I love grammar. And in order to share my love of and fascination for grammar, I’ve needed to devise creative ways to explore and explain not only what it does, but what it means. Below is one of many love stories to come.
Colons: A Love Story
When we speak, we mean so much more than what we say. When we listen, we are instinctively processing the tone of our voices and watching our facial expressions. When we listen to one another, we are actually reading each other. This is the secret to understanding language, literature and grammar. The challenge is to create this understanding in writing. Without these verbal and physical cues, how can a writer communicate not only what he or she is striving to say but what he or she truly means? The answer lies in punctuation.
Colons are one of your tools to communicate meaning. Periods stop and commas stall. Colons – I am always happy to see them. Like a springboard they launch you up and over the sentence and into new and uncharted territory. If you had thought the sentence was complete, the colon has a surprise for you. The colon indicates a list or definition. It adds that spicy “extra” to the sentence or term before it, expanding the content, enhancing the detail and providing new meaning for both the reader and the writer.
To explore this more grammatically, we need to take a different route than my self-expressed love of and devotion to colons and the lists they bring. Let’s bring in a metaphor, and to more accurately describe what a colon is, let’s discuss what it isn’t.
a period, which separates two sentences much like two lovers from decades past. They keep in touch; they have history and things in common – enough in common to bring them together. However, they are two individual and complete entities. Both make perfect sense individually.
a comma, which creates breathe and unity between partial and incomplete thoughts much like young sweethearts. A comma joins two or three or sometimes more parts together to complete a single idea. No one part or piece is complete on its own. Each part needs the other (and its comma) to make sense of itself.
In terms of our relationship metaphor, the colon is the beginning of the muse, the list of all that came before – the sentence reflecting upon its past, its present, and the future of its many parts: nouns, verbs and adjectives. The sentence and its colon just can’t seem to live without one another, much like a word can’t live without its definition. The colon also separates as it leads us forward. Be it time or title, the colon opens us all to new parts and possibilities. The title of a book? It doesn’t end with the title! Slap a colon and keep the details flowing. Specify your time – not merely noon but 12:16.
By all looks and appearances, it could be deemed unnecessary. Get a comma! Some may say. The sentence seems complete on its own. However, it is only through its colon that we discover the true depth and detail of its many parts. And while a sentence, a title or even a clock and its colon could exist apart, they need one other to make full sense and convey their true meaning.
The colon is a powerful tool, and like a powerful couple, there are only a few sentences that need its special touch. Use your punctuation wisely and enjoy your language!