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Grammar Tips & Tidbits


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Colons: Part I


Last week I gave you the scoop on semicolons. If you missed last week's tip, you can review it here. Now let's move on to colons!

The following rules come from The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation website, courtesy of Jane Straus.¹ You can view additional tips, read Jane's blog, or purchase her book at the following website: http://www.grammarbook.com. Jane's site also includes tons of free quizzes for testing your knowledge. If you can't get enough grammar quizzes, you're in luck. Jane recently launched a subscription area containing over 100 interactive quizzes!

by Jane Straus

Rule 1                Use the colon after a complete sentence to introduce a list of items when introductory words such as namely, for example, or that is do not appear.


You may be required to bring many items: sleeping bags, pans, and warm clothing.


I want the following items: butter, sugar, and flour.
    I want an assistant who can do the following: (1) input data, (2) write reports, and (3) complete tax forms.
Rule 2 A colon should not precede a list unless it follows a complete sentence; however, the colon is a style choice that some publications allow.


I want an assistant who can (1) input data, (2) write reports, and (3) complete tax forms.
    If a waitress wants to make a good impression on her customers and boss, she should
(a) dress appropriately,
(b) calculate the bill carefully, and
(c) be courteous to customers.
    There are three ways a waitress can make a good impression on her boss and her customers:
(a) Dress appropriately.
(b) Calculate the bill carefully.
(c) Be courteous to customers.
Rule 3 Capitalization and punctuation are optional when using single words or phrases in bulleted form. If each bullet or numbered point is a complete sentence, capitalize the first word and end each sentence with proper ending punctuation. The rule of thumb is to be consistent.
  Examples I want an assistant who can do the following:
(a) input data,
(b) write reports, and
(c) complete tax forms.
    The following are requested:
(a) Wool sweaters for possible cold weather.
(b) Wet suits for snorkeling.
(c) Introductions to the local dignitaries.
    The following are requested:
(a) wool sweaters for possible cold weather
(b) wet suits for snorkeling
(c) introductions to the local dignitaries
    These are some of the pool rules:
1. You must not run.
2. If you see unsafe behavior, report it to the lifeguard.
3. Have fun!

This is just the first part of a two-part series on colons. Don't forget to tune in next week for Part II―and pay close attention, because there will be a quiz at the end!

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1.  Straus, Jane. "Colons." The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation.
     Published with permission.