Colons can to used to list items. Borrowing an example from yourdictionary.com,

There are three things every dog needs: food, water and healthcare.

Can the same be presented as below?

Food, water and healthcare: There are three things every dog needs.

It doesn't feel wrong to write so, however, I am not sure if this is correct grammatically speaking.

  • The complete details of the use of colons, commas, quote marks, etc., has some locality to it. For complete details you should determine the local accepted style, such as in your office, school, etc. @James K has given a good answer to the specific question you asked.
    – Dan
    Commented Jan 29, 2022 at 19:14
  • I found this in a document I received from a client. The person is well-educated and writes journal entries. I couldn't imagine her making mistakes; but this was new to me
    – Ammu
    Commented Jan 29, 2022 at 19:36
  • 1
    I would not follow a colon with a capital letter ('There are...') unless the word was a proper noun, e.g. There are three people I love: Peter, Paul, and Mary. Commented Jan 29, 2022 at 19:49
  • 1
    Style note - "A colon is not normally followed by a capital letter in British usage, though American usage often prefers to use a capital." - typical UK style guide (Sussex University) Commented Jan 30, 2022 at 13:22

2 Answers 2


Usually colons are used to introduce lists, quotes and similar constructions.

In the second example, I can see no reason not to just use a comma. I'd phrase it as "..., these are the three things...". I'd understand the form with a colon, but it isn't the traditional use of this punctuation.

  • I couldn't find any examples of the second usage—either because, it isn't correct, or it isn't common. From your answer, I understand that it isn't the traditional use if the punctuation; however, can you explain if it isn't accepted at all? Have you come across such usage anywhere?
    – Ammu
    Commented Jan 29, 2022 at 19:34
  • 1
    I've never seen such use, but introducing a sentence with a list is a rare rhetorical device. Punctuation is often better understood as "helpful" or "unhelpful" rather then "correct" or "incorrect". In this case, I think the colon isn't helpful. But not a "mistake". It is an intentional element of style.
    – James K
    Commented Jan 29, 2022 at 19:39
  • The person being a writer this makes sense.
    – Ammu
    Commented Jan 29, 2022 at 19:42

A colon is often used before material that provides additional information (details, explanation, etc.) about the previous material. However, in your proposed sentence, the material after the colon is vague. This would be better:

Food, water and healthcare: These are three things every dog needs.

A dash could work, too; it tends to provide more emphasis than a colon.

Some people insist that the text before a colon or dash must include a main clause. However, that rule is not universally accepted.

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