how to use a colon

How to Use a Colon

The colon is a punctuation mark that is used to get attention or to pause emphatically on what follows. It is represented with two points, one suspended over the other (:). If you want to find out the correct ways of how to use a colon, read on!

Using a colon correctly is similar to using other punctuation. Like the comma, the semicolon, and the semicolon, the two points are a delimiter sign, that is, it is used to delimit syntactic units below the sentence. The two points are written attached to the word or sign that precedes them and separated by a space of the word or sign that follows them.

After the colon punctuation, it can be written in lower case if the statement that follows is an enumeration or has semantic relations with the preceding sentence; or with capital letters, if an appointment is being introduced or fits within specific epistolary or legal uses.

Using a Colon in Writing

When it comes to using a colon in writing, the two points appear in very specific contexts: in enumerations, syntactic structures with an advertising element, in direct speech, juxtaposed sentences, connectors, as well as in titles, letters and documents.

In enumerations
Two points are used in enumerations that have an explanatory character. This type of enumeration is characterized by always containing an advertising element, which may well be a word or a syntactic group that includes the content of the members of the enumeration.

For example:

I made you dinner: soup and tortilla.
The president will talk about very important things for the country: the increase in the minimum wage and national security.
Fresh, clean and pure: this is the spring water.

With anticipating element
The colon can be used in certain non-enumerative structures, as long as they are preceded by an anticipating element, that is, a word or a group of words that announce what will come next.

For example:

You just need to know one thing: who will talk to the director.
The following measure has been taken: the closing time will be at 10:00 pm.
The only thing that always interested me was that: literature.
I advise you: stop with that attitude.
There are things you can’t afford when you study: fail an exam, for example.
Let us divide: that is what they want to achieve.

In the direct speech
The colon punctuation can be used to introduce direct speech, which implies the reproduction of the words spoken by another person or their thoughts. It is typical in dialogues or textual quotes. Using a colon in a sentence can be used to bring in direct speech.

For example:

He looked me in the eye and said: Okay, I accept it.
Alicia asked me: What do you want to eat?
As Benito Juárez said: “Respect for the rights of others is peace.”

In juxtaposed sentences
The two points are also used to connect, without using another link, sentences that have relations of cause and effect, of conclusion or consequence, of verification or explanation, as well as of opposition.

For example:

Cause and effect: “There is a hurricane alert: all flights have been suspended.”
Conclusion or consequence: “There were many errors in the execution of the project: in the end they have canceled it”.
Verification or explanation: “It is a very good suite: living room, dining room, office, a large bathroom and a jacuzzi”.
Opposition: “This job is not my dream: it’s just a job.”

With connectors
The colon punctuation is also used following certain discursive connectors, which can be of different types:

Explanatory (namely, that is, that is, that is): “The opposition has only two instruments, namely: the constitution and laws.”
In summary or reworking (in conclusion, well, in other words, put another way): “Do you remember what we talked about the project? Well, cancel. ”
Extension (more so): “Luisa does not answer my messages. Moreover, he doesn’t answer my calls. ”
Counter-argumentative (now): “I agree with your observations. Now, none of this has been clarified. ”

In titles
The colon is used to separate a general aspect from a partial aspect in a title. Using a colon to introduce a quote is also possible as well.

For example:

Fernando Pessoa: comparative study of the recurring motives in his heteronyms.
Mexican society: a study from the colony to the present.

In letters and documents
In the letters, the colon is used after greeting formulas. In this case, the word that follows the colon is written with a capital initial.

For example:

Dear Compadre:

How are you doing your things?

Dear Dr. Pérez:

Receive first of all a cordial greeting.

If you are wondering how to use a colon in legal writings, such as decrees, sentences, certificates, instances, two points are placed after the verb that presents the fundamental objective of the document. This word is written entirely in capital letters. The word that follows it goes with an initial capital letter.

For example:


That the student Antonio Valera attended all classes of the course …


That article 155 of the Spanish constitution …

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