I recently came across this sentence in my philosophy book, and it is puzzling me.

"From this point he was known as Benedict de Spinoza rather than Baruch, his Jewish name."

Should there be a colon there instead of the comma? "His Jewish name" is an explanation of the first independent sentence.

  • 3
    His Jewish name stands in apposition to Baruch - they refer to the same thing - and is correctly separated with a comma. You will find numerous explanations and examples if you google in apposition. Commented Feb 3, 2017 at 0:26

1 Answer 1


Extending the good comment by @RonaldSole , let me reverse part of your example:

From this point he was known as Benedict de Spinoza rather than his Jewish name, Baruch.

Note how the reversed parts are equivalent to each other. The meaning did not change.

A comma is the lightest intra-sentence separator. In speech it is normally represented by a slight pause. A colon is significantly stronger, more of an "introducer". It announces here comes something else, which often has a different flow than what came before. I think it is actually stronger than a period. An example is the very first sentence in this answer. Another use is when it is followed by a list of grammatically distinct phrases (or even short sentences of their own). The words before the colon set a context for what comes after.

The three things I hate most are:

  1. blood-sucking insects
  2. my parents, after drinking, yelling at each other at night
  3. seeing an animal be abused by that fat neighbor kid, Ronny

I have to live with them all, almost daily.

In summary, commas and colons are vastly different.

  • Not to mention dashes. Commented Feb 3, 2017 at 9:42

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