A Colon is a punctuation mark in English. It consists of two round dots, one above the other (although occasionally these are small squares).
The colon immediately follows the word before and there is a space between the colon and what follows.
Note that the colon is a very different punctuation mark to the
In the TEFL classroom you can explain how the colon is primarily used to introduce what follows and usually this is a list of items. This explanation will cover the majority of uses of the colon.
The most common English punctuation marks are: comma, semicolon, colon, period, exclamation mark and question mark.
Colons are used in several different ways in
Colons are most commonly used after a
the following items were stolen by the removal company: a gold tin, a silver bracelet, a set of brass scales…
only a few states have nuclear weapons: the USA, Russia, the UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel.
Sometimes if we want to give emphasis, we can introduce just a single item with a colon:
Guess what he was wearing: nothing!
There is just one rule of fight club: you don’t talk about fight club.
Colons can be used to introduce quotations:
As Bertrand Russell said: “Men are born ignorant, not stupid. They are made stupid by education.”
Lady Marcia turned to me and asked, “Have you got the time please?”
“Sorry,” I said, “But I don’t wear a watch.”
Lady Marcia gave me a withering look: “Servants wear watches; a gentleman carries a timepiece.”
Colons can also be used to explain the previous statement:
I’m cold: the boiler isn’t working.
She arrived late: the train was delayed.
Finally, colons are used to introduce examples. You’ll have noticed that we’ve used them a lot on this page (and also throughout all the TEFL resources on this site).
In writing, the colon is also used in special cases such as the following:
1) Biblical citations to show Chapter and Verse
“I permit no woman to teach or have authority over men; she is to keep silent.” (Timothy 2:11)
“For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him.” (Leviticus 20:9)
The meeting will commence at 13:30 and conclude at 14:45.
Note that British English will more commonly use a full stop (or period):
The meeting will commence at 13.30 and conclude at 14.45.
The ratio of male to female Oscar winning directors is 65:1.
Although you can sometimes see a colon used after a
Dear Mr Smith:
Thank you for your letter of 16th August…
The word colon comes from the
William Caxton (the first printer of English) used a colon in 1474 to mark distinct pauses in a sentence.
By 1600 some printers used it to mark a pause or separation in writing which was less definitive than a period but stronger than a semicolon. Meanwhile at the same time other printers used the colon, comma and period almost interchangeably. The grammarian Justin Brenan wrote at the time that a
Note that the word colon referring to the intestine has a different etymology and Ancient Greek root and is not related to the word colon used in punctuation.