Colon is a punctuation mark often used when introducing a list or series of items. There are two ways to use this: horizontally and vertically. Horizontal use of colons includes bullets, numbers, and dash lists to cover more white spaces. Its vertical use, meanwhile, has the purpose of enclosing examples within the sentence.
Aside from that function, colons are often underutilized in writing. Why? It’s either the user has limited knowledge of its potential or he feels indifferent in using it.
Through this post, we’ll unveil the other gifts of colons, and the curse it may bring forth with improper application.
Gift #1: It Helps Make the Best Titles
Colons also function to give emphasis or create storylines. You need two components: a concrete subject and its intensifier. This is usually done in news headlines, article titles, and reviews, but one can also use it to creatively craft compelling essay titles and other academic papers.
Here are some examples:
• The 2016 NBA Finals: Rivalry Renewed
• Silhouettes in Writing: Flashbacking
• 50 First Dates: The Epitomy of Unconditional Love and Long-Term Memory
• HBO’s Westworld: The Dimmest Period of Uncertainty
• Brexit: An Economic Impact yet to Be Felt
See? With colons, you can create unique vantage points for your premise. This gives readers clues about the side you’ll develop in your text. It all takes an inventive approach.
Gift #2: It Encourages Brevity
One root cause of readers’ fatigue is excessively long sentences. This usually happens when we’re citing examples or scenarios. Writers need to put a premium on expressiveness in the least amount of words possible. Colons answer for that need by omitting words like such as, namely, the following, and that is.
Here are few instances:
After bagging gold in the Rio Olympics, there’s only one hardware that Carmelo Anthony needs, and that is an NBA championship for the Knicks.
After bagging gold in the Rio Olympics, there’s only one hardware that Carmelo Anthony needs: an NBA championship for the Knicks.
After waking up, I usually do rejuvenating activities such as biking, yoga, and painting.
After waking up, I usually do rejuvenating activities: biking, yoga, and painting.
Gift #3: It Prevents Unwanted Sentence Cuts
Surely, there were times that you hated cutting related sentences, but you found it too long and redundant. Colons help connect two independent clauses when the second enlightens or illustrates the first. If you’ve grown weary of using the conjunction and, colon serves as a viable option.
The clamors for healthier living and less stressful working environments have intensified: a recent study found out that more firms are constructing sleeping quarters and recreational facilities for their employees.
Interviewing her was reminiscent of my old self: it strongly reminded of my humble beginnings in SEO when I was working freelance.
One would typically make sentence cuts and present it as a separate sentence. What’s the drawback of that, if any? Well, separating it makes it less powerful and impacting. Use colons to support your claims.
Caution: Though colons and semi-colons may seem identical in this regard, one must exert diligence in knowing what’s best to use.
The Curse: You Can Fall Victim to Sentence Fragments
As a general rule, anything that goes inside a period or colon should be stand-alone sentences that are grammatically correct. When using colons, a common mistake is to unintentionally write sentence fragments.
Here’s an example:
Whenever I order pizza margherita, two traits I look for are: rich sauce and authentic taste.
At first sight, one would say that there’s nothing technically wrong in this sentence. However, there’s no complete sentence formed prior to the colon. Instead of ending with “are,” you can add fillers like “are the following” to make it a complete sentence.
You may also want to remove the colon since the sentence is already good on its own. The list above is not that extensive though.
Colons, like any other punctuation marks, can either make or break one’s writing. Knowing the basics of how to use it is not enough; you should also practice it in actual writing. Excessive use and sentence fragments can be its main drawbacks, so always keep a keen eye on those.