Mister Colon

The Colon

The colon is aptly named after one of our more unpleasant body parts.  The colon is a very serious dude, and you do not play with him.  If you even think about using Mr. Colon, you have to get your agent to hire a lawyer to talk to his agent first.

1.  Salutation:   Dear Sir:

(If you receive a letter that starts like this, you are in serious trouble and, most likely, you owe somebody money.  The same applies if you send a letter like this.  The colon says, ‘I ain’t playing with you.’

2.  Time:   10:38

(Not 10-ish, not half past or quarter to, but precisely 10:38.)

  1. 3. Title: subtitle:  English: 101

(You will note that you see a lot of colons in textbooks.  Yet another bad omen.)

  1. 4. Biblical:  Nehemiah 11:7

(Not the beginning, the middle or the end.  And sit up straight, please.)

If you dare to use the colon in a work of prose, here are the laws and bylaws:

  1. First you must have a complete sentence.
  2. Never separate the subject from the verb.
  3. Never separate a preposition from its object
  4. What comes after the colon should be a list of 3 particulars, a list of 3 appositives or an amplification of the first part.

Example of particulars:

Error: The vampire’s strength comes from:  a coffin, a dark night, and an invitation to dinner. (This is incorrect because the word ‘from,’ a preposition, has no object.)

Correct: The vampire needs three things:  a coffin, a dark night, and an invitation to dinner.

Example of appositives:

Error:  My husband was: lover, friend and partner. (This is incorrect because the first part is not a complete sentence.)

Correct:  My husband was everything to me:  lover, friend and partner.

“What?” you say.  “No example of amplification?”

“Well,” I say, “I think, you’d have to get in a time capsule and spin the dial back a hundred years to find a writer using this in a fictional piece.  But, hey, let me know if you find any modern examples.  I think, I’d find that writer a little pedantic.”

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