Use a colon before a list of items, particularly when that list is formally introduced by words such as the following or as follows (these introductory words aren’t necessary; however, they serve as an in-your-face indicator that a colon will be used).
We decided to add the following ingredients to the cake recipe: cloves, ginger, and cinnamon. (Note the use of the following in the sentence.)
The states we will be visiting are as follows: Washington, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. (Note the use of as follows in the sentence.)
Five-year-old Kyra equipped her younger brother with what she considered the Five All-Important Things: a spy kit, a Star Wars lightsaber, a puzzle book, a juice box, and a cookie. (In this sentence, no set introductory phrase is used, but a colon works perfectly here.)
Warning! *insert flashing lights here*
There are a couple of things-you-should-never-do in relation to this rule…
Never use a colon to introduce a list that functions as the complement of a verb or as the object of a preposition. Also, never use a colon after such expressions as especially, including, or such as.
So what in the world does that mean?
Here are a couple of examples:
The ingredients we decided to add to the cake recipe were: cloves, ginger, and cinnamon. (This is incorrect because the colon separates the verb were from its complements.)
We will be traveling through: Washington, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. (This is incorrect because the colon separates the preposition through from its objects.)
Five-year-old Kyra equipped her younger brother with items such as: a spy kit, a Star Wars lightsaber, a puzzle book, a juice box, and a cookie. (This is incorrect because the colon follows the expression such as.)
Well, that’s it for part one. Check back tomorrow for part two!
Day One: The Colon Loves Lists <you are here>
Day Two: The Colon Loves Introductions
Day Three: The Colon Loves Separations