Spoonful #8: COLONS TAKE A STAND
Since Spoonful #7 let SEMICOLONS speak, it's only fair that COLONS get their chance in #8. After all, COLONS don't like being confused with SEMICOLONS either! They're just way more polite about it.
ME: Welcome, COLONS! We're all happy to learn from you.
COLONS: Thank you for the warm welcome. We're happy to educate you all. Our main goal is to distinguish between FORMAL and INFORMAL uses of COLONS.
ME: Let's start with INFORMAL, or casual uses, if you don't mind.
COLONS: Certainly! Notice how we often appear after introductory titles and headings? Just because we're beautiful, everyone sprinkles us around with abandon. They could just as easily use commas, dashes, or leave off punctuation entirely.
ME: I admit to using COLONS freely. You are quite attractive!
Grocery List: Dear Eric: To the Editor:
COLONS: All informally acceptable. But now let's discuss FORMAL uses, shall we?
ME: Of course.
COLONS: In FORMAL documents like published reports, research papers, and the SAT, we must follow a complete sentence. We can introduce a list of items or ingredients or introduce a particularly interesting or startling fact. Below I will show some FORMAL examples.
#1) The ingredients for chocolate chip cookies are as follows: flour, butter, baking powder, vanilla extract, and semisweet chocolate chips.
#2) Don't forget to pack the following items for the camping trip: a sleeping bag, underwear, socks, a change of clothes, and a warm jacket. (A pillow is optional.)
#3) Entering the Field Museum in Chicago, we couldn't believe our eyes: a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton named Sue towered over our heads. (Recently, we learned the skeleton was moved bone-by-bone to a new exhibition space within the museum.)
#4) There's only sport for me: alligator wrestling! (I know you're impressed.)
ME: I hope you don't mind me noting a similarity you share with semicolons: words following COLONS and SEMICOLONS aren't capitalized (unless the words start with a capital letter.)
COLONS: True. You might also say we both follow complete sentences. But don't get our purposes mixed up!
ME: Thank you for those wonderful examples. I'd like to add a piece of advice targeted to SAT takers: what thrills one person may not thrill you. In the SAT Writing Section, you aren't being asked to judge if a particular sentence is thrill-worthy. They will also try to trick you by switching COLONS for SEMICOLONS. Don't be fooled!
That's it for COLONS! Next up: the small but mighty FANBOYS.
I hope you're finding my grammar blog enjoyable and helpful. If so, please share with your friends, family, students, and colleagues!
Laura Fineberg Cooper
SEMICOLONS are tired of being ignored and misunderstood. And they're really tired of being confused with colons! In order to be fair, I've agreed to let them speak first.
SEMICOLONS: We work just like periods! How hard is that?
ME: Don't get testy. Tell us more!
SEMICOLONS: We can connect two choppy sentences into one smooth sentence.
ME: Can you show us an example?
SEMICOLONS: We thought you'd never ask.
Two choppy sentences - Mary is happy. She got her first A.
Smoothed into ONE - Mary is happy; she got her first A.
See? That just rolls off the tongue.
ME: I notice two important points:
#1) Don't capitalize the word following the semicolon(unless it's a name), since you've turned two sentences into one.
#2) Semicolons are particularly useful when the two original sentences are related. Can you give us another example?
SEMICOLONS: Watch and learn! And would you please refrain from using colons?!?
Two related sentences - John had to leave the party early. He had to work early the next morning.
Smoothed into ONE - John had to leave the party early; he had to work early the next morning.
ME: Thank you, SEMICOLONS! This has been most illuminating. It seems to me, however, that there's more than one way to connect sentences together. Transition words like because, since, or any of the FANBOYS...
SEMICOLONS: This post belongs to US!! No other punctuation or transition words are allowed!!
(Psst! Up next: COLONS)
Laura Fineberg Cooper
HAVE NO FEAR!
SENTENCES WITH INDEFINITE PRONOUNS (AS SUBJECTS) ARE HERE!!
Little is known about the possibility of life on other planets.
Everything looks wonderful, so don't fret.
No one is exempt from taking this test. Period.
Few students are ready to take the SAT without studying first.
Others claim exemption from the assembly, but that's not fair.
SINGULAR OR PLURAL
SINGULAR: Any suggestion is appreciated.
PLURAL: Have any questionnaires come back yet?
SINGULAR: None of the tree was damaged from the storm.
PLURAL: None of John's answers were correct, despite how hard he studied.
Here's my overall suggestion about the ones that flip-flop from singular to plural: if the related noun appears singular (like with "suggestion" and "tree") opt for a singular verb. If the related noun appears plural (like with "questionnaires" and "answers"), opt for a plural verb instead. For a more thorough explanation, go to quickanddirtytips.com to learn what Grammar Girl has to say.
In my next spoonful, I'll be switching over to punctuation! Stay tuned to discover which topic will be covered first!
Laura Fineberg Cooper