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.)
- 3. Title: subtitle: English: 101
(You will note that you see a lot of colons in textbooks. Yet another bad omen.)
- 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:
- First you must have a complete sentence.
- Never separate the subject from the verb.
- Never separate a preposition from its object
- 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.”