Almost every summer he thinks: This is the best summer. But this summer, he knows, really is the best. And not just the summer: the spring, the winter, the fall. As he gets older, he is given, increasingly, to thinking of his life as a series of retrospectives, assessing each season as it passes as if it’s a vintage of wine, dividing years he’s just lived into historical eras: The Ambitious Years. The Insecure Years. The Glory Years. The Delusional Years. The Hopeful Years.

— Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life

I’ve read that you don’t have to, grammatically, write a complete sentence, and then write a colon.

In And not just the summer: the spring, the winter, the fall., I don’t see a complete sentence, then a colon, and I don’t see a complete sentence used after the colon. There may not seem any utterances, which I think I’ve read may get used.

What may you call this, in grammar?

  • 2
    This doesn't address your actual question, but I cannot think of any time when it is necessary to have commas before and after the word "and" or the word "then." There may be some, but they escape me.
    – Adam
    Feb 10, 2016 at 21:31
  • I agree with Adam (although I can think of times you'd use a comma before and after "then" and "and" this is not one of them). I think about 5 of your 13 commas are unnecessary, and add some confusion to your question.
    – Sarah
    Feb 10, 2016 at 21:50
  • We call this writing. Writers are not restricted by the rules of grammar school. Thank goodness. We write and say thoughts, and they are not always the "complete sentences" learnt in school. Mar 16, 2016 at 23:27

2 Answers 2


Each side of the colon is a sentence fragment. To properly get at the meaning, it should be combined with the preceding sentence.

This summer, he knows, really is the best, and not just the summer: the spring, the winter, and the fall.

A complete sentence, ending in a colon, and followed by a fragment is correct usage.

Yanagihara's writing is not a good example of accepted grammar, because she is using her own style to create an effect. Her intention is to resemble how a person thinks, which is typically in short, recursive fragments rather than complete and complex sentences. Many of her sentences begin with conjunctions in order to make it sound like a continuous chain of thought. This isn't always possible to achieve when you follow the rules. The sentence may be conventionally "wrong", but its meaning is clear. Part of the effect of grammar is the ability to misuse it.


What do I call this, grammatically-speaking? I call it wrong. The English grammar rule has always been that a complete sentence is needed before a colon. The author may have been trying to do something stylistically in this writing. However, looking only through the eyes of English grammar, I'm afraid I must call it incorrect.

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