Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

The colon#2

with 2 comments

A header for the "Meals" infobox tem...
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The colon is an excellent punctuation mark to use when writing lists.

However, sometimes you shouldn’t call upon its services when writing lists.  This is when a particular word takes the place of the colon in your sentence. Examples of such words are:

  • include
  • any form of the verb ‘to be’ (‘are’, ’is’, ‘was’, or ‘were’).

For example, the following sentence uses the colon incorrectly:

I have eaten several meals today, including: breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper. ×

You can see that the word ‘including’ does the work of the colon and so the colon isn’t needed.

Similarly, the following use of the colon is wrong because the word ‘were’ does the work of the colon:

The members of the Beatles were: John, Paul, Ringo and George. ×

The colon simply isn’t needed, and the sentence should read:

The members of the Beatles were John, Paul, Ringo and George.

Similarly, the colon isn’t needed in the following sentence, because the word ‘are’ is used instead:

The cake’s ingredients are: eggs, flour, sugar and butter. ×

This should be:

The cake’s ingredients are eggs, flour, sugar and butter.

Using a colon in sentences

 More user-friendly info about punctuation

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2 Responses

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  1. If the part of the sentence to the left of the colon can’t stand alone as a complete sentence in itself, you probably shouldn’t use the colon.

    Michael Farrell

    02/02/2010 at 4:12 pm

  2. Thanks for that useful addition, Michael.

    Deborah

    02/02/2010 at 4:20 pm


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