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