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What are the correct ways to use a colon?

This page reflects guidance from the sixth edition of the Publication Manual.

Go to 7th edition guidelines


Use a colon

between a grammatically complete introductory clause (one that could stand as a sentence) and a final phrase or clause that illustrates, extends, or amplifies the preceding thought. If the clause following the colon is a complete sentence, it begins with a capital letter.

  • Freud (1930/1961) wrote of two urges: an urge toward union with others and an egoistic urge toward happiness.
  • They have agreed on the outcome: Informed participants perform better than do uninformed participants.

in ratios and proportions

  • The proportion (salt:water) was 1:8.

in references between place of publication and publisher

  • New York, NY: Wiley. St. Louis, MO: Mosby.

Do not use a colon

after an introduction that is not an independent clause or complete sentence.

  • The formula is ri = ai + e.

(adapted from the sixth edition of the APA Publication Manual, © 2010)

Last updated: August 2020Date created: May 2009
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