Q and A: Colons

Q and A: Colons

“Sometimes I see colons used before quotes; other times I see them used before lists. Which is correct? How do I know when a colon is the right punctuation mark?”

Just taught this yesterday to a dozen kids preparing for the SAT–and I’ll be teaching it again tomorrow to a dozen more who are preparing for the SAT. I will tell you what I told them:

1. You want to learn how to use colons. That skill will make you look smart since so few people know how to use them properly!

2. You should always have a complete sentence on the left side of the colon:

a. This means that it CAN be used following a speech tag (before your quoted words) IF the speech tag is a complete sentence:

      i. Yes: HE SPOKE WORDS OF COMFORT: “You can get through this. You are strong. I know you can make it.” (Words on the left of the colon could stand alone; you could place a period there, and it would be a real, complete sentence.)

    ii. No: HE SAID: “You can get through this. You are strong. I know you can make it.”

b. This means that it CAN be used to introduce a list IF the introduction to the list is a complete sentence:

     i. Yes: I NEED SEVERAL THINGS FROM THE STORE: milk, bread, eggs, and bananas.

     ii. No: I NEED TO GET: milk, bread, eggs, and bananas.

c. This means that it CAN be used to ask a rhetorical question IF the words preceding the colon make up a complete sentence:

  i. Yes: WE LOOKED FOR HIM EVERYWHERE: suddenly he appeared!

  ii. No: WE LOOKED AND: suddenly he appeared!

3. A colon should NEVER follow two types+ of words:

a. An action verb used as an action verb. No: SHE WANTED US TO GIVE: money, time, and household goods.

b. A preposition used as a preposition: No: SHE ASKED US TO: come early, stay late, and work non-stop.

+When a sentence ends in an action verb or a preposition, that word usually makes the sentence into a non-sentence (i.e. you can’t put a period there and call it a real sentence): She asked us to.

4. Colon use is often subjective in technical writing, such as text books, blogs (!), and other places where they are used to teach or expound upon topics in list form, etc.

COMMA CLUES #3: Greeting and Closing of Letter

Today’s Comma Clues post was actually supposed to be up yesterday–in case you were writing a love letter in honor of Valentine’s Day!! If you are still in the middle of penning a love note for that special someone, be sure to follow these two comma rules–with a freebie capitalization rule thrown in as a, well, Valentine’s Day gift!

This information could be more valuable to you than you might think: I just read that a new survey shows that following “teeth,” grammar is the next benchmark that would-be daters use in evaluating potential mates on dating sites. So study this thoroughly before you write that letter! Smile…

Comma Clues #3: A comma should follow the greeting (salutation) and closing of a letter.

Dear Ray Baby, 

All my love,

I have to leave you with a few tips:

1. This rule applies to the “friendly” letter–which I assume your love letter will be.

2. Never use a colon following a greeting in a friendly letter. The colon should only follow a greeting in a business letter.

3. Always capitalize all major words in a greeting of a letter. In this way, think of it as a title and capitalize accordingly. 

a. Dear Friend and Colleague (no cap for and)
b. Dear First True Love

4. Only capitalize the first word in the closing of a letter (except for proper nouns in it, of course).

a. Sincerely yours,
b. All my love,

So…go write that love letter with confidence. And be sure to flash those pearly whites when you actually meet!

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