When people think of colons, they often think of them as punctuation marks that help us introduce lists. This is, indeed, one of the key functions of colons. However, even when introducing lists, it’s common for people to use colons incorrectly. For example, you don’t have to look far to find a sentence that looks something like this:
- “The salad included: kale, strawberries, almonds, and pumpkin seeds.”
What’s wrong with this sentence? The colon doesn’t belong in it at all. Why? Because you always need a “full sentence” in front of a colon. That is, the words that come before the colon in a sentence must be able to stand on their own as a sentence.
In the example above, the words that come before the colon (“The salad included”) don’t form a full sentence. For this reason, the correct way to write this sentence is to leave the colon out:
- “The salad included kale, strawberries, almonds, and pumpkin seeds.”
Now, we could rewrite this sentence so that it is appropriate to use a colon in it. For example, we could write it like this:
- “The salad included the following ingredients: kale, strawberries, almonds, and pumpkin seeds.”
In this case, the words that come before the colon (“This salad included the following ingredients”) can stand on their own as a full sentence, so it’s appropriate to use a colon.
Notice that it isn’t appropriate to include a colon in a sentence just because the sentence contains a list of items. Instead, you need to take a look at the words that come before the colon and figure out whether or not they can form a full sentence. If they can, add that colon in. If they can’t, leave the colon out.
Have any lingering questions about how to use colons to introduce lists? Leave us a note in our comments section below and we’ll do our best to incorporate your questions into one of our upcoming posts.
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