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Can I use two colons in a sentence? A typical example would be something like the following:

Note: I have substantial experience with the following languages: Python, Java, C++, and Perl.

I have often wanted to write something similar but have been forcing rewrites in order to get around using two colons in the same sentence. The general pattern is:

Note: [sentence with a colon].

Is this use of two colons acceptable?


(This question is similar but distinct from Can I use a colon twice in one sentence? due to that question's focus on colons and lists.)

  • 2
    Well the second colon is misused anyway so you shouldn't be trying to emulate it. Two colons in one sentence are very indigestible. – user24964 Apr 10 '14 at 15:04
  • 1
    Acceptable to whom? Using it in a programming blog is probably fine. Using it in a scholarly paper on grammar, maybe not. – Kevin Workman Apr 10 '14 at 15:05
  • @KevinWorkman: That seems like an answer? – MrHen Apr 10 '14 at 15:11
  • @MrHen Not really. It's asking you for more information. What context are you in here? I don't think this is really standard grammar anyway, so it's going to depend on the rules of wherever you're publishing. I will say that even if it is "legal", the other thing to consider is how easy it is to read. I would guess that most people would find two colons harder to read than splitting it up. – Kevin Workman Apr 10 '14 at 15:13
  • 2
    Lists that have something like as follows or the following before them are expected to use a colon. Here are some references. – tchrist Apr 10 '14 at 17:30
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Everything before the colon must be a independent clause (1 Reference among others). "Note" is not explicitly an independent clause, the subject is in the imperative (you) and "note" is being used as a verb. I would suggest changing it to the following:

Please [this explicitly makes note a verb] note: I have substantial experience with the following languages: Python, Java, C++, and Perl.

1

Note: I have only minimal experience with most of the languages below: I find the ideas behind them fascinating, but claim no expertise in them, so please point out any corrections and errors.

In the original example (pre-edit), the second colon is used wrongly, and should be replaced by either a full-stop/period or a semi-colon.

Note: I have only minimal experience with most of the languages below. I find the ideas behind them fascinating, but claim no expertise in them, so please point out any corrections and errors.

Using colons is explained well here. The example above uses "Note:" which is perfectly acceptable, but the second usage does not fit with any of the rules. You would expect the sentence "I have only minimal experience with most of the languages below" to be followed by a colon if you then went on to list the languages, but your example does not follow this structure.

EDIT: In response to Peter's comment, a sentence such as

Note: I have substantial experience with the following languages: Python, Java, C++, and Perl.

Seems perfectly acceptable using two colons.

  • 1
    But suppose you wanted to say: "Note: I have substantial experience with the following languages: Python, Java, C++, and Perl." Would that be acceptable? – Peter Shor Apr 10 '14 at 15:30
  • Seems clear to me, so I would say Yes. – Ronan Apr 10 '14 at 15:31
  • Only the EDIT portion of your answer is relevant to my question. I updated my question to remove the misused colon and replace it with the example Peter used. Hope that clears things up a bit. :) – MrHen Apr 10 '14 at 16:14
  • This answer is incorrect when it alleges that the second colon is used wrongly. Lists introduced by the following are correctly punctuated by a colon leading up to them. – tchrist Apr 10 '14 at 17:27
  • @tchrist The answer originally referred to the sentence in the paragraph I quoted, which had no list - it read "Note: I have only minimal experience with most of the languages below: I find the ideas behind them fascinating, but claim no expertise in them, so please point out any corrections and errors." – Ronan Apr 10 '14 at 20:43

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