I couldn’t help but to think: “Is this really what the meaning of success has become?” and to make matters even worse, this idea was just spread to the thousands of viewers.
Is the colon correct? I am unsure about using a colon versus a comma.
closed as not a real question by John Lawler, Hellion, jwpat7, Robusto, MετάEd Dec 17 '12 at 3:54
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I say that the colon is not at all necessary, as the quoted phrase is simply the object of the sentence particle before it; a comma is a much more natural pause there. My version would be:
The "make matters worse" part needs to be its own sentence because it's not part of what you "couldn't help but" do.
Also as pointed out by @John Lawler, you can see that I've used "couldn't help but think" without the to and "thousands of viewers" without "the".
I think that "was spread" is appropriate, because all we know at this point is that the idea has been sent out; we don't know if it was then taken in by the people to whom it was broadcast, which would be necessary for "spread".
If the first clause is independent, you should use a colon. If, as in your example, then either a colon or a comma is grammatically correct.
Stylistically, the colon emphasizes the quotation somewhat more than the comma.
Lists should be preceded by a colon. I have heard (sorry, I don't remember where) a rule of thumb that one should use a comma before shorter quotations (10 words or less), a colon before longer quotations.