X was interested in one of the most important challenges: the lack of reliability in bananas' drawings.

I think I read somewhere that, although possible, a colon should be avoided in these situations (in an academic context).

How could I rewrite this?

  • 1
    I wouldn't say an appropriate use of a colon would be something to be avoided in an academic context. (I use them in formal academic papers anyway.)
    – Kosmonaut
    Mar 7, 2011 at 14:06
  • 1
    Possible duplicate of Colon usage in English.
    – RegDwigнt
    Mar 7, 2011 at 14:06
  • @Kosmonaut: I'm talking about the usage of colon in this specific context Mar 7, 2011 at 16:10
  • @RedDwight: Should a colon be used in this case? Mar 7, 2011 at 16:11
  • 1
    This is an appropriate use of a colon.
    – Kosmonaut
    Mar 7, 2011 at 18:42

3 Answers 3


Some style books advise against using a colon between two phrases that are not each an independent sentence. The same applies to semicolons. The exception is when what follows begins on a new line or is a true enumeration: then the part before the colon should still be an independent sentence, but what follows is free. That is why some recommend that your colon should be replaced with a comma: the lack of reliability in bananas' drawings is not an independent sentence, but rather an apposition, which could easily be attached by a comma.

I agree that it is somewhat more elegant to stick to this rule in ordinary circumstances. However, I don't think there is consensus about this, and you may very well find style guides that disagree; at any rate, the practice of joining non-independent sentences by a colon will most probably be acceptable to the majority of readers.


X was interested in one of the most important challenges, namely, the lack of reliability in bananas' drawings

You could also use any of these in place of namely: that is, that is to say, to be specific, specifically.

  • 1
    or the latin i.e.
    – mplungjan
    Mar 7, 2011 at 13:31
  • With "namely", and the other words, the "lack of reliability" seems to just be one of the important challenges. That's not it. The colon conveys what I want to say better. Do you think a colon shouldn't be used? Mar 7, 2011 at 13:33
  • 1
    @John Assymptoth: actually no, "namely" is very specific about this being the only challenge we are talking about. While there are a number of important challenges (implied by "one of the"), only the lack of reliability is concerning X right now.
    – user1579
    Mar 7, 2011 at 17:41
  • @John: Rhodri is right. Logically you might say that the "namely ..." apposition should specify "the most important challenges" as our first reading; but conversational implication (aka. context) makes sure that in fact we interpret it as specifying "one of the most important challenges" as a whole. Mar 8, 2011 at 1:09

I think this is very much the right place to use a colon. However, if you weren't comfortable with it, a dash would work well. The dash seems to be becoming a fairly generic use everywhere punctuation mark.

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