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Doing some editing and came across a sentence in which a colon is used to introduce a quote. Is the colon justified in this case? SENTENCE ENDS:

...wearing a T-shirt that says: "When the going gets tough, the tough get going."

The following question (Correct punctuation to introduce a supporting quote) is actually focused on a slightly different issue, since it is about using a colon to introduce a quotation after a complete sentence.

The answers to it seem to be geared toward that example; one of them cites a Purdue OWL post that says it is appropriate to use a colon to introduce a quotation after a complete sentence or independent clause. But that is not the case here, since "a T-shirt that says" is not a complete clause or statement.

One answer (by Roaring Fish) quotes a "Guide to Punctuation" by Larry Trask that seems to say that it is "bad style," but not outright "wrong," to use a colon in the sentence "President Nixon declared: 'I am not a crook.' " This seems relevant, but it's a bit confusing. Why doesn't Trask just label this "wrong"? Is it a matter of opinion? I'd appreciate other references that describe the most common and influential viewpoints about how to punctuate phrases like this.

marked as duplicate by anongoodnurse, jimm101, user140086, choster, ab2 Feb 9 '16 at 0:20

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

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There have been a few questions about colons on here but I checked and couldn't see any that dealt specifically with colons relating to quotes, so here. Merriam-Webster defines a colon as

a punctuation mark : used chiefly to direct attention to matter (as a list, explanation, quotation, or amplification) that follows

As you can see, "quotation" is one of the included matters the colon is used to direct attention to, so that is perfectly justified.

  • But just because it can be used before a quotation in some cases, doesn't mean that it can be used before a quotation in this specific case. Can you quote a more specific source that says it is OK to use a colon this way? – sumelic Feb 7 '16 at 23:10
  • Chicago Manual of Style: Whether set off from the text or run into it, quoted material is usually preceded by a colon if the quotation is formally introduced and by a conma or no punctuation if the quotation is an integral part of the sentence structure. As in this case, the OP formally introduced the quote, it would usually be preceded by a colon. – John Clifford Feb 7 '16 at 23:17
  • Does it define how to distinguish between quotations that are "formally introduce" and those that are an "integral part of the sentence structure"? As it is, I can see an argument for both. The original poster's sentence certainly can't stand alone if we remove the quoted material. – sumelic Feb 7 '16 at 23:19
  • He said SENTENCE ENDS implying that there was more of a sentence that he was omitting for brevity, but I see your point. It does specify how to distinguish but I didn't paste that as the format of comments doesn't lend itself very well. Formal introduction would be like "Shelly held a bold view: "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the World."" while an integral part would be "Shelly thought poets "the unacknowledged ...."" or ""Poets," according to Shelley, "are the unacknowledged ...."" – John Clifford Feb 7 '16 at 23:20
  • To me, that seems to indicate that there should not be a colon after "says," just as there is not one after "thought." – sumelic Feb 7 '16 at 23:21
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Is it justified and should it be used are two very different questions (from the body and title of your question, respectively)

Justified? Yes. Here's proof:

You are safe to make the decision on whether to use a colon, a comma, or nothing after an introduction (e.g., He said, She shouted) before a quotation.

Using a Colon before a Quotation - grammar-monster.com

Your justification is: "Cause I wanna."

However, should is a different question. This thrusts us out of the more forgiving world of grammar and into the ever critical world of style:

If you're still unsure which to use, follow this guideline: Use a colon before a quotation of more than 6 words. Use a comma before a quotation of 6 words or fewer.

Using a Colon before a Quotation - grammar-monster.com

That, is a style. You can follow it. You don't have to. You could follow others. But if you want to write well you should follow a consistent style.

This is because randomly adding commas, colons, or using nothing in a document filled with quotes leaves the reader asking, "What the hell is with this random use of punctuation?"

Grammar has nothing to say against this. It's your choice, but unless you want your reader focused on decoding your quirky random style it's a pointless distraction that you should fix by ensuring you use a consistent style.

So should you use a colon in that exact sentence? Sure, as long as you use them the same way for similar quotes everywhere else in your document.

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Can it be justified? Yes. Is it justified here? Consider,

  • If you use a complete sentence to introduce a quotation, you need a colon after the sentence.

  • Use an introductory or explanatory phrase, but not a complete sentence, separated from the quotation with a comma.

  • Make the quotation a part of your own sentence without any punctuation between your own words and the words you are quoting.

  • You should never have a quotation standing alone as a complete sentence, or, worse yet, as an incomplete sentence, in your writing.

Example: Thoreau ends his essay with a metaphor: "Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in."

English Composition 1

With this limited context it's difficult to say.

  • Good link to a resource. However, I would quote slightly different sections that I think are more relevant: "if you use a complete sentence to introduce a quotation, you need a colon after the sentence." "Use an introductory or explanatory phrase, but not a complete sentence, separated from the quotation with a comma." "Make the quotation a part of your own sentence without any punctuation between your own words and the words you are quoting." Or you could just quote "There are at least four ways to integrate quotations." and list the four ways. – sumelic Feb 7 '16 at 23:08
  • @sumelic how's this? – candied_orange Feb 8 '16 at 5:31

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