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Using the Colon

Punctuation Can Indicate Verbal Pause


The colon in Spanish is used much like the colon in English, although perhaps with a bit more flexibility.

The colon, known in Spanish as dos puntos, typically represents a verbal pause, a pause that is more significant than that represented by the common but less so than the pause represented by the period. It indicates that the sentence or sentence fragment that follows is closely linked to what precedes it.

Here are some examples of proper colon usage:

  • Es una tesis que se sustenta en las cifras: la caída mensual en la construcción fue del 5,6%, mucho mayor que en otros sectores salvo la agricultura. It is a thesis supported by the numbers: The monthly drop in construction was 5.6 percent, much more than in other sectors except for agriculture.
  • Otros seis ocupantes del vehículo resultaron heridos por la explosión, dos de ellos graves: Rubio Antonio, de 42 años, y el soldado de nacionalidad colombiana Daniel Ortiz, de 23 años. Eight other occupants of the vehicle were injured by the explosion, two of them seriously: Rubio Antonio, 42, and Colombian soldier Daniel Ortiz, 23.
  • En un comunicado, la intérprete ha dicho: "Estoy muy contenta y sorprendida con esta nominación". In a statement, the actress said, "I am very happy and surprised with this nomination."
Note that the word following the colon typically is not capitalized, unless it is a proper name or the first word in a quotation that could stand alone. (The practice in English in such cases varies.)

The colon can be used in vertical lists such as this one:
Nombre: Luis Alfonso
Nacimiento: 1962
Lugar: Madrid

Name: Luis Alfonso
Birth: 1962
Place: Madrid

The use of colons is standard in greetings used in correspondence such as letters and email. So you should start out a letter with something like "Querido Bob:" rather than ending the greeting with a comma as is common in English.

The Royal Spanish Academy says that colons should not be used in specifying times as is done in English (for example, 2:23 p.m.). Even so, such use of colons is not unusual in Spanish.

In mathematical usage, a colon may be used to represent division. Thus, this is a valid equation: 21 : 7 = 3.

The main reference source for this lesson is the Diccionario panshispanico de dudas published by the Royal Spanish Academy. Some of the examples used in this lesson are adapted from articles in El País, a Madrid newspaper.

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