon, which is like "Ta-da! I'm going to pull a rabbit out of my hat." And what follows the colon is the rabbit. So let me give you an example of how we might use it in a sentence. I have here, "In conclusion: We need a better plan." So this is kind of like a ta-da moment that might come at the end of a speech that you're giving to your co-workers, or the end of a meeting. In conclusion: We need a better plan.

It definitely gives some punch, some emphasis to that final thought that we need a better plan. One thing that's really important to note is that when what follows a colon is a complete thought, we need to capitalize the first letter of the following word. So, "In conclusion: We need a better plan." Here's another way to use the colon. It comes in really handy when we have a list. So if we're presenting a list to somebody, we can use the colon. In this sentence we say, "The old plan has three merits: clarity, excitement, and selling power." You can see what follows the colon here is a list of qualities. So any time you have a list, you can consider the colon as a good way to set it up. I want you to note that in this case, we don't capitalize the first word following the colon. And the reason for that is because what follows is not a complete thought. So if what follows the colon is a complete thought, capitalize the next word. If what follows is not a complete thought, lower-case it. And that's how you use a colon.

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