When to Use a Colon: 10 Rules You Should Follow

You’ve probably already come across the two vertical dots known as a colon. But have you wondered how to use this punctuation mark in writing? If your answer is a resounding yes, this article is precisely made for you, as we will dive down on proper colon usage and when to use a colon. 

What Is a Colon?

It is a punctuation mark that you can use in a sentence to show time, present dialogue, and introduce quotations. If you’re wondering about the difference between a semicolon and a colon, a semicolon has a dot and a comma (;), while a colon’s symbol is two dots (:). In terms of usage, you should use semicolons for connecting independent clauses.


  1. 8:00 am.
  2. Go buy: sugar, flour, and baking powder.
  3. I left: I wasn’t comfortable.
  4. You remember Walt Disney’s quote: “If you can dream it, you can do it.”
  5. The verse John 3:16.

When to Use a Colon

If you want to perfect your colon usage, you should follow these rules on when to use a colon.

Introduce Extended Quotations

You use a colon to introduce a quotation that follows an independent clause. The quotation should be a full sentence and a direct speech. Capitalize the first word of the quotation.


  1. I will quote Eleanor Roosevelt: “If life were predictable it ceases to be life, and be without flavor.”
  2. The young man concluded his speech: “In seeking happiness for others, you will find it in yourself.” 

Connect Independent Clauses

Here, the second clause is used to explain the first clause. You summarize and give an example of the first clause. The second clause may be capitalized.


  1. She is sad: she had a bad day.
  2. They have been together for ten years: they love each other.

Introducing a Bulleted /Numeral List

The colon precedes a list after an independent clause. You give a list of things that relate to what you have written before the colon. It is also applicable in a serial list.


  1. He knows three countries: Brazil, Mexico, and Germany
  2. My favorite desserts are:
  • Chocolate 
  • Vanilla Ice Cream 
  • Cake 

Directly Related Complete Sentences

A colon is used to link two sentences that are directly related. You use the colon for pausing purposes. The second sentence gives an explanation or a restatement.


  1. Bilha won the medal: she was the fastest runner.
  2. I went to the zoo: I saw a tiger.

Separate a Title and Subtitle

It separates a title and subtitle unless the title ends with an exclamation mark or a question mark. It is placed between the title and the subtitle. When a title has two subtitles use two colons.


  1. One More Chance: The Hunter is Back.
  2. Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Cassy: Cassy’s Story.

Emphasize a Dialogue

Place a colon right after the speaker’s name, then add their statement. This is mostly done in scripts, legal transcripts, and open-ended interviews. It enhances readability.


  1. Police: stop your car!
  2. Mike: I am tired.

After a Salutation

If you’re writing a letter to your professor or a client, use a colon right after the salutation. However, make sure that it is a formal letter. For less-formal letters, you will need to use a comma instead. 


  1. Dear Professor Grant:
  2. To whom it may concern:

Separate Hours and Minutes

Use it to separate hours and minutes. Place the colon between the hours and minutes to indicate time. It is also used to express ratios of two numbers.


  1. Arrive at 12:43 pm.
  2. The ratio is 1:7.

Separate Information in a Bibliography

Different citation styles use it differently. In the Chicago Manual of Style, you capitalize the word after the colon only if it is followed by two or more independent clauses. In MLA, you will only capitalize when introducing a rule, several related sentences, and a proper noun.

On the other hand, APA style requires you to use a colon when it is preceded by an introductory clause. You will only capitalize the first letter only when it is followed by a proper noun and one complete clause. Lastly, in AMA style, when you use a colon, capitalize the first word after the colon.


  1. Jackie Collins(1998)Thrill.New York: Simon and Schuster.
  2. Prince Harry(2023)Spare.USA: Penguin Random House.

Before a Noun or Noun Phrase

Use a colon when a noun or noun phrase does not fit perfectly in a sentence. By doing this you direct the attention to the noun. This helps to modify the sentence.


  1. She has the ideal qualities: kindness and humility.
  2. He is everything despicable: an arrogant and proud man.

When Not to Use a Colon

To truly grasp the proper usage of a colon, you should also be aware and understand when you should use one.

After a Sentence Fragment

Never use a colon after a sentence fragment. Instead, use a comma or a semicolon. In other instances, the two clauses need conjunction.


  • (Wrong) she prefers dresses: because they make her feel pretty
  • (Correct) She prefers dresses because they make her feel pretty.

After Such As, Including, More and Especially

When using the words, such as, including, more, and especially, you may think a colon should be placed. However, the right punctuation mark is a comma.


  • (Wrong) Eat healthy food such as: apples and oats
  • (Correct) Eat healthy food, such as apples and oats

Separate a Noun From Its Verb

A noun and a verb are different parts of the speech. You may place a colon between them to pause. The pause happens orally, but in writing, it seems odd.


  • (Wrong) Claire: is a creative person
  • (Correct) Claire is a creative person

After a Preposition

A preposition shows the relation between two clauses. A colon shouldn’t be placed after a preposition as much as it seems as the best position. The preposition joins the two clauses to form a complete sentence.


  • (Wrong) Place the cup on: the table.
  • (Correct) Place the cup on the table.

This post was proofread by Grammarly. Try it - it's FREE!

Capitalize My Title is a dynamic title capitalization tool used to make sure your titles or headlines use proper capitalization rules according to various style guides include APA, AP, MLA, and Chicago. It also counts your words and checks for grammar issues.


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