1. To introduce a list
2. To introduce a quote
3. To give an example
4. To explain what has just been said (instead of ‘because’)
To introduce a list
You can use a colon to introduce a list. This is especially useful if it is a long list.
The house was full of junk: old newspapers; a bicycle with one wheel; even a broken old car.
Last year he went to almost every country in North America: The US, Canada, Mexico, Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, and even Grenada.
To introduce a quote
If you want to introduce a quote – and separate it from the sentence – a colon is a good way to do so.
(For short sentences and quotes it isn’t always necessary to use a colon)
Every Sunday my grandmother would say to me: “you’ll never amount to anything!”
If there is one thing to learn from Gandhi, it is this: ‘be the change you wish to see in the world.’ However, I’m not sure if he ever actually said that.
All day he had been hiding from his father, first in the shed, then the wardrobe, and even the attic. But just before he was about to go to bed he heard a loud shout: ‘Who broke my binoculars! Boy! Get in here. I’m going to beat you until your backside is blue!”
To give an example
If you want to give an example of a point, a colon can be used instead of a full stop.
He is a great person: last week he gave half his money to charity.
For many of the students, she was the worst teacher they ever had: Dave, for example, never recovered from the time she made him dance like a chicken because he had forgotten to do his homework.
In the early part of the season it looked like the team was unstoppable: a 3-0 win over Rangers put them 10 points clear, and the bookies made them favourites to win the league. Unfortunately, the second half of the season was a disaster.
Instead of ‘because’
If you find you are using ‘because’ to often, a colon can be used in its place.
I was amazed: there was money all over the path.
She is the best teacher in the school: her classes really capture the students’ imagination.
I’ll never be a contender now: I’m too fat and old.
Put colons into these sentences:
1. Her house is like a zoo. It has a 3 cats, 2 dogs, a monkey, a snake, a tarantula, and even a penguin.
2. I don’t like her because she smells funny.
3. He is a very hard worker. Last week, for instance, he worked overtime 5 nights in a row.
4. I remember what he said to me just before he died. “What is your name again?”