No, this is not a PSA, though I’m a strong supporter of preventative care in screening for colon cancer. No, this piece is about that vertical dot, dot, often used to suggest a smiley face in text and email messages (it shares a key with its cousin, the semicolon—more on that another time).
No, the colon is an oft-misused though powerfully underused little piece of punctuation that, with a little explanation, can open your eyes to a world of wondrous syntactical strength (see what I did—a little alliteration never hurts when proving a point).
Ahh, the colon. Such a misunderstood little thing. First, the most common misconception: colons should be followed by two spaces. Wrong. Unnecessary. Don’t do it: ever. (Again, see what I did there? Used the colon to emphasize my independent clause of “Don’t do it.” Another fabulous use of the colon—emphasis on the preceding clause. Thank you, Chicago Manual of Style.)
Another misconception is that any letter following a colon must be capitalized. Again, not true. When emphasizing the clause, as above, the word following the colon should, in fact, be lowercase. So, to quote the publishing bible: “When a colon is used within a sentence . . . the first word following the colon should be lowercased unless it is a proper name. When a colon introduces two or more sentences (Jessica couldn’t decide if she should blog about the colon: She wondered if it would be helpful. She also wondered if anyone would care.), the first word following the colon should be capitalized.”
There you have it: A brief and not-very-comprehensive explanation of how, when, and where to use colons. But, this information might get you started on using the colon for something other than a smiley face. 🙂