Grammar Colons with Lists |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Colons with Lists

Rule 1: Use the colon after a complete sentence to introduce a list of items when introductory words such as namely, for example, or that is do not apply or are not appropriate.

Examples:
You may be required to bring many items: sleeping bags, pans, and warm clothing.
I want the following items: butter, sugar, and flour.
I want an assistant who can do the following: (1) input data, (2) write reports, and (3) complete tax forms.

Rule 2: A colon usually does not precede a list unless it follows a complete sentence.

Examples:
To be successful in sales, one should do the following: (a) dress appropriately, (b) ask customers about their needs, and (c) follow through.

To be successful in sales, one should (a) dress appropriately, (b) ask customers about their needs, and (c) follow through.

Rule 3: With tabular format, a colon customarily precedes a list.

Examples:
To be successful in sales, one should do the following:
(a) dress appropriately
(b) ask customers about their needs
(c) follow through

To be successful in sales, one should:
(a) dress appropriately
(b) ask customers about their needs
(c) follow through

Note: You may use and before the last phrase.

To be successful in sales, one should:
(a) dress appropriately,
(b) ask customers about their needs,
(c) and follow through.

Note:
Capitalization and punctuation are optional when using single words or phrases in bulleted form. If each bullet or numbered point is a complete sentence, capitalize the first word and end each sentence with proper ending punctuation. The rule of thumb is to be consistent.

To be successful in sales, one should:
• Dress appropriately,
• Ask customers about their needs,
• Follow through.

Note: With lists, you may use periods after numbers and letters instead of parentheses.

For our meeting on Tuesday, please:
a. E-mail the agenda to me by Monday afternoon.
b. Call me 15 minutes before the meeting is set to begin.
c. Distribute the notes to all the board members after the meeting.

Pop Quiz
Add punctuation if needed.
1. The following are required (a) wet suits, (b) fins, (c) snorkels.
2. Please bring (a) wet suits, (b) fins, and (c) snorkels.

Pop Quiz Answers

1. The following are required: (a) wet suits, (b) fins, (c) snorkels.
2. Please bring (a) wet suits, (b) fins, and (c) snorkels. (CORRECT)

If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

50 responses to “Colons with Lists”

  1. Gayle Gemeinhart says:

    What is the rule about colons when they are used as you do on this site? How is this usage defined?
    Examples:
    Rule 1:
    Rule 2:
    Rule 3:
    Note:

    • The Chicago Manual of Style’s Rule 6.59 says, “A colon introduces an element or a series of elements illustrating or amplifying what has preceded the colon.”

  2. Cindy M. says:

    When you are listing items by bullets – is just the first word capitalized?

    · Job Shack

    · Mixing Area Concrete/Mortar Cement

    · Bulk Sand and Gravel

    · Tile/Brick

    · Toolbox Layout

    · Use Area Dry Heated

    · Resin Cement Storage and Mixing Area

    · Brick Saw Cutting Area with Power and Water Requirements

    · Reinforcing Steel Laydown Area

  3. Dennis S. says:

    Which is correct or more correct?

    1. Water can exist in three forms — solid, liquid or gas.
    2. Water can exist in three forms – solid, liquid or gas.
    3. Water can exist in three forms – solid, liquid or gas.
    4. Water can exist in three forms; solid, liquid or gas.

  4. Tim says:

    At our hotel, complaints such as a broken fan, a malfunctioned central cooling system, a faulty light switch, etc. are among the most commonly received requests from our in-house guests.

    At our hotel, complaints such as broken fan, malfunctioned central cooling system, faulty light switch, etc. are among the most commonly received requests from our in-house guests.

    At our hotel, complaints such as broken fans, malfunctioned central cooling systems, faulty light switches, etc. are among the most commonly received requests from our in-house guests.

    Assuming there is only one fan and one light switch in a guest room, and one central cooling system in the hotel, which of these is correct?

    Is it necessary to use an article for items in a list?

    • It does not matter how many items are in each room; the sentences refer to the list of complaints. The articles are optional. We would suggest replacing “malfunctioned” with “malfunctioning” and “requests” with “concerns.”

      • Tim says:

        Thanks! Malfunctoning and concerns sound better and right here.

        It is more natural for me to drop the articles if the list of items is on a separate line (after the colon).

        For inline lists (within the sentence itself), is it correct to drop the articles as well?

        So all three sentences are basically correct?

        • As we stated, the articles are optional in your sentences. We would need to see a specific sentence in order to comment on articles within a different sentence. Your sentences are all fine with the changes we indicated.

  5. Joshua Moore says:

    I’m at a bit of a loss on this one. Back to back colons seems incorrect for some reason, but I can’t seem to find a better solution:
    He played against many top level teams including: MLS teams: Sporting Kansas City, Real Salt Lake, and San Jose Earthquakes; English Premier League’s Swansea City; and Liga MX’s Club Leon.

    • For parallel construction, we suggest:
      He played against many top level teams, including MLS’s Sporting Kansas City, Real Salt Lake, and San Jose Earthquakes; English Premier League’s Swansea City; and Liga MX’s Club Leon.

  6. Bill says:

    What about a colon that comes after an abbreviation?? Do you drop the period in the abbreviation?
    To wit: “Current temperature in Washington D.C: 85 degrees.” Or “…D.C.: 85 degrees” ?

    • Do not drop the period in an abbreviation appearing before a colon. However, there should be a comma after “Washington.” (You would not need periods in “DC” if you were following Chicago Manual of Style guidance.)

  7. Cece says:

    Would I put a comma after “but limited to: ”
    or just leave it as it is?

    Accommodations can include, but are not limited to, allowing additional time to take a test, reading the test directions aloud, reading the entire test aloud, allowing the student to take the test in a distraction-free area, sectioning the test into several sessions, allowing multiple breaks while testing, and having the student highlight key words prior to beginning the test (Ward, 2005).

    • As per our Rule 2 of Colons: “Avoid using a colon before a list if it directly follows a verb or preposition that would ordinarily need no punctuation in that sentence.”
      The colon in this case would effectively, although not immediately, follow the verb include, which is not recommended. However, you could place this list in a tabular format if desired.

      Accommodations can include, but are not limited to:
      (a) allowing additional time to take a test
      (b) reading the test directions aloud …

      (You may use commas at the end of each line if desired.)

  8. Brenda says:

    How would you use colons and semicolons in this instance?

    The following centers have not submitted the correct forms to the Job Corps as of December 31, 2017:
    Region 1: John Smith
    Region 2: Bonnie Nelson

    • The colon after the complete sentence and prior to your “list” is correct. We see no need for semicolons. Inserting colons into the list items seems unnecessary since you are emphasizing the centers over the people. Otherwise, it’s a matter of writer’s preference.

      The following centers have not submitted the correct forms to the Job Corps as of December 31, 2017:
      Region 1, John Smith
      Region 2, Bonnie Nelson
      OR
      Region 1 (John Smith)
      Region 2 (Bonnie Nelson)

  9. Cindy Partch says:

    Do I need the 3 colons in this bulleted paragraph?

    Your company should have developed rescue policies and procedures in advance to address a fall rescue situation:
    -In-house rescue service:
    – Per ANSI, only authorized rescuers should attempt a rescue
    – Professional rescue agency:
    – Per ANSI, requires a meeting with your rescue agency

    • This appears to be as much a matter of style as rule. We would not use any colons nor any hyphens or dashes to begin lines, but if you insist on them, you might consider:

      Your company should have developed rescue policies and procedures in advance to address a fall rescue situation.

      In-house rescue service:
      – Per ANSI, only authorized rescuers should attempt a rescue
      Professional rescue agency:
      – Per ANSI, requires a meeting with your rescue agency

      OR

      As per ANSI, your company should have developed rescue policies and procedures in advance to address a fall rescue situation.
      In-house rescue service: Only authorized rescuers should attempt a rescue.
      Professional rescue agency: A meeting with your rescue agency is required.

  10. Naomi says:

    I think I understand the rules of using a colon to precede a list, but I now find myself wondering what constitutes a list! Here is the example:

    You only have to watch TV to discover several different interviewing styles.
    Former Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman has a hard-hitting, confrontational style.
    Martin Bashir, who interviewed Michael Jackson, is far more amenable.
    And Mrs Merton, who was played by the late Caroline Aherne, relied on charm and coy humour.

    (There is a single line space between each of the above lines.)
    I am wondering whether the full stop after “styles” should be replaced with a colon. Do the three lines following the introductory line meet the definition of a list, even though they are not bulleted/numbered points? Any help would be much appreciated.

    • There are many styles and variations of lists. Your example could be considered a vertical list; therefore, a colon after the word styles would be acceptable. Or, with the line spaces removed and just a single space between them, the sentences could be placed sequentially to constitute a paragraph.

  11. Kartikey yadav says:

    Can I use colon while giving a list of questions?

    Example:

    I will answer all kind of hypothetical questions:
    1. What can happen if hypertension is left
    untreated?
    2. What happens when we don’t drink water?
    3. What would happen if you fell into a
    blackhole?
    4. What would happen if you stopped
    eating?

  12. G. Cooley says:

    I want to make a list of a girl counting off on her fingers. This is not a business document but a novel. I prefer to write out the number vs using a number in parenthesis. Should I use a cama or colon?

    One: Followed by a complete sentence. Two: Followed by a complete sentence. Three: Followed by a complete sentence. If you recommend a colon does that mean the first word of the sentence should be capitalized?
    Or
    One, followed by a complete sentence. Two, followed by a complete sentence. Three, followed by a complete sentence.

    Thanks for your help.

    • This comes down to writer style and preference. Within this particular context, either a comma or a colon would achieve the objective. It just depends on whether you want to communicate with a pause (comma) or a stop as an introduction (colon).

  13. Christopher Nokes says:

    When can you (do you) use back to back colons. Here is an example from Roland Barthes (Camera Lucida, 1980): “It is this kind of question that Photography raises for me: questions which derive from a stupid or simple metaphysics (it is the answers that are complicated): probably the true metaphysics.”

    I’ve seen colons used elsewhere to separate items in a list, where the “list” is a group of sentences related to one topic.

  14. A. Thomas Vawter, Ph.D says:

    In place of the colon, I would use dashes or parentheses: “Gillette also put together the “costume”–the hat, pipe, lens, and cape–that we associate with Holmes to this day.

  15. Kabeer Sayeed says:

    A good set of rules for using the colon (“:”)

  16. Himanshu Vaishnav says:

    Fabulous, I enjoy reading such pointers. It helps me a lot, and I use such lists and sometimes wonder if what I am doing is right. Now I know where to go in case of doubts. What I am also looking for are semicolon pointers where I am often not sure what is the correct way of using them in a paragraph.

  17. Alessandro says:

    Thanks for the post!

    I was able to show this to my A-level English students in Spain (obviously the Spanish equivalent). This has helped them to grasp the complicated world of English grammar colons!

    I will certainly show them more articles from you when they get confused about grammar again!

  18. Kenneth Turner says:

    I hold a bachelor’s of science degree and have been successful throughout my various careers in several different industries. However, even in grade school, a significant obstacle for me has always been my spelling and grammar. I have reviewed the rules for colon usage and applying them and believe the following sentence conforms to those rules under Rule 1.

    Kenneth has requested that this information be sent to you, as our research department has located approximately $99,725.00 in cash assets for which you: Carolyn Anne St. Charles, born on September 19, 1941, and who has a prior connection to Ames, Iowa, has a legal entitlement.

    Is this usage of a colon incorrect? Would only the use of a comma between “you” and “Carolyn” in the above sentence be grammatically correct?

    • The part of your sentence that reads “Carolyn Anne St. Charles, born on September 19, 1941, and who has a prior connection to Ames, Iowa,” constitutes an appositive further describing “you.” Therefore, it should be set off with a comma rather than a colon. Also note that the word “has” near the end of the sentence should be “have,” which becomes apparent when you remove the appositive from the sentence:

      Kenneth has requested that this information be sent to you, as our research department has located approximately $99,725.00 in cash assets for which you, Carolyn Anne St. Charles, born on September 19, 1941, and who has a prior connection to Ames, Iowa, have a legal entitlement.

  19. Goldie says:

    Does this correctly use the colon and semicolon, or do I need to break up this sentence?

    Researchers seem to focus on these: three omega-3s, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA); and two major omega-6s, linoleic acid (LA) and arachidonic acid.

    Thank you!

    • With such technically complex sentences, we can sometimes use parentheses and brackets rather than punctuation to clearly convey our meaning. We suggest:
      Researchers seem to focus on three omega-3s (alpha-linolenic acid [ALA], eicosapentaenoic acid [EPA], and docosahexaenoic acid [DHA]) and two major omega-6s (linoleic acid [LA] and arachidonic acid).

  20. Far says:

    If you were to list several things on a report lets say, would the proper way be

    DOB: 1/11/65
    DOL: 1/20/20
    Injury: Back, Neck

    OR is the proper way
    DOB :1/11/65
    DOL :1/20/20
    Injury : back, Neck

  21. Mark says:

    I will sometimes follow a colon with a numbered list that I separate with semicolons (and the last element being preceded by semicolon + “and”). For example:

    > Then again: 1. I have yet to generate an “extremely good algo” and; 2. maybe I am not smart enough to participate in the industry!

    Is that acceptable and if so, then should the first word after each number (not including 1) be lower or upper case? Thanks!

    • GrammarBook.com says:

      We probably wouldn’t recommend this format in formal writing. If your sentence contains only two items in the series following the colon, you might consider writing it as:
      Then again: 1) I have yet to generate an “extremely good algo,” and 2) maybe I am not smart enough to participate in the industry!

  22. Gary Falcetano says:

    What is the best way to confer the the word “help” in the following sentence applies to all of the statements that follow? Is a colon required after “help” to be sure that the reader understands that the intent of the sentence is to state whole allergen testing helps to do all the things listed.

    Whole allergen testing is used to help confirm a suspected allergy, to determine the cause of a reaction, or to rule out an allergy altogether.

    • GrammarBook.com says:

      Our Rule 2 of Colons says, “Avoid using a colon before a list if it directly follows a verb or preposition that would ordinarily need no punctuation in that sentence.” Therefore, a colon is unnecessary.

  23. Heather says:

    When citing a source, which way would you use the colon? I share articles and put the name of the source, time, date, etc. before I post the article. I was wondering, when sharing the source it comes from how should it look?

    1. Per: (enter source like newspaper name)
    or
    2. Per (enter source like newspaper name):

  24. Angela says:

    To check your account, please provide the following details:
    *Registered full name:
    *Complete service address including postal code:
    *Are you the account holder? (Yes/No):

    Thank you.

    Does the colon on ” *Are you the account holder? (Yes/No):” is not needed? Or did I write it correctly?

    • GrammarBook.com says:

      We see no reason why the last colon would be necessary. Perhaps “Yes” and “No” could follow the question with the obvious need for the answer to be circled.

  25. Brad says:

    Thank you for this blog! I need to send out notices on storage units. Would this be the correct way to denote ownership of an item? Do the owners of the item have to appear on the same line as the colon or would the names be considered a list referred to by the colon as presented by the software we use? Thank you.

    REGISTERED OWNERS:
    JOHN DOE JOHN DOE

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