Colons with Lists

Use a colon before a list when the list is preceded by a complete independent clause.

Never use a colon to separate a preposition from its objects or a verb from its complements.

Some form of the word follow usually indicates a colon before the list.

Correct: John has all the ingredients: minced clams, milk, potatoes, and onions.
(The list is preceded by a complete independent clause.)

Incorrect: For their anniversary they went to: Aruba St. Martin, Jamaica, and the Bahamas.
(The colon separates the preposition to from its objects.)

Correct: For their anniversary they went to Aruba St. Martin, Jamaica, and the Bahamas.
(No colon needed)

Incorrect: To make clam chowder you need: minced clams, milk, potatoes, and onions.
(The colon separates the verb need from its complements.)

Correct: To make clam chowder you need minced clams, milk, potatoes, and onions.
(No colon needed)

Either incorrect sentence above could also be corrected by adding a form of the verb follow.

Correct: For their anniversary they went to the following places: Aruba, St. Martin, Jamaica, and the Bahamas.
(Now the word places is the object of the preposition to, and the colon follows a complete independent clause.)

Correct: To make clam chowder you need the following: minced clams, milk, potatoes, and onions.
(Now the following is the object of the the verb, and the list follows a complete clause.)


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