The colon: The king of clarification and the third out of one of the three most understood punctuation marks. Clearly, the colon is a thing that confuses us. Due to its misuse and the fact the colon has a brother, the semicolon, let’s explore how this powerful punctuation mark is misunderstood. We’ve comprised 3 common colon mistakes for you, so you won’t have to commit them again!

What is a colon?

Before we go over colon mistakes, let’s define what the colon is. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, it has five definitions. The first few cover definitions of its usage: the part of a large intestine and secondly, in Greek, it is a “rhythmical unit of an utterance” as well as a noun for a colonial farmer for example. (So beyond our grammatical point we are trying to make!). 

With its three definitions out the way, we are onto the good stuff: a punctuation mark and a sign. In other words, the colon is used to direct attention to lists, explanations etc. or between parts of a numerical definition. The colon indicates preceding related information.

Common colon mistakes

1. When used before a verb

E.g.: Self-Isolation can be: lonely, sad and boring.

Correct use: Self-Isolation: How it can be lonely, sad and boring. 

We went for a double verb there with “can be”, but you get the point, right?! The correct version could be used as a headline for an article, for example. This common mistake indicates the explanation comes after the colon!

2. When used before a number

E.g.: Suzanne had two: cooking and dancing.

Correct use: Suzanne had two hobbies: cooking and dancing. 

Similar to above, don’t put a verb or a number before a colon. Introduce the related information concerning two hobbies afterwards.

3. When used after a preposition

E.g.: Quarantine is across: the whole world at the moment.

Correct use: Quarantine: worldwide hibernation.

As you can see, the first sentence doesn’t have much use of a colon, but the correct version makes it snappy and succinct – the reason for using a colon!

So with those three common colon mistakes, the definition of its usage and why we use it, you can become the king of clarification when using the colon correctly now!

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