: ) : ( : O … The ‘Other’ Colon

March 17, 2013 § Leave a comment

Now that emoticons are the most pervasive use of the colon, it’s time to re-introduce the world to that ‘other’ colon.

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Aside from being a handy way of making the eyeballs on a sideways smiley face via text, the colon has two common uses in academic writing: introducing a list (like in this sentence) and introducing an illustrative quotation.

Here I’ve used a colon to introduce a list.

BUT you wouldn’t say, “The colon is commonly used to: introduce a list and to introduce an illustrative quotation.”

Why?

Strunk and White give one of the best descriptions of the colon:

A colon tells the reader that what follows is closely related to the preceding clause. The colon has more effect than the comma, less power to separate than the semicolon, and more formality than the dash. It usually follows an independent clause and should not separate a verb from its complement or a preposition from its object” (15).

In addition to being an example of how to use a colon to introduce a quotation from The Elements of Style (2000), Strunk and White tell us why our example above  (“The colon is commonly used to: introduce a list and to introduce an illustrative quotation”) is incorrect.

What about the semicolon (aka. the winking smiley)? I’ve shared The Oatmeal’s explanation for you in this post. 😉

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