Colon - Explore the Meaning, Definition and Use of the Punctuation Mark with Examples

How important do you think punctuation marks are in writing? Have you tried reading a passage without any punctuation? It would not make sense, right? Punctuation lets the readers know where there should be a pause and where an idea/sentence ends.

Once you have learnt about the use of a full stop, a comma, a semicolon and a question mark, you can go on to learn what a colon is and how it is used. In this article, you will be introduced to the definition of a colon, its significance and how it can be used in sentences along with examples.

Table of Contents

What is a Colon? – Meaning and Definition

A colon is a punctuation mark that has two dots of equal size placed vertically. It is used in a sentence to introduce an example, a list, a quotation, etc. The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary defines a colon as “the mark ( : ) used to introduce a list, a summary, an explanation, etc. or before reporting what somebody has said”, and according to the Cambridge Dictionary, a colon is defined as “the symbol : used in writing, especially to introduce a list of things or a sentence or phrase taken from somewhere else”.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary provides two different definitions of a colon based on its usage. According to them, a colon is “a punctuation mark : used chiefly to direct attention to matter (such as a list, explanation, quotation, or amplification) that follows” and “the sign : used between the parts of a numerical expression of time in hours and minutes (as in 1:15) or in hours, minutes, and seconds (as in 8:25:30), in a bibliographical reference (as in Nation 130:20), in a ratio where it is usually read as “to” (as in 4:1 read “four to one”), or in a proportion where it is usually read as “is to” or when doubled as “as” (as in 2:1::8:4 read “two is to one as eight is to four”).”

How and When to Use a Colon? – Points to Remember

A colon is used in a sentence for the following reasons:

  • To introduce or state a point,
  • To present a list of items, a tabular column and text,
  • In citations and biblical references,
  • In dialogue writing, to quote the speaker’s words,
  • To draw attention to nouns/noun phrases, examples and quotations, and
  • To mention the time of the day and ratios.

Knowing when to use a colon is important but what is equally important is to know how to use it. So, let us now look at how sentences have to be punctuated when using a colon.

Dos and Don’ts in the Usage of Colon in Sentences

  • When using a colon to list items, make sure to use a capital letter after the colon if the word that follows the colon is a proper noun.
  • When used in sentences, see to it that you use a space after the colon.
  • When used between numbers in time and listing of biblical references, you need not use a space before or after the colon.
  • When used in dialogue writing, use the colon immediately after the name of the speaker, and after the space, always use a capital letter to start the dialogue.
  • Do not use a colon in between a verb and its object or complement.
  • In a similar manner, a colon should not be used in between a preposition and the object of a preposition.
  • Never use a colon after ‘like’, ‘includes’, ‘such as’, ‘especially’, ‘namely’, etc.

Examples of the Use of Colon in Sentences

To help you understand a little more clearly, here are a few examples. Check them out and try to analyse the usage.

Example 1: Lists/Series

  1. A sentence has two parts and they are:
    • Subject
    • Predicate
  2. The students who have enrolled for the competition are:
    • Anurag
    • Ashish
    • Binsha
    • Devi
    • Harish
    • Irene
    • Preethi
  3. The ingredients for the dish are: potatoes, onions, mushrooms, pepper powder, turmeric powder and salt.

Example 2: Dialogue Writing

Teacher: Good morning, children.

Students: Good morning, Ma’am.

Teacher: Have you all completed the work I had given you yesterday?

Students: Yes Ma’am.

Example 3: Time

  • The meeting will start at 11:30 a. m. sharp.
  • The train is at 6:45 p. m.
  • The time now is 15:15 p.m.

Example 4: Biblical References, Titles and Citations

  • Matthew 20:28 says, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve…”
  • ‘The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference’ by Malcolm Gladwell is a best-seller.
  • Ashbourn, J. (2014) Biometrics in the new world: the cloud, mobile technology and pervasive identity. 2nd edn. London: Springer

Example 5: Mathematical Expressions

  • The ratio of milk to water is 1:3.
  • The ratio of girls to boys this year is 4:6.

Example 6: Before Nouns/Noun Phrases, Examples, Quotations

  • I have what every human being needs: caring friends and a loving family.
  • For example: Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, Portugal
  • This is just like what Shakespeare once said: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”.

Frequently Asked Questions on Colon in English Grammar

What is the meaning of a colon (:)?

A colon is a punctuation mark that has two dots of equal size placed vertically. It is used in a sentence to introduce an example, a list, a quotation, etc.

What is the definition of a colon?

The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary defines a colon as “the mark ( : ) used to introduce a list, a summary, an explanation, etc. or before reporting what somebody has said”, and according to the Cambridge Dictionary, a colon is defined as “the symbol : used in writing, especially to introduce a list of things or a sentence or phrase taken from somewhere else”.

When to use a colon?

A colon can be used:

  • To introduce or state a point,
  • To present a list of items, a tabular column and text,
  • In citations and biblical references,
  • In dialogue writing, to quote the speaker’s words,
  • To draw attention to nouns/noun phrases, examples and quotations, and
  • To mention the time of the day and ratios.

Give a few examples of the use of colon in sentences.

Here are a few examples of sentences using colon.

  • The ingredients for the dish are: potatoes, onions, mushrooms, pepper powder, turmeric powder and salt.
  • For example: Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, Portugal
  • Teacher: Good morning, children.