Using a Colon before a List (with Examples)
Using a Colon before a ListA colon is often used to introduce a list. For example:
- Lee likes the following pies: chicken and mushroom, mince and onion, and cheese and onion.
However, when a colon is used with a vertical list (e.g., bulleted list, a numbered list), there is more leniency. The clause before the colon can be a short introduction which does not stand alone. For example:
We have a selection of pies. Choose from:
- Chicken and mushroom.
- Mince and onion.
- Cheese and onion.
Ensure Your Introduction Can Stand AloneSome strict grammarians maintain that the clause before a colon must always be capable of standing alone, even when the colon introduces a vertical list. However, we judge this ruling to be outdated given how common bullet points have become in the digital era.
When a bulleted or numbered list is being introduced, it is acceptable to use an introduction which does not stand alone. For example:
The lucky winners are:
1. Fred Bloggs
2. Joe Bloggs
3. John Doe
Note: Be aware that some of your readers might consider this as sloppy writing.
Even though a short introduction is widely accepted for a vertical list, when using sentence format (i.e., normal text), you must use a fuller introduction (i.e., one that can stand alone). For example:
- The luck winners areFred Bloggs, Joe Bloggs, and John Doe.
- The lucky winners are Fred Bloggs, Joe Bloggs, and John Doe.
Read more about using colons with bullet points.
Do Not Use a Colon Before an Incomplete Introduction in a SentenceDo not use a colon after an incomplete introduction with a list written in sentence format. For example:
- Select from: blue, red, and pink.
- Select from blue, red, and pink.