Grammar Today


My children, the colon is a specialized mark of punctuation that has a limited usage. Thus it is not surprising that its misuses are rare, yet vexing nevertheless.

The purpose of the colon is to call attention to those words that follow it, such as in this sentence:

Pay attention: I am speaking of colons!

Primarily, a colon is used after an independent clause (remember, my children, that this is a complete sentence or one that can stand alone because it is grammatically correct) to alert the reader's attention to a list, an appositive, or a quotation. See the following examples: (notice the correct use of the colon here)

To direct one's attention to a list--

I need the following items from the grocery store: a head of cabbage, a sack of navel oranges, and two quarts of milk (notice that these items when applied to the body mark the Sign of the Cross).

To direct one's attention to an appositive (a noun or noun phrase after another noun that renames it)--

Most students are guilty of two of the Seven Deadly Sins: sloth and gluttony.

To introduce a direct quotation--

I shall never forgive Robert Frost for his sacrilegious ditty: "Forgive, oh Lord, my little jokes on Thee, and I'll forgive Thy great big one on me."

You see, my children, how infrequently the colon is actually used. In addition to its uses in prose, it has a few other everyday uses:

After the salutation in a letter--

Dear Mother Superior:

To indicate hours and minutes--


In a bibliographic entry:

New York: Pearson/Longman

Avoid, my children, on pain of extra years in Purgatory, these common misuses of the colon:

Between a verb and its object--

The winners are: Father Mapple, Sister Mary Goretta, and Bishop Praxed.


Between a preposition and its object--

The punishment consisted of: raps on the knuckles with a ruler, kneeling on the tile floor for thirty minutes, and the recitation of five Rosaries.


After words like "such as" or "for example"--

I cannot abide some grammar errors, such as: misuses of the colon and semicolon.


I hope this clears up your colon problems, my children. In short, please remember to have a care where you place your colons.

Good day and good grammar.

Sister Mary Grammatica, SGJ

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