The Colon

A colon informs the reader that what follows the mark proves, explains, or lists elements of what preceded the mark. Commonly, we  see the colon in Syntactical-descriptive uses:  listing elements,  abbreviated measures of time (3:30). The colon is an underutilized punctuation mark that has so much more to offer . It’s a very friendly mark that can spice up a sentence while immediately alerting your readers to forthcoming information.  Here are some examples of using a colon more creatively:

Syntactical-deductive

The colon introduces the logical consequence, or effect, of a fact stated before.

There was only one possible explanation: The train had never arrived.

Appositive

The colon introduces an appositive independent clause. Meaning, the sentence following the colon is in apposition (the second expression identifying or supplementing the first) to the one preceding the colon.

Robert could not walk: He was drugged.

Segmental

A segmental colon, like a dashor quotation mark, introduces speech. The segmental function was once a common means of indicating an unmarked quotation on the same line. The following example is from the grammar book The King’s English:

Benjamin Franklin proclaimed the virtue of frugality: A penny saved is a penny earned.

This form is still used in written dialogues, such as in a play. The colon indicates that the words following an individual’s name are spoken by that individual.

Examples of colon use from contemporary novels:

  • Le Seur glanced at his watch: twenty minutes past midnight.

~The wheel of darkness – Preston & Child

  • But he was singing again: “And you told me not to drive, but I made it home alive, so you said that only proves that I’m in-sayyy-nne.”

~State of Fear – Michael Crichton

  • Deirdre called out to Rita Mae desperately: “Rita Mae, they’re going to take my baby!”

~The Witching Hour – Anne Rice

  • Viatus  had made vast inroads into the United States: financing a biofuel consortium in the Midwest, partnering with a major petrochemical company that produced fertilizers and herbicides, and of course sharing several lucrative patents wit Monsanto for genetically modified seed strains.

~The Doomsday Key – James Rollins

  • This might have been how ancient Romans thought of Diana, the goddess of the moon and the hunt: this flawless beauty, this exquisite grace, this physical vitality with which she seemed to glow.

~Frankenstein: Lost Souls – Dean Koontz