When to use a colon in English

Use a colon to introduce lists and information, separate main clauses and add emphasis. We also use colons with numbers and in formal and informal written correspondence. Click on the tabs below to learn the different ways to use colons in English texts.


  • Main Clauses
  • Direct Speech
  • Correspondence
  • Explanations
  • Subdivisions
  • Lists
  • Emphasis
  • Numbers

Main Clauses

Use the colon between two main clauses when the second explains or illustrates the first.

I only have time to exercise at the weekend: from Monday to Friday I work from 8:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and three nights a week I go to Spanish classes.
Both of my brothers live overseas: Colin lives in New York, and Jim in London.

Do I need to use a capital letter after a colon?

No. Don’t capitalise the first word after the colon unless it is a proper noun.

Direct Speech

Use a colon to introduce direct speech with names or short phrases, as in a play or famous saying.

Juliette: O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?
In the famous words of Mae West: You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.


In American English, use a colon after the opening salutation in a business letter.

Dear Ms Dickens:


A comma or no punctuation mark is used for business correspondence in British English.

Use a colon in business or personal email correspondence.

re: next week’s meeting
cc: Mitchel Jones
Attention: Human Resources
PS: How was your weekend?


Use a colon to introduce an explanation.

My brother is staying with me for a few weeks: he broke up with his girlfriend.


Use a colon to introduce a subject subdivision – for example in a heading or title.

Writing School: Punctuation


Use a colon to introduce a list.

Please state the following information in your application: full name, date of birth, address, telephone number.

For more information about punctuation in lists see: brackets, comma and semicolon.


Use a colon to emphasise a word or phrase at the end of a sentence (in the same way as a dash).

After a long week of anticipation, Ella finally got her essay back: A+.
A 5:00 am start and a four-hour bus ride, followed by a 22-hour plane journey: it was the longest day of travel yet.

Learn more about using punctuation to add emphasis at the following pages in the writing school section of the website: dashes as commas, colons or brackets, dash


Use a colon to separate hours from minutes.

7:45 pm

Use a colon to show a ratio of two numbers.


Use a colon to separate verse from chapter in biblical references.

Genesis 1:31

Learn more about numbers, dates and time in the vocabulary section of the website.