When to Use a Colon: 9 Simple Rules

Picture of a colon punctuation markIt is important that you know when to use a colon, as good writing in English will usually make use of this punctuation mark. A colon consists of two dots, one above the other, and it should not be confused with the semi-colon, which looks similar but has very different uses.

There are several rules that are useful when you are learning when to use a colon.

When to use a colon: Nine Simple Rules

Picture of the number oneYou should use a colon to introduce a list:

The dog loved four things: sleeping, playing, eating and chasing cats.

Two things kept me awake last night: stress and my husband’s snoring.


Picture of the number twoYou should use a colon before an explanation:

Never work with children or animals: you never can predict how they may behave.

When I start to feel tired I take a break: it clears my mind.


Picture of the number threeUse a colon when you want to place emphasis on the name or description of an item that follows a complete sentence:

We have a name for people who don’t pull their weight at work: slacker.

He was so busy trying to impress the young girls that he didn’t notice who was standing right behind him: his wife.


Picture of the number fourUse a colon to introduce a quotation of seven or more words that follows a complete sentence:

Miele (1993, p. 276) established the following: “The placebo effect … disappeared when behaviors were studied in this manner.”

After looking at the mess in the kitchen, Molly commented: “I hope you are not expecting me to clean this up.”

Take a look at our guide to using a colon before quotation marks to learn more.


Picture of the number fiveUse a colon to separate titles and subtitles:

Colons: Do we Really Need Them?

Richard Nixon: The Tarnished President.


Picture of the number sixWhen stating time, use a colon between the hour and the minute.

10:30 p.m.

7:00 a.m.

3:00 p.m.


When referring to passages in the Bible, use a colon between the chapter and the verse.

John 11:35

Job 3:2


Picture of the number eightWhen writing formal letters, use a colon after the salutation. When writing informal letters, a comma will suffice:

To Whom it May Concern:

Dear Sir:

Dear Mr. Spiegler:

If you’re still confused as to when to use a colon, or think that you could benefit from the assistance of a professional editor, check out our online proofreading services now.

Want some more great advice on how to use punctuation? Take a look at our what punctuation mark should I use? cheat sheet.

Free instant quote

2 thoughts on “When to Use a Colon: 9 Simple Rules”

Leave a Comment