Wednesday, June 30, 2010

SQUIDS 101: Punctuation: Colons


The colon. It can join two independent clauses as a semicolon does; it can link an independent and a related dependent clause as a comma or emdash do; or it can be used to introduce a list in which the items are separated by commas or semicolons. It is our house style (following the Chicago Manual, I believe) that complete sentences that follow a colon are to begin with a capped letter. Fragments or lists after the colon should begin with a lowercase letter.
The squid stared at me in surprise: It had evidently never seen a scuba diver shoot ink back at it before.

The squid opened its luminescent eyes: vast orbs glowing like Chinese lanterns.

Contact lenses for squids are available in the following colors: chartreuse, periwinkle, lilac, rose, and burnt sienna.
I hear the pause after a colon as longer than the pause after a semicolon because there should be two spaces after the mark as opposed to one (and the greater the space accorded to anything in a story, the greater the weight it has), and because the cap at the start of a new sentence carries its own weight.


  1. Thanks for this series ... Just FYI, CMS differs from your house style on capitalization after a colon. Here's CMS 6.64: "When a colon in used within a sentence, the first word following the colon is lowercased unless it is a proper name. When a colon introduces two or more sentences (as in multiple questions), or when it introduces a speech in dialogue or an extract, the first word following it is capitalized."

  2. Huh! I did not know that. Thanks, Jon.

  3. Wow I've always been bad at knowing how to use colons or where to use them. Thanks for clearing it up.

  4. The colon is by far my favorite punctuation mark: It's like a drum roll.

  5. If you were to cut the video at a difference frame, that difference frame and all subsequent difference frames would refer to a preceding reference frame that doesn't exist any more.