Colons are another nifty little mark!

This week we discuss another nifty mark used to punctuate sentences:  colons.

Usage.  A colon informs the reader that what follows the mark proves, clarifies, or lists elements of what preceded the mark.  Colons may be used to separate an independent clause (i.e., a grammatically complete sentence) from another sentence or a list, e.g.:

  • Boeing left some chips on the table:  it agreed to give up the exclusive-supplier agreements it had negotiated with American Airlines, Delta Airlines, and Continental Airlines.
  • The Scribe has two favorite hobbies:  yoga and camping.

But colons cannot be used after a grammatically incomplete sentence:

Incorrect:

  •  From 1939 to 1989, Fenway Park’s left field was patrolled by:  Ted Williams, Carl Yazstremski, and Jim Rice.

Correct:

  • From 1939 to 1989, three players patrolled Fenway Park’s left field:  Ted Williams, Carl Yazstremski, and Jim Rice.

Incorrect:

  • GreenCo argues that:  (1) the trial court erred in admitting evidence regarding Evergreen’s lost profits, (2) the error was not harmless, and (3) in the alternative, the trial court erred in denying its motion for directed verdict.

Correct:

  • GreenCo makes three arguments:   (1) the trial court erred in admitting evidence regarding Evergreen’s lost profits, (2) the error was not harmless, and (3) in the alternative, the trial court erred in denying its motion for directed verdict.

Most of the time, if you can replace a colon with the word “namely,” then the colon is the right choice.

EXCEPTION:  Colons may be used after verbs to introduce block quotations, e.g.:

ORS 59.115(5) provides:

Any tender specified in this section may be made at any time before entry of judgment.

If the quotation is not blocked, then use a comma, e.g.:

ORS 59.115(5) provides, “Any tender specified in this section may be made at any time before entry of judgment.”

Capitalization.  Opinions regarding the use of capitalization or lower-case after a colon vary.  The accepted rule is that if the material following a colon is not an independent clause (i.e., a complete sentence), then it’s not capitalized, e.g.:

  • The trial court permitted counsel to take the first step of trial:  voir dire.

Grammarians are split on whether to capitalize the first word after a colon if the material that follows the colon is a complete sentence:  with the most conservative saying that the first word should be capitalized in that situation.  After carefully studying the pros and cons of capitalization, The Scribe finds it easier to adopt the less conservative rule for introducing complete sentences:  because that way all we have to remember is that the first word after a colon is always in lowercase (unless, of course, it is a proper name or otherwise must be capitalized).

That is all for now …

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