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Colons (Continued)

In a blog first published on August 11, 2007, I helped you understand how to use colons with lists. In this blog, I’d like to help you with other uses of the colon.

Rule 4: It’s often useful to use a colon instead of a semicolon between two sentences when the second sentence explains or illustrates the first sentence and no coordinating conjunction is being used to connect the sentences. If only one sentence follows the colon, it is usually unnecessary to capitalize the first word of the new sentence. If two or more sentences follow the colon, capitalize the first word of each sentence following.

Examples:
I enjoy reading: novels by Kurt Vonnegut are among my favorites.

Garlic is used in Italian cooking: It greatly enhances the flavor of pasta dishes. It also enhances the flavor of eggplant.

Rule 5: Use a colon to introduce a long direct quotation. In this situation, many writers leave a blank line above and below the quoted material and single space the long quotation. Quotation marks are not used.

Example:

The author of Touched, Jane Straus, wrote in the first chapter:

Georgia went back to her bed and stared at the intricate patterns of burned moth wings in the translucent glass of the overhead light. Her father was in “hyper mode” again. Nothing could calm him down.

He’d been talking nonstop for a week about remodeling projects, following her around the house as she tried to escape his chatter. He was just about to crash, she knew.

Rule 6: Use the colon to follow the salutation of a business letter even when addressing someone by his or her first name. Never use a semicolon after a salutation. For personal correspondence, use a comma after the salutation.

Example: Dear Ms. Rodriguez:

 

Pop Quiz
1A. Dear Mr. Ang;
1B. Dear Mr. Ang:

2A. The noise from the car collision suggested injuries: One of the drivers was taken to the emergency room with a broken arm. The other walked away from the accident scene with just a few scratches.
2B. The noise from the car collision suggested injuries: one of the drivers was taken to the emergency room with a broken arm. The other walked away from the accident scene with just a few scratches.

 

Pop Quiz Answers
1B. Dear Mr. Ang:
2A. The noise from the car collision suggested injuries: One of the drivers was taken to the emergency room with a broken arm. The other walked away from the accident scene with just a few scratches.

Posted on Wednesday, May 27, 2009, at 7:56 pm


12 Comments

12 Responses to “Colons (Continued)”

  1. Buddy says:

    Is it incorrect to connect two sentences that follow a colon with a coordinating conjunction or a semicolon, or should I just leave the pair of sentences separated with an ending punctuation mark?

    Example:
    They operated their small diner in an orderly fashion: the men cooked the food, and the women served it.

    OR

    They operated their small diner in an orderly fashion: the men cooked the food, and the women served it.

    Also, if these methods are correct, should the word “the,” before “men,” remain lowercased?

    • Jane says:

      Your examples are both correct. Congratulations! No, do not capitalize the word “the” after the colon because it is followed by only one sentence. If more than one sentence follows the colon, capitalize the first word of each new sentence.
      Example: They operated their small diner in an orderly fashion: The men cooked the food; the women served it. However, on Friday nights, local high school students helped with dishes.

  2. Buddy says:

    If one sentence succeeds a colon, meaning this sentence should not be capitalized, but then a new paragraph begins, should the sentence following the colon in the previous paragraph actually be capitalized?

  3. Where does the question mark go when you have a question that involves information in a paragraph introduced by a colon? Here is an example of what I’m thinking about:
    ——————————————————–

    Bob, what do you think about how Churchill’s beginning of the following speech:

    I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone.

    —————————————–

    Where does the question mark go?

    • Jane says:

      I believe a straightforward solution would be to place the question mark after the word speech, thus eliminating the use of the colon. I would also recommend a slight rewording of the sentence and use of a block quotation for clarity.

      Bob, what do you think about the beginning of Churchill’s speech?

      I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone.

  4. Anne says:

    Two other uses are common, one of which Jane put in an earlier column, and one I’d like to add. The first, which is the colon in the salutation of a business letter, is worth remembering. The people making hiring decisions do notice those little things!

    The second is the introduction of a formal quotation using a colon. It’s an exception to Jane’s “one sentence” rule. A full colon can introduce a formal quotation, even if the quotation is only one sentence. The first letter of the sentence would also be capitalized.

    Here’s an example:

    Even though it is a misquotation, one of the comments most often attributed to Churchill is his absolute statement: “Never, ever, ever give up.”

    • Jane says:

      You’re right, Anne. Besides the earlier blog on this topic, you also can find the first example in the Colons section as Rule 6:

      “Use the colon to follow the salutation of a business letter even when addressing someone by his/her first name. Never use a semicolon after a salutation. A comma is used after the salutation for personal correspondence.”

      Your second example regarding use of a colon preceding a formal quotation can be found in the Chicago Manual of Style (6.63) as well as in this very sentence(!):

      “A colon may also be used instead of a comma to introduce a quotation, either where the syntax of the introduction requires it or to more formally introduce the quotation.”

  5. Tony says:

    The use of a colon to introduce a formal quotation is confusing because “formal quotation” is not defined. The example above is the best I’ve seen, but it still leaves me wondering what constitutes formal? When would I use a comma versus a colon? Is it a gray area? Does the writer determine if the quote is formal or is there a clear rule (one that doesn’t only use examples of formal quotes, whatever they are)?

    Thanks in advance!

    • Jane says:

      A formal quotation would be words quoted directly from another source, as opposed to words that the writer paraphrased or made up. The writer should know whether or not the quote is direct or paraphrased.

  6. Buddy says:

    (1) On your Web site, “Colons,” Rule 5 states, “A colon may be used to introduce a long quotation.” So when is a quotation “long”?

    (2) Is dropping quoted material down a line and indenting it (as declared by the rule that I referenced previously) mandatory, or can the quote just follow the colon on the same line as it would a comma?

    (3) “Quotation Marks,” Rule 6 seems to conflict with “Colons,” Rule 5 (in fact, you even used quotation marks AFTER the colon in the provided example). Can you distinguish the difference for me, please?

    Thanks in advance!

    • (1) There is no absolute definition of a long quotation. The Modern Language Association says, “For quotations that are more than four lines of prose or three lines of verse, place quotations in a free-standing block of text and omit quotation marks.” The American Psychological Association says, “Place direct quotations that are 40 words, or longer, in a free-standing block of typewritten lines, and omit quotation marks.” It is up to the writer to decide what constitutes a long quotation.

      (2) As you can see from (1), while there is no absolute definition of “free-standing block,” the quotations should start on a new line. Whether you add an extra space above and below the quotation is up to you. We do recommend indenting the quotation, either on the left margin only or on both the left and right margins.

      (3) Rule 5 of “Colons” is intended to apply to passages quoted from other sources such as fiction or nonfiction works, journals, textbooks, etc. (The Associated Press Stylebook recommends using a colon rather than a comma to introduce a quote of two sentences or more.) Rule 6 of “Quotation Marks” is intended to apply to dialogue, where differentiation between speakers is important.

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