Friday, March 27, 2009

PUGS Pointers #17: Colons, Anyone?

PUGS* Pointers
(*Punctuation, Usage, Grammar, and Spelling)
by Kathy Ide

In this column, freelance author, editor, and speaker Kathy Ide shares tips on Punctuation, Usage, Grammar, and Spelling (“PUGS”).


Colons, CMS #6.63 and CWMS pp. 148–149 and AP p. 328

A colon introduces something (or a series of things) that illustrates or amplifies what is written before the colon. Example:

The panel consisted of three agents: Ned Aloof, Terry Friendly, and Mel Charming.

Capitalization with Colons, CMS #6.64–6.66 and CWMS p. 148 and AP p. 328

The first word following a colon is lowercased unless (a) the first word after the colon is a proper noun, (b) the colon introduces two or more sentences in close sequence, (c) the colon announces a definition, or (d) the colon precedes a speech in dialogue or an extract.

“Latisha had two choices: Should she try to write a steamy romance novel? Or should she go for a self-help book about punctuation addiction?”

Michael: My book has already been printed.

Timothy: Then you can’t correct the error until the second printing.


all ready/already
all ready means “completely ready,” as in “We are all ready to be published.”
already (adverb) means “previously,” as in “My book has already sold a thousand copies.”


Generations of English teachers have taught students certain rules that are either personal preferences or rules that have changed over time. For example:

Never start a sentence with a conjunction. (See CMS 5.191.)
A conjunction is a word that defines the relationship between different units of thought. Examples: and, so, but, if, or. Writers are often taught that beginning a sentence with a conjunction makes it incomplete, a sentence fragment. And sometimes that’s true.
Example: “Try to catch me. If you can.”

But sentence fragments are perfectly acceptable (if not overused, confusing, or unclear). Experienced writers may deliberately use the occasional sentence fragment for emphasis or to create a particular tone. (Note, however, that a dash can also be used for emphasis, and is preferable if the effect is the same.)

In many cases, opening with a conjunction does not turn a sentence into a fragment; it simply serves to connect the current information more strongly to the information that comes before it. Beginning a sentence with a conjunction such as and, but, or however is sometimes the best way to express the sentence’s relationship with the previous one. As with sentence fragments, avoid overdoing this type of sentence construction.


Spell as one word, whether used as a noun or adjective.


PUGS Pointers are based on the current industry-standard references in the United States.

For books:
The Chicago Manual of Style (15th edition, © 2003)
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th edition, © 2003)

For articles:
The Associated Press Stylebook (© 2004)
Webster’s New World College Dictionary (© 2002)

Many publishing houses have their own in-house style guides that may differ in some aspects from the standard references. However, unless you’re writing exclusively for one particular publisher, it’s best to follow the standard references and let the in-house proofreaders adjust to house style.

For more PUGS Pointers, see Kathy Ide’s Web site. Or get her book Polishing the PUGS, available here.


Kathy Ide has been writing for publication since 1988. She has written books, articles, play and movie scripts, short stories, devotionals, and curriculum. She is a full-time freelance editor, offering a full range of editorial services for aspiring writers, established authors, commercial book publishers, subsidy publishers, and magazines. Her services include proofreading, copyediting, substantive/content editing, coauthoring, ghostwriting, and mentoring/coaching. She also speaks at writers conferences across the country. She is the founder and coordinator of The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network and the Christian Editor Network. To find out more, please visit Kathy's Web site.

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