When to Use a Colon

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Use a colon when an independent clause, or complete sentence, is followed by either a list or a quote. Colons are also used between two independent clauses when the second one describes or explains the first one. Get examples of how to use a colon in writing from a writer and English tutor in this free video on grammar and punctuation.

Part of the Video Series: Grammar & Punctuation
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Video Transcript

Hi, I'm here to talk about when to use a colon in a sentence. Colons are usually used to call attention to the words that follow them. So a couple ways that that can happen is if you have an independent clause -- the complete sentence -- and you have either a list or a quote...a quotation after it. Here's an example of a list. "She needed to buy three things: milk, eggs, and bread." And similarly, you can have a quote after the complete sentence. "Remember what the Declaration of Independence says: "All men are created equal." You can also have a colon between two independent clauses -- two complete sentences -- if the second one explains or describes what's going on in the first one. There was only one thing he could do: he would have to call the plumber. Both of those are complete sentences, but the second one explains what the thing he could do is. So in all the cases I just mentioned, you do have to have a complete sentence before the colon. If you have something like this, "My brothers' names are: Mike, Steve, and Brad," that's not going to work because you don't have a complete sentence before the colon. A couple other cases where you'll use colons are after the salutation in a formal letter, in times, and in ratios.

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