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Correct Usage of the Colon bY Japanese Translation Services

This article covers the correct usage of the colon.

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The colon is a form of punctuation that, unlike the comma or full stop, you can live without. Normally, you can use a full stop in its place or reconstruct the sentence to avoid needing to use colons. This means that translators who are lazy (that are not willing to learn how to use the colon properly) or simply unadventurous (frightened of using it incorrectly) may never use them in their work. When used correctly, however, colons can improve the quality of your writing, and thus your Japanese translation services, by adding emphasis and clarity in a concise way.

Leaving aside the non-grammatical uses of colons, such as separating the hours and minutes in “11:30”, there are three main grammatical uses of the colon: introducing lists, explanatory relative clauses, and emphasis. We shall look at these three in turn. 

The first is the use of the colon in introducing a list (as you may have noticed I did in the previous paragraph). Although, a list can be introduced within the flow of a sentence (e.g. “He mainly eats the three fruits of kiwis, pears, and pineapples”), using the colon adds visual clarity and emphasizes that what follows is a list (“He mainly eats three fruits: kiwis, pears, and pineapples”). Note that a colon only introduces a list: you would use commas or semicolons to break up the items in the list.

The second use is the explanatory relative clause. This is used to separate an independent clause where the subsequent clause explains the first clause. Again, whereas a full stop could be used, the colon emphasizes the relationship between the two sentences. It is correct grammatical usage to say “The suspect looked guilty. He was sweating profusely”, but it is better style and more illustrative of the connection between the two to put this as “The suspect looked guilty: he was sweating profusely.”

The last usage we will discuss here is providing emphasis, or dramatic effect, in your writing. You could say, for example, “Deflation is the issue that Japan’s economists need to solve.” Greater emphasis, and indeed better style, is provided, though, by saying “There is still one issue Japanese economists are struggling with: deflation”.

Colons are greatly unused. By learning the above usages, professional Japanese translators can avoid over-reliance on commas and periods, and add clarity and sophistication to their work.

About the Author
Simon Way is a contributing author to SAECULII YK, Native Japanese Translators Tokyo, Japan Visit SAECULII for the latest professional case studies, articles and news by Japanese Translation Services

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