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Can you use more than one colon in a row?

Examples:

  • He follows one moral maxim: the Golden Rule: treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.

  • Jane lives in an one-story house: a bungalow: a California craftsman.

  • Robert remembered one thing from being a Boy Scout: the Scout Motto: Be prepared.

  • This is the problem your arrogance creates: you think you are never wrong, which creates another problem: you never grow from your mistakes.

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    G.B. Shaw used it often as a dramatic device in his dialogue. – Ricky Nov 25 '15 at 4:32
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Many grammarians are quite clear that more than one colon in a single sentence is to be avoided. See for example

http://data.grammarbook.com/blog/commas/how-to-punctuate-between-sentences-using-commas-semicolons-and-colons/

in which it is explained that a colon "is used to introduce a second sentence that clarifies the first sentence" or "to introduce a list when no introductory words like namely, for instance, i.e., and e.g., precede the list."

Standard copy-editing also discourages more than one colon. Theodore Bernstein does not address the issue of two colons in one sentence specifically, but does maintain that they follow full sentences. This would preclude anything resembling "He follows one moral maxim: the Golden Rule: treat others ..." But more important, using two colons makes for more difficult reading. In a short example like that you offer, the meaning is quickly discerned. But as the clauses become longer, the reader becomes distracted from the content and bogged down with following the implications of this particular punctuation--specifically, how the material following the second colon relates to that preceding the first.

I am a copy editor by profession, and while there are almost certainly some poetic uses that double colons can be put to, I can tell you that publishers of today's standard prose material avoid double colons religiously.

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I'm new to this, so excuse me if I'm not responding to your comment correctly. I was looking for a "reply" button, but there seems to be none.

At any rate, in your alternative, you offer the following:

"Robert remembered one thing from being a boy scout - the Scout Motto: Be prepared".

Doesn't the above sidestep the issue by just sticking an em dash where a colon should go? Em dashes replace colons--they are a common substitute. Essentially, isn't this just having the em dash stand proxy for the colon?

I guess what I'm saying is that I'm not sure this answers the question. Actually, in some ways it might. The rules of grammar allow for up to two em dashes in a sentence. Since em dashes, among other things, stand in for colons, maybe it is saying that two colons would be allowed if those colons could effectively replace two em dashes in a sentence.

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  • The rules of grammar—at least the ones I'm familiar with—don't have any limit to the number of dashes in a sentence, provided they're properly placed: in pairs that set off parenthetical comments. But colons don't come in pairs. You wouldn't put colons on both sides of a parenthetical comment. – Peter Shor Nov 25 '15 at 3:55
  • Welcome Benjamin Harman! You're right that there isn't a Reply button per se. StackExchange isn't a simple forum, but a question and answer site. There are two ways of replying to posts. You can answer them or you can comment on them. If you don't have an answer but do have something to say, go ahead and put it in a comment. – Unrelated Nov 25 '15 at 5:53
  • Also, em dashes are a subtype of dashes. En dashes and em dashes are stylistic rather than semantic. Everything you wrote would apply just as much to en dashes as to em dashes. – Unrelated Nov 25 '15 at 5:56
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I am certainly no expert, but it does not seem to make sense to include multiple colons necessarily. It is almost always possible to re-word you sentence so that it does not require multiple colons, while retaining the flow and rhythm of the original sentence. Consider for instance, "Robert remembered one thing from being a boy scout - the Scout Motto: Be prepared".

If this does not answer your question, please refer to the following

A trail of colons

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  • I'm new to this, so excuse me if I'm not responding to your comment correctly. I was looking for a "reply" button, but there seems to be none. At any rate, in your alternative, you offer the following: "Robert remembered one thing from being a boy scout - the Scout Motto: Be prepared". Doesn't the above sidestep the issue by just sticking an em dash where a colon should go? Em dashes replace colons--they are a common substitute. Essentially, isn't this just having the em dash stand proxy for the colon? I guess what I'm saying is that I'm not sure this answers the question. – Benjamin Harman Nov 25 '15 at 3:34
  • Actually, on second thought, the what you've offered with the em dash may shed some light. The rules of grammar allow for up to two em dashes in a sentence. Since em dashes, among other things, stand in for colons, maybe it is saying that two colons would be allowed if those two em dashes in a sentence stood in the place of what would otherwise be a colon. – Benjamin Harman Nov 25 '15 at 3:36
  • For style and elegance reasons, I would never use two colons in a sentence, but em dashes - either in pairs or singly - can be used very effectively and crisply. – Cargill Nov 25 '15 at 4:21

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