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Welcome to this week's writing lesson from

 MyEnglishTeacher.net

Are you writing a report, typing a letter, or building a Web site?  If so, you must have tons of questions about English grammar.  That's why we are pleased to make the following

book recommendations

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This is a terrific book that explains how to correctly use grammar (basic to advanced).  The author discusses lots of problematic areas and how to correct them. Click here for more information.

 

 

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This is another terrific book which covers intermediate to advanced grammar and writing skills.  This helpful guide discusses tips on creating sentences and essays.  Click here for more information.

 

Click here to see more English grammar and writing books.

  Dot Dot: Using Colons (:)

We have all seen those two ubiquitous dots--the colon.  People use them all the time, but are they used correctly?  Take a look at the following sentence.

For our camping trip, I brought: a lantern, a sleeping bag, food, water, and a flashlight.

Was the colon used correctly here?  If you said "yes," then you are probably one of the millions of people who uses the colon INCORRECTLY!

Let's begin with the easy uses.  In a formal letter or business letter, a colon is often used.  

Dear Sir:

We were very honored to have you come visit our company.

The second usage is to separate a title and a subtitle.  When the title needs a further explanation, a subtitle can be used. 

Math Applications: Using Calculus to Determine the Age of Rocks. 

The most common mistake with colons is when the colon is placed right in the middle of an independent clause (a complete idea or sentence).  A colon should be written AFTER an independent clause or complete idea.  Take a look at the following example.
Every repairman must have: a screwdriver, a hammer, and a saw.

Most people would say this sentence is fine; however, it is incorrect.  Look a the part of this sentence BEFORE the colon.   

Every repairman must have:

Is this a complete idea (independent clause)?  NO.  Could someone say, "Every repairman must have"?  Of course, not.  It doesn't make sense and it is meaningless.  This is why the colon was not used correctly here.  

So, how do you fix it?  Just make the part of the sentence before the colon a complete idea.  Take a look at the following sentence.  

There are three things every repairman must have:  a screwdriver, a hammer, and a saw.

Is the part of the sentence before the colon a complete idea?  

There are three things every repairman must have: 

Yes!  This is a complete idea.  Of course, the listener or reader might want to ask what the three things are that every repairman must have, but this is still a complete idea (independent clause).

The last common misuse of the colon is with quotations.  Quotations typically have a comma before it.

The football team was tired.  The coach said, "We can still win."

For more information about quotations and commas, click here.

When the quotation adds information or explains the ideas presented in the clause (part of the sentence) before the quotation, a colon is usually better.  This usage usually requires that the part of the sentence before the quote be a complete idea (independent clause).

After feeling discouraged and behind 25 points in the last basketball championship game, the coach was reminded of something Winston Churchill once said: "Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others."

Now, let's go back to the first sentence above.

For our camping trip, I brought: a lantern, a sleeping bag, food, water, and a flashlight.

Do you know what is wrong with it?  You're right!  The part of the sentence before the the colon is NOT a complete idea (For our camping trip, I brought).  This sentence can also be fixed.  

For our camping trip, I brought various essential items: a lantern, a sleeping bag, food, water, and a flashlight.

Quiz Time

Directions: Find what is wrong with the following sentences with colons.  

1.  Dear Sir or Madame,

     I am interested in applying for a position at your company.  Attached you will find my résumé.

2.  Food Marketing-How to Sell Snack Items in a Grocery Store

3.  My favorite books are: Huckleberry Finn, Lord of the Rings, and Animal Farm.

4.  Dear Tim,

     Hi!  What's up?  I want to see you.  It is always good to see old friends.

5.  Advertisers know there are some color combinations that are very eye-catching.  For example: black on a yellow background and white on a dark blue background.  

6.  When Ricky saw the sad faces of the people who failed the college entrance exam, he was reminded of what Orison Swett Marden (founder of Success Magazine) used to say, "There is no medicine like hope, no incentive so great, and no tonic so powerful as expectation of something tomorrow."

 

 



 

Answers are in red.

1.  Dear Sir or Madame:

     I am interested in applying for a position at your company.  Attached you will find my résumé.

This is a formal letter; there should be a colon after the "Dear Sir."

2.  Food Marketing: How to Sell Snack Items in a Grocery Store

This is a title and a subtitle.  Notice that there is a space after the colon.

3.  I have several favorite books: Huckleberry Finn, Lord of the Rings, and Animal Farm.

In the original sentence, the clause before the colon is not a complete idea (which is called a dependent clause).  Any reasonable complete idea here is fine.

4.  Dear Tim,

     Hi!  What's up?  I want to see you.  It is always good to see old friends.

There is nothing wrong with this example.  This is a friendly letter.  Friendly and personal letters require a comma.

5.  Advertisers know there are some color combinations that are very eye-catching, for example, black on a yellow background and white on a dark blue background.  

"For example" usually requires a comma.  Notice there are commas both before and after "for example" because the part after "for example" is NOT a complete idea but just a small list.

6.  When Ricky saw the sad faces of the people who failed the college entrance exam, he was reminded of what Orison Swett Marden (founder of Success Magazine) used to say: "There is no medicine like hope, no incentive so great, and no tonic so powerful as expectation of something tomorrow."

This is a quotation that explains the first clause of the sentence; additionally, the clause before the quotation is an independent clause. 

 

 

  Rules to Remember!

1 The rules given above should cover 90% of the situations where you would use a colon.  However, there are times when these rules are broken, and it is acceptable.  For example, notice how we wrote the word "directions."  We used a colon followed by a capital letter.  This is another common usage of the colon which can be found in numerous professional books and periodicals.   
2

If the part of the sentence after the colon is a complete idea (independent clause), the first letter of that clause may be capitalized.  This is commonly done in magazines and other professional forms of writing.

There are two skills that every martial arts student must master: Self-control and discipline are what divides the amateur from the advanced learner.

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