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.
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.
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 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.