Punctuation: Colon, Enumeration

We started our look at the colon with the widespread conventional uses followed by the transitional use that bolsters an argument with outside support.

The final two uses of the colon will mark the user as educated or not.  That sounds denigrating to say, doesn’t it?  Yet we do secretly judge as lesser those people who improperly use any grammar constructs.

How many times have you seen “Ladie’s” and laughed?  Whether you realized it or not, that laughter was ridicule.

Misplaced apostrophes, mis-capitalized nouns, mis-used colons—we criticize the improper punctuation coding.

No one is perfect.  No one is without error.  Those truths still do not stop our winces when we see errors in communication.  When errors fill a communication document, we doubt the presenter’s credibility.

Colon uses #3 and #4 are easy to remember and follow—once we understand the rules.

What is Enumeration?

Enumeration looks like it has the word number in it, doesn’t it?  It means counting out a list of items.

When creating a list as part of a sentence, we use the colon before we start the list.

Ticky Info A.  Do not start the list with a capital letter.

Ticky Info B. Only use the colon after a noun.  Colons do not follow verbs.

  • Example: Smart cooks keep certain items in their pantries:  flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, vanilla extract, cocoa powder, and chocolate chips.
  • Incorrect Example: In the refrigerator a smart cook also keeps: eggs, butter, milk and heavy cream.
  • Incorrect Example: In a smart cook’s pantry are: eggs, butter, milk, and heavy cream.

In the incorrect examples, the colon should not follow the verb, whether that verb is action (keeps) or linking (are).

To make the examples correct, simply remove the colon or recast the sentence.

  • Correct: The following items are kept in the refrigerator:  eggs, butter, milk, and heavy cream

This rule holds true whether the list remains with the text or is set off with bullets.  Three examples will show the bulleted list in use.

1st ~

Smart cooks keep certain items in their refrigerators:

  1. eggs
  2. butter
  3. milk
  4. heavy cream.

2nd ~

Smart cooks keep certain items in their refrigerators:

  • eggs
  • butter
  • milk
  • heavy cream.

3rd ~

In their refrigerator smart cooks keep the following:  eggs, butter, milk, and heavy cream.

Note the use of the colon at the end of each sentence.  Note that the choice of a numbered, bulleted, or in-sentence list doesn’t matter.  All are options.


Bulleted items can be words, phrases, or complete sentences.  Consistency is necessary.  Keep to simple words or phrases or sentences, not a mix.

Most word processing software will want to capitalize each item in the list.  Single words or phrases should not be capitalized;  they are part of the sentence and do not stand on their own.  You may place a period with the last word in the list.  Most people may default to a period after each listed item.  Consistency matters.

When your bulleted items are sentences, do capitalized them and place a period at the end of each.

Smart cooks keep the following items on hand:

  • Flour, baking powder, and baking soda are essentials in any recipe.
  • Salt, usually sea salt and in different grinds, is necessary for flavoring every prepared dish.
  • Vanilla extract is another kitchen staple used in virtually every dessert recipe.
  • Cocoa powder and chocolate chips—or replacements based on personal taste—remain stocked in the pantry to whip up fast desserts for unexpected guests.

The trouble with lists comes when people default to a sentence ender of “the following” or “these items”.

  • For my camping trip, I’ve packed these items: sleeping bag, tent, ground cloth. . . .
  • For my camping trip, I’m packing a sleeping bag, tent, ground cloth. . . .

Both of these sentences are correct.  They both contain lists.  Only one sentences needs the colon.  The other does not.

As we write, we know a list is approaching.  Our brains subconsciously listen for the list.  When we don’t end the sentence with a noun or when we incorporate the list into the sentence as the complement, we should not use the colon.

We think something is needed.  For this reason, we fall into the sticky web of thinking we need a colon.

We have to remember that a colon will always follow a noun and never follow a verb.

“But—but—,” you complain.  “Following is not a noun.  It ends in -ing.  That’s a clear indicator of a verb.  And we follow things.  That’s an action.  That’s definitely a verb.”

“Why, yes.  Follow is a verb, and -ing is a verb form.  Yet the following is clearly a noun.  We have the, an article, the special kind of adjective that points to a noun.  Following is what we call a verbal noun, also known as a gerund.  If we say the following items, this time the word is a verbal adjective, or a participal.”

Discussing verbs and verbals is a grammar lesson, and we’re doing punctuation, the mechanics that help words drive communication.  You’ll have to come back much later for a lesson on verbals.

We’re already close to 900 words for this blog, so we’ll cover the 4th and final use of the colon next week.

Then we’ll tackle the semicolon.

And finally we’ll be ready for the innocent-seeming but so-tricky comma.

Punctuation: Colon, the Transitional Use

This blog continues an examination of the colon, begun on April 1 (No fooling!).  Two analogies practices interject themselves because the first use of the colon, the conventional, discusses analogies–and who doesn’t love to work analogies out?

Herewith  😉 the second use of the Colon.

Transitional Use

The second use of the colon is extremely similar to the Conventional Use that separate one element from an attached element of equal (or greater) importance, such as speaker : dialogue or title : subtitle.  Indeed, I am tempted to associate this use with those conventional ones as to time and ratio and analogies.

Yet the Transitional Use begins the introduction to the other two uses.

Research and Colons

First, let me inform you that there are three types of researched compositions.  The first type merely surveys (reports) on information that others have developed.  A second type provides a theory (hypothesis) then mixes field experience with information that others have developed.  The third type presents a personal interpretation backed up with information that others have developed.

The “information that others have developed” is the reason that these compositions are called “researched”.  The second and third types require the writers to start the composition, building from their own ideas before researching for supporting or rebuttal information.

The first and second types are usually the realms of the hard sciences.  Some social sciences also use these types of compositions.

The third type is the realm of the upper levels of literature, as a student develops an interpretation of a Shakespeare play, for example, then seeks other scholars who have similar or contradictory thoughts as they present the validity of their interpretation.  This type is sometimes called an interpretive analysis or argument.

A special kind of the third type focuses on a particular work and only deals with that work:  it is called an explication.  The only source is the text.  The writer develops all ideas based on literary terms and devices.

Using Research

Whichever type of researched composition you are writing (except for the explication), you will present scholarly views that support your own.  When you work with the research, you lead with your thoughts.  That is, you present your own thoughts then append the research as a quotation from another source that backs up your ideas—or provides a contradictory outlook which you then rebut.


Suppose you are writing about Walt Whitman’s egalitarian spirit.  First you would state your thought:  then you quote a scholar’s similar viewpoint and attach appropriate internal documentation.  This is the best way to present research, as a support for your viewpoint.

Most students merely report what they have found.  The resultant compositions are weakly developed and present no critical thinking skills.  The students lead with who said what and follow with the quotation:

A;os dufa sdfoiusd adig igu doaiuv mnvaiut oiuaoi duagas ghie hgdgna diug:  “a daodif cngiet a;slkd eithg na;l ggien aaskdadlf gugi gerug lkus fiad fa;oitu figtiau gnsbnttu” (Wilbur 38).

I find the gobbleygook above the perfect metaphor for the quality of the survey researched compositions.

Ah, but even though I despise the reportage survey, this example shows the proper use of the colon.  This transitional use exhibits the colon’s role:  statement with outside support.   It transitions from personal writing to scholarly writing.  When the outside source bolsters the writer’s thoughts, the writer’s credibility is increased.


Next week, we hit up the third use of the colon.  No hints!

Punctuation: Colon ~ Conventional Uses

The three classic punctuation marks for Links that Separate are the comma, the semicolon, and the colon.

Most teachers who approach the three punctuation marks that belong in the Links that Separate area start with the comma.  They believe that the comma’s familiarity will aid in learning.

Students who are well read have absorbed without teaching the usual (conventional) uses of the comma.  They believe that they know all the comma rules.

The teacher then natters on about the conventional uses;  the students don’t listen to what they already know. The teacher continues into Uses 2 and 3 and 4 of the comma.  Only at that point does the student realize they missed Use 2.  They scramble to catch up, hang up on Use 3, and never achieve mastery.

All because neither the teacher nor the student understood

public domain image
two sides of the brain – often in conflict in a classroom

what each other believed.


That’s a commentary on life, isn’t it?  Miscommunication.  Lack of perspective

from other people’s point of view.  Drifting into distraction then scrambling to catch up.

With the comma, we have an additional problem, just as important as these.

Actually, we could call this additional problem the major one:  teachers never realize how long the discussion of these Links that Separate will take.  Mastering the comma requires a day’s lesson for each variation—that’s four days.  Then we need to pick up the punctuation marks that function like the comma.

By this time, a week’s instruction has occurred.  Seeing time passing, the teacher does “a lick and a promise” about the semicolon and colon.

Let’s reverse that order.  We’ll teach a punctuation mark to which most students have no familiarity.  They will keep them sharply focused.  Then we’ll strike with the semicolon.  By the time we work through those two separating links, the students will know they need to pay attention for those ticky tricky details.

Colon ~ :

Two dots, one on top of the other ~ :

The appearance of the colon gives clues to its function as a Link that Separates.  It contains a period to signal a complete stop of thought before continuing on.

Squint at those two dots.  They remind me of an equal sign = , another hint of one of the colon’s four uses.

Conventional Use

Conventional means that these uses of the colon are standardized.

These conventional uses cover the vast majority of times that you will see this mark of punctuation.

Every day we encounter common uses of the colon.

Such common uses occur when we reference two-part items, in which a larger contains many smaller elements, such as a Biblical chapter and verse, hours with minutes, and main headings and subheadings.

  • Chapter and Verse ~ Isaiah 32:16
  • Hour and Minute ~ 4:32 p.m.
  • Hypertext indicator and web address ~ https://owl.purdue.edu
  • Main Heading and Subheading ~Links: Colon
Common Literary Uses

Additional types of separators using colons include the following:

  • Titles and Subtitles (especially when the subtitle denotes a sequel to the original work ~ Roots: The Saga of an American Family and Vanity Fair:  A Novel without a Hero.
  • Speaker and Dialogue, used in scripts and screenplays ~ ROMEO: But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?  It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
        • DETECTIVE:  The arsonist will be someone with a fixation on fires.
        • REPORTER (scribbling madly):  A pyromaniac?
In formulas, either mathematical or where a pattern is created and words can be omitted.
  • In math, the colon is used to indicate a ratio ~ 3 : 5 [6 : 10, 9 : 15]
  • In analogies, the colon represents the connection between paired items while the double colon carries that connection into a new set to be solved. ~
    • Ring : Finger :: Necklace : ___ (Neck)
    • Conductor : Orchestra :: Director : ____ (Cast)
    • Fake : Authentic :: Latent : _____ (Manifestation).
  • With the colon, words can be omitted from the formula sentence:
    • A ring is worn on the finger as a necklace is worn around the neck.
    • A conductor leads an orchestra as a director leads a cast.
    • Fake is the opposite of authentic as latent is the opposite of manifestation.
The colon occurs in the realm of research.

In addition to its use with titles and subtitles (and main headings and subheadings), the colon occurs in the source information on the Works Cited page (which once was called the Bibliography).  The information for printed (bound) sources will list the writer and title information as well as the publisher of that information and the publisher’s general location.

Source information for electronic sources takes a different form.  More detailed instruction for researched information will be given in a later chapter.

Here are two correct entries for source information.  (The hanging indent is typical of source entries.)

Bloom, Harold.  Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human.  New York: Riverhead Books (Penguin Books USA), 1999.

Bloom, Harold.  “Emily Dickinson: Blanks, Transports, and the Dark.”  The Western Canon:  The Books and School of the Ages.  New York:  Harcourt Brace and Co., 1994.

The final conventional use of the colon occurs in formal communication when it occurs after the salutation.

Both personal and professional letter writing is a dying art, replaced by the email or text message.

Businesses use the quick email with attachments for casual connections between workers as well as formal office interactions between co-workers and with clients and customers.

Yep, here’s a casual email in the office realm.

The casual email often omits the salutation entirely.  Dear Ollie is rapidly disappearing.  The email, sent specifically to someone, omits the opening nicety of the salutation and heads straight to the point:  “The 4 p.m. meeting on Thursday will now begin at 2 p.m.”  or “Do you have the draft proposal for the client?  She’s coming in this afternoon to discuss images and music?”

Emails do become formal when they provide the foundation for business actions and contractual obligations.  The formal letter form—from salutation to closing—will occur, with In Regards shifting to the email’s subject line.  The salutation and the closing are letter elements that signal the legal emphasis of the communication.

Personal letters use the comma after the salutation ~ Dear Aunt Joan, Thank you. . . .

Business letters use the colon after the salutation.  An audit report directed to a company’s financial officer should begin in this manner:  Mr. Harper:  Pursuant to your instructions. . . .

We have now dropped the Dear Sir or Madam as well as the closing Yours Truly or Sincerely that previously opened and closed letters.  Never use To Whom It may concern”.  Even Sir or Madam is now frowned upon in certain regions.


Word analogies are essential thinking skills.  Students have to figure out the connection then either consider answer options or delve their own brains for answers.  Those connections can be synonyms or antonyms, cause and consequence, category and item, progression (growth), whole to part, definition and more.  Analogies teach brains to consider different options for matching and to shift among those options rather than staying hide-bound to a single one.

Here is a docx. for downloading that provides a solid introduction to the shifting options of analogies.

Analogies introduction