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Linking function of the colon

KA grammarian Paige introduces an important piece of punctuation that helps link items in a sentence: the colon! 

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Video transcript

- [Voiceover] Hello grammarians. In this video I'm going to tell you about a piece of punctuation called the colon. The colon is these two little dots right here, one stacked on top of the other. And it has quite a few functions, just like a lot of other pieces of punctuation. The idea of this linking function is that the colon can link an independent or dependent clause with another independent or dependent clause, or a phrase, or a word when there's a strong connection between the two things that it's linking. So if I want to tell someone what I think about two movies about animals, I could say: Both movies are great, but Sky Pal has one thing that makes it better: dogs that play sports. This is one sentence with two parts that are linked with this colon. So the first part says, both movies are great, but Sky Pal has one things that makes it better. And that could stand alone as a sentence, but it doesn't tell us what that one thing is. So the colon comes in and tells us, I'm about to tell you what that thing is, dogs that play sports. So in this case the colon just sort of serves as a connection between the purple part of the sentence and the yellow part of the sentence. Another example is something like: Going skydiving made me face one of my greatest fears: parachutes. Right, again this colon is sort of linking these two parts of the sentence where one answers an unanswered question from the first part. Like, what is this greatest fear? Well, it's parachutes. The colon is here to link between this whole independent clause and the word parachutes. I could just as well say going skydiving made me face one of my greatest fears. That's a perfectly fine sentence. But without a colon linking to what that fear is, that sentence just kind of leaves us wondering. So another sort of subset of the colon's ability to link things is that it can introduce things. One thing that the colon can introduce is a list. I could say: We needed to find three more items on the scavenger hunt: a four-leaf clover, a cauldron, and an abandoned ship. The second thing a colon can introduce is an item. If I'm talking about the other day when I had a weird legume craving, I could say: I only wanted one thing from the grocery store: peanuts. Lastly, a colon can introduce a quote. My friend Liz says it best: "Never open a jar of pickles you can't close." I'm not really sure what that means, but she does say it best. So, as you can see, like it was in the first couple of example sentences, there's kind of information missing from the first parts of all three of these sentences. We needed to find three more items on the scavenger hunt. Well, what did you need to find? Or, I only wanted one thing from the grocery store. What did you want? Or, my friend Liz says it best. Well, what does she say? That's were the colon comes in, to introduce that missing information. So there's one final case of the linking function of the colon that I want to get into in this video. If you remember from the beginning of the video, I said that colons can introduce an independent clause to another independent clause sometimes. That's pretty rare. Usually that's the job of a comma and a conjunction, or maybe a semicolon. But, as always, it's still important for you to know even the things that don't happen all that often. Something like, remember to take off your sunglasses when you drive through a tunnel: you can't see when it's that dark. The colon in this example shows that, you can't see when it's that dark is an explanation of why you need to take off your sunglasses. This is one of the two types of sentences where it makes sense to have a colon between two parts of the sentence that could stand on their own as individual sentences. So we can say, one, the second part explains the first part. The other case is when the second part of the sentence is emphasized. So this would be something like, I drank way too much soda: I'm never going to fall asleep! These are two independent clauses that could be their own sentences, but they're closely related enough that it makes sense to have them connected as one. So the colon links them together. And the second part is emphasized, right? That's the focus of the sentence. I'm never going to fall asleep! So in these two sentences we can see that the colon can connect two parts that can stand alone as their own sentences, right? Whether it's two independent clauses, like in the second sentence, or an independent clause that's technically connected to a dependent clause but can stand alone. Now okay, this usage is really uncommon. I really want to stress that. Usually when we're uniting two independent clauses, or at least two parts of a sentence that can stand on their own as individual sentences, we're gonna use a comma and a conjunction or a semicolon. But in the case that the second clause, or the second part of the sentence is emphasized or explaining the first clause, then you'll want to use a colon. Just keep that in mind. Usually this independent to independent clause linking happens with a semicolon and not a colon. But regardless, this is important to know. It's possible in these specific cases. What's most important for you to take away is that the colon can link things and introduce things as part of its many functions. And that's the linking function of the colon. We've got independent clauses, dependent clauses, phrases, words, and introductions for lists, and items, and quotes. You can learn anything. Paige out.