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Do you confuse the usage of colons and semicolons? They both separate parts of a sentence, but they fill quite different needs. They also come with their own punctuation rules: Pay attention!


  • He gave me two things, a red wagon and a flag.
  • I need: sugar, flour, and baking powder.
  • In the words of Humphrey Bogart: “here’s looking at you, kid.”


A colon introduces whatever item or list of items comes next: a barrel of monkeys, a flotilla of geese, or a consternation of grammarians. It is not necessary after a verb in a sentence that needs only commas. (“I need sugar, flour, and baking powder.”) Capitalize only complete clauses after colons. The examples above include three errors: a comma before a list, an unnecessary colon, and an uncapitalized complete clause after a colon.


When used improperly, colons can lend a different meaning than intended. “Don’t let worries kill you: Let me help.” As long as you use a colon before a list, before a long quotation, or before part of a sentence that explains what was just stated, you’ll be fine.

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