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Colons with Lists

Rule 1: Use the colon after a complete sentence to introduce a list of items when introductory words such as namely, for example, or that is do not apply or are not appropriate.

Examples:
You may be required to bring many items: sleeping bags, pans, and warm clothing.
I want the following items: butter, sugar, and flour.
I want an assistant who can do the following: (1) input data, (2) write reports, and (3) complete tax forms.


Rule 2: A colon usually does not precede a list unless it follows a complete sentence.

Examples:
To be successful in sales, one should do the following: (a) dress appropriately, (b) ask customers about their needs, and (c) follow through.

To be successful in sales, one should (a) dress appropriately, (b) ask customers about their needs, and (c) follow through.

Rule 3: With tabular format, a colon customarily precedes a list.

Examples:
To be successful in sales, one should do the following:
(a) dress appropriately
(b) ask customers about their needs
(c) follow through

To be successful in sales, one should:
(a) dress appropriately
(b) ask customers about their needs
(c) follow through

Note: You may use and before the last phrase.

To be successful in sales, one should:
(a) dress appropriately,
(b) ask customers about their needs,
(c) and follow through.

Note:
Capitalization and punctuation are optional when using single words or phrases in bulleted form. If each bullet or numbered point is a complete sentence, capitalize the first word and end each sentence with proper ending punctuation. The rule of thumb is to be consistent.

To be successful in sales, one should:
• Dress appropriately,
• Ask customers about their needs,
• Follow through.

Note: With lists, you may use periods after numbers and letters instead of parentheses.

For our meeting on Tuesday, please:
a. E-mail the agenda to me by Monday afternoon.
b. Call me 15 minutes before the meeting is set to begin.
c. Distribute the notes to all the board members after the meeting.

Pop Quiz
Add punctuation if needed.
1. The following are required (a) wet suits, (b) fins, (c) snorkels.
2. Please bring (a) wet suits, (b) fins, and (c) snorkels.

Pop Quiz Answers

1. The following are required: (a) wet suits, (b) fins, (c) snorkels.
2. Please bring (a) wet suits, (b) fins, and (c) snorkels. (CORRECT)

Posted on Saturday, August 11, 2007, at 8:09 pm


12 Comments on Colons with Lists

12 responses to “Colons with Lists”

  1. Gayle Gemeinhart says:

    What is the rule about colons when they are used as you do on this site? How is this usage defined?
    Examples:
    Rule 1:
    Rule 2:
    Rule 3:
    Note:

  2. Gary M. says:

    Would you please settle a serious discussion and see if there is an error in this sentence?? thank you & thanks for your newsletter!

    Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes. But, he was brought to life by William Gillette. Gillette also put together the “costume,” the hat, pipe, lens and cape, that we associate with Holmes to this day.

    • The comma after “But” in the second sentence is not necessary. In the second sentence, we would change “But he” to “But Holmes” for clarity. We would place a colon rather than a comma preceding the list of costume items in the third sentence. We also recommend a comma (the Oxford comma) after “lens” and no comma following “cape.”

      Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes. But Holmes was brought to life by William Gillette. Gillette also put together the “costume”: the hat, pipe, lens, and cape that we associate with Holmes to this day.

  3. Cindy M. says:

    When you are listing items by bullets – is just the first word capitalized?

    · Job Shack

    · Mixing Area Concrete/Mortar Cement

    · Bulk Sand and Gravel

    · Tile/Brick

    · Toolbox Layout

    · Use Area Dry Heated

    · Resin Cement Storage and Mixing Area

    · Brick Saw Cutting Area with Power and Water Requirements

    · Reinforcing Steel Laydown Area

  4. Dennis S. says:

    Which is correct or more correct?

    1. Water can exist in three forms — solid, liquid or gas.
    2. Water can exist in three forms – solid, liquid or gas.
    3. Water can exist in three forms – solid, liquid or gas.
    4. Water can exist in three forms; solid, liquid or gas.

  5. Tim says:

    At our hotel, complaints such as a broken fan, a malfunctioned central cooling system, a faulty light switch, etc. are among the most commonly received requests from our in-house guests.

    At our hotel, complaints such as broken fan, malfunctioned central cooling system, faulty light switch, etc. are among the most commonly received requests from our in-house guests.

    At our hotel, complaints such as broken fans, malfunctioned central cooling systems, faulty light switches, etc. are among the most commonly received requests from our in-house guests.

    Assuming there is only one fan and one light switch in a guest room, and one central cooling system in the hotel, which of these is correct?

    Is it necessary to use an article for items in a list?

    • It does not matter how many items are in each room; the sentences refer to the list of complaints. The articles are optional. We would suggest replacing “malfunctioned” with “malfunctioning” and “requests” with “concerns.”

      • Tim says:

        Thanks! Malfunctoning and concerns sound better and right here.

        It is more natural for me to drop the articles if the list of items is on a separate line (after the colon).

        For inline lists (within the sentence itself), is it correct to drop the articles as well?

        So all three sentences are basically correct?

        • As we stated, the articles are optional in your sentences. We would need to see a specific sentence in order to comment on articles within a different sentence. Your sentences are all fine with the changes we indicated.

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