The colon as we know it - two dots on a vertical line - was first recorded in English around the year 1600 and its use varies across languages worldwide. It has several related but distinct uses in English, mainly to inform a reader that two pieces of information are connected. Here are five examples that English tutors can use when teaching their students how to use colons:
1) The most common use of a colon is known as syntactical-deductive. It is used when the second clause of a sentence presents the logical effect or consequence of a fact stated previously, usually in the first clause. For example:
'There was no one there to welcome him: the party had ended early'
2) The second use follows a similar pattern, but introduces a description. This is known as syntactical-descriptive, and the first clause should be a complete sentence in its own right.
'I have five cousins: John, Joanne, Stephen, Matthew and Laura'
3) Colons can introduce direct speech:
Shakespeare had a very sound banking policy: 'Neither a borrower nor a lender be.'
4) Colons can demarcate differing pieces of information:
Paddington: A cartoon bear created by Michael Bond. Also a major train station in London, UK
5) Colons can also be used to separate chapters and verses, and to distinguish titles and subtitles:
Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.