1 Minute Writing Tip – Using Colons in Lists

In this 1 Minute Writing tip, we look at when to use colons in lists. Do you always need a colon? Would a comma do instead? When should you use one over the other.

Let’s get into it.

So, you want to start a list with a colon. Sounds easy, don’t it?

Many writers assume that a colon always precedes a list.

Not true. Why?

The clause that precedes the colon must make complete sense on its own.

Look at these examples:

The team contained great players: defenders, midfielders and strikers.

The team contained defenders, midfielders and strikers.

In the first sentence, the clause preceding the colon has a subject and a predicate and makes complete sense on its own ‘The team contained great players.’

In the second sentence a colon should not be used, as the clause that would precede it would not make sense alone ‘The team contained’.

A little test.

Which one is right?

The Barcelona team contained defenders, midfielders and strikers.

The Barcelona team contained great players: defenders, midfielders and strikers.

The Barcelona team contained defenders: midfielders: strikers.

Answer: it stings like a…

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