Colon - Definitions, Functions, Uses with Examples

Colon – Definitions, Functions, Uses with Examples

On this platform, we have been looking the various punctuation marks in English severally. Here, in this post, we shall examine Colon – Definitions, Functions, Uses with Examples.  The colon is an all-important punctuation mark and its proper usage helps to spice up our writings.

Colon – Definitions, Functions, Uses with Examples

We are going to look at the colon from the almost exhaustive perspective; though you can still read up other sources on this very useful mark. We will start with some definitions, the functions/uses of the colon and then some relevant examples to aid our explanations. Let us begin all these one after the other; shall we?

What is a Colon?

Cheryl Iverson submits: “the colon is the strongest of the three marks used to indicate a decided pause or break in thought.” The colon, as Corder (1978) described it, is a punctuation mark of anticipation; that is, it directs attention to what follows. When it comes to the use of the colon and the semicolon, there are sometimes confusion some users of English have. But it is important to stress that they are not the same in their functions.

A colon introduces what is to follow; that is the colon most often stands between an introductory statement and an immediate amplification while a semicolon separates equal elements. Let us demonstrate this with the following sentence:

  • Various dignitaries accompanied the President to the airport: the members of the Federal Executive Council came along; Principal Officers of the National Assembly were not left behind; the Chief Justice was there also.

Other Definitions of the Colon

In the words of H. W. Fowler, the colon “delivers the goods that have been invoiced in the preceding words.” In describing what a colon is, George Bernard Shaw posits: “when two statements are ‘placed baldly in dramatic apposition,’ use a colon.” We can illustrate his description of a colon with these examples:

  • The petty thief could not speak: his mouth was full.
  • The boy was shocked: his father shot the intruder.
  • Justin could not run: he was caught red-handed.

Shaw further explains that when a second statement in a sentence reaffirms, explains or illustrates the first, we make use of a colon.  In addition, when one desires an abrupt pull up, a colon is used.

  • Johnson was congenitally literary: that is, a liar.

Shaw explained further that the colon could simply pull up the reader for a nice surprise: For example:

  • I find fault with only three things in this story of yours, Jenkins: the beginning, the middle and the end.

In Lynne Truss’s funny quote on the colon, she opines that a colon is nearly always preceded by a complete sentence, and in its simplest usage it rather theatrically announces what is to come. “Like a well-trained magician’s assistant, it pauses slightly to give you time to get a bit worried and then efficiently whisks away the cloth and reveals the trick complete.” She gave some examples:

  • Tom has only one rule in life; never eat anything bigger than your head.
  • I pulled out all the stops with Kerry-Anne: I used a semicolon.
  • I loved Opal Fruits as a child: no one else did.

Let is consider some of the uses of the colon…

Uses of the Colon

There are various uses of the colon which we need to examine. They are as follow:

To Indicate a list After a Main Clause

When there is a list coming after a main clause, we use the colon, consider the following:

  • Let us see some examples: The New University has many faculties: Agriculture, Arts, Education, Law, Management, Sciences and Technology.
  • The expansive car mart has so many exotic cars: a yard housing a fleet of Bugatti; a limited edition of Porsche lining the backside; a special garage with two prestigious Rolls-Royce; seven deluxe Lamborghini whose price equals the budget of some countries and a line of Aston Martins.
  • She speaks several languages: Spanish, French, English, German, Mandarin, Zulu, Swahili, etc.
  • The man has five children: three boys and two girls.

 When there is a need to list, especially lists making use of semicolons, the colon is used. For example:

  • In later life, Kerry-Anne found there were three qualities she disliked in other people: Britishness; superior airs; and a feigned lack of interest in her dusting of freckles.

The Colon is Used Between Two Main Clauses

When there are two main clauses in which the second clause is an illustration or an amplification of the first, we may use a colon between them. Consider these examples:

  • The gesture was amazing: the president gave him a palatial mansion and a seven-figure life salary of seven-figure.
  • He could not believe what happened; He was swindles of all his life savings.
  • Life is beautiful: things are just working well for him.
  • Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments.

We Use the Colon Before Quotations 

Often, we use a colon between an introductory statement and a quotation, especially if the quotation is more than one sentence. In other words, if you use a complete sentence to introduce a quotation, use a colon just before the quotation. See these examples:

  • Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities has a great opening: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness…”
  • The President at his inaugural speech has this to say: “I am for nobody and I am for everybody.” Thoreau ends his essay with a metaphor: “Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.”
  • Thoreau states directly his purpose for going into the woods: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
  • His philosophy might be summed up best by his repeated request for people to ignore the insignificant details of life: “Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!” This is what the Preacher has to say: “
  • And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. (Ecc. 12:12)

Conventional Places Where We Use Colon

Expression Introducing Examples

After an expression that introduces examples or a mass of material. For instance:

  • We need the following items: sugar, beverage, meat, butter, juice, flour and plates. Let me give some examples: …
  • Find the following documents attached: …
  • We need to buy these items: …

In Time

We use colon between hours and minutes when we write them in figures; that is, it divides hours from minutes in statements of time. For instance:

  • 12:05am
  • 1:14pm
  • 2:45am
  • 9:20pm
  • 12:00noon

In formal footnotes and bibliographies:

Between the place of publication and the publisher. For instance:

  • Author, A. (Year of Publication). Title of book. Publisher Location: Publisher Name.
  • Robinson, D. N. (Ed.). (1992). Social discourse and moral judgment. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
  • London: Oxford University Press.
  • Lagos: Akademia Press.
  • Zimbabwe: Bulawayo Publications.

In introducing page number, as in:

  • (Akademia, 2017: p.51)

or, for more than one page,

  • (Akademia, 2017: pp.21–26)

For the introduction of issue or page numbers in recording journal articles in a list of references, as in:

  • Journal of Ease of Study 21(64): 61–78

In the citation of Bible (chapter and verse), we use colon to separate the two elements, as in:

  • Genesis 3:15
  • Matthew 6:33
  • Luke 12:15
  • John 3:16
  • 1 Timothy 3:16

Between the Title and Subtitle of a Book or Film.

Colon sets off book and film subtitles from the main titles. For example:

  • Oliver Twist: The Parish Boy’s Progress.
  • Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life.
  • Roots: The Saga of an American Family.
  • Tess of the d’Urbervilles: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented.
  • Vanity Fair: A Novel Without a Hero.
  • Darth Vader vs. Superman: Aggression and Intimacy in two Preadolescent Boys’ Groups.
  • Berks and Wankers: A Pessimist’s View of Language Preservation.
  • Gandhi II: The Mahatma Strikes Back.

In URLs in Scholarly References

For example:

Most of these uses of the colon (in time, ratio, business correspondence and references.) are in the non-grammatical sense.

Between Antithetical or Oppositional Statements

One of the typical uses of the colon is a kind of fulcrum between two antithetical or oppositional statements such as:

  • Man proposes: God disposes.
  • Something and Nothing produce each other: the difficult and the easy complement each other.
  • Gray was the morn: all things were gray.
  • The long and the short off-set each other: the high and the low incline toward each other.
  • It was the best of times: it was the worst of times.
  • It was the age of wisdom: it was the age of foolishness.
  • Fair is foul: foul is fair.
  • It was the epoch of belief: it was the epoch of incredulity.
  • It was the season of Light: it was the season of Darkness.
  • To err is human: to forgive is divine.
  • It was the spring of hope: it was the winter of despair.
  • We had everything before us: we had nothing before us.
  • We were all going direct to Heaven: we were all going direct the other way.

Separation of Dramatic Characters from Dialogue

Conventionally, colons separate dramatic characters from dialogue: for example, dialogue from Julius Caesar:

  • Antony: Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them;The good is oft interrèd with their bones.
  • First plebeian: Methinks there is much reason in his sayings.
  • Fourth plebeian: If thou consider rightly of the matter,Caesar has had great wrong.
  • Third plebeian: Has he not, masters?I fear there will a worse come in his place.
  • Fifth plebeian: Marked ye his words? He would not take the crown,Therefore, ’tis certain he was not ambitious.

Final Words

I am certain you have gained some useful knowledge in this post Colon – Definitions, Functions, Uses with Examples. You can check out other punctuation marks that I have also put together for your reading pleasure. Do not forget to share this knowledge and connect with us on our Social Media platforms. It is just a click away. See you around.

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