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Colons: A Guide on How to Use Colons, Plus Examples

Colons signify a close relationship between clauses, and introduce items in a list or series.

What’s a colon?

Stack two periods on top of each other, et vóila! A colon :  


How to use a colon

“The limitation of armaments, the acceptance of arbitration as the natural solvent of international disputes, the relegation of wars of ambition and aggression to the categories of obsolete follies : these will be milestones which mark the stages of the road.”P.C. Wren, English Grammar and Composition.

Compare these sentences:

1. The principal parts of a verb in English are: the present tense, the past tense, and the past participle.

2. Study to acquire a habit of thinking: no study is more important.

Both sentences show the correct uses of a colon, but the role of the colon differs between the two. They both have two independent clauses (or sentences that can stand on their own) but the first sentence uses a colon to introduce items in a list.

The second sentence works different: here, the colon signals a deeper relationship a colon to signal a bond between the clauses, in that the  relationship between the clauses, and elaborate or add emphasis on the information the clause that precedes the colon, with the clause that comes after it. Therefore, the colon is used primarily to introduce a list or series in sentences, or to connect closely related clauses by adding emphasis or elaborating on the information that precedes it with the information that follows it.

Colons used in sentences examples

Examples of colons in sentences:

1. I need a few items at the store: clothespins, a bottle opener, and napkins.

2. She has three dogs: two poodles and a beagle.

3. The American flag has three colors: red, white, and blue.

4. I need an assistant who can do the following: input data, write reports, and complete tax forms.

5. He got what he worked for: he really earned that promotion.

What’s the difference between a colon and a semicolon?

Answer: semicolons are used to connect two closely related sentences without coordinating conjunctions or commas. Colons signify a deeper relationships between the clauses, and either expands, adds emphasis or introduces a list.

Origin of the colon

The word ‘colon’ originates from the Latin and Greek languages: from Latin colon “part of a verse or poem,” from Greek kōlon “part of a verse,” literally “limb, member”.

In Review

Colons are used in sentences to:

1. Introduce a list or series;

2. Connect closely related clauses by adding emphasis or elaborating on the information that precedes the colon with the information that follows it.


Grammar (RULES!)



  1. Origin of the word colon
  2. Principal parts of a verb
  3. The colon and semicolon  

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