I have seen some writing where people have a list or a figure in writing and they will write something like this:

The information is provided in Image 3:-

Is that correct? Is this a British style?

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    Wow, I've never seen that before. Where is this currently happening? Commented Jun 22, 2011 at 18:23
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    What is that? Some kind of weird unicorn-walrus emoticon? Narwhal?
    – ghoppe
    Commented Jun 22, 2011 at 20:25
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    I don't think I've ever seen a colon followed by a hyphen, but I have seen it followed by a dash, especially before beginning a long list. @Marcin's answer mentions court documents, and I think that's where I've seen it too.
    – TRiG
    Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 17:18
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    All my life growing up, we have used it in school. ....are the following :-.India did 30 years ago adhere strictly to British Grammar and formatting.I have seen it and used and NO! am not over the hill yet! Commented Dec 16, 2013 at 16:53
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    Used to see it pretty commonly when I was growing up in the UK 40 years ago. Usage seems to have pretty sharply declined since then; maybe it was a typewriting thing.
    – calum_b
    Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 15:51

5 Answers 5


According to Nick Marten's The Secret History of Typography in the Oxford English Dictionary, a colon followed by a dash is a typographical mark that the OED refers to as the dog's bollocks:

Citing usage from 1949, the OED calls this mark the dog’s bollocks, which it defines as, “typogr. a colon followed by a dash, regarded as forming a shape resembling the male sexual organs.” This is why I love scrounging around the linguistic scrap heap that is the OED. I always come across a little gold. And by “gold,” I mean, “vulgar, 60-year-old emoticons.”

Marten does not further elaborate on its purported usage, but others do:

In Britain the exclamation mark is sometimes referred to as a dog’s prick, and that, further, the combination of a colon and a dash (:—), out of fashion now but long used to represent a restful pause, is known as a dog’s bollocks.

Modern style guides seem intent on banishing its usage to history. For example, the University of Sussex has a strong opinion on the matter:

The colon [is] never preceded by a white space; it is always followed by a single white space in normal use, and it is never, never, never followed by a hyphen or a dash — in spite of what you might have been taught in school.

I'd love to find some examples in print, but as you can imagine:— it's extraordinarily difficult to google.

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    When OED cites something this ridiculous, it becomes super-double-plus funny.
    – horatio
    Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 18:06
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    -1 "...in spite of what you might have been taught in school." How could it have come to be taught in school? There must be a time not so long ago when it was normal, if not the prescribed notation. I fail to see how the elaborate discussion is related to the question at hand. See Marcin's answer.
    – Kris
    Commented Oct 29, 2012 at 15:11
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    Indeed, this answer seems to raise more questions than it answers. Clearly, for this usage to have been taught in schools, it must've been common (and likely even prescribed) style somewhere at some point. When did it change, and why? Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 9:00
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    One example is Lionel Giles' translation of The Art of War: classics.mit.edu/Tzu/artwar.html Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 2:07
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    That's funny. I took a job at the University of Sussex a while ago and on my first administrative duty I thought my line manager's dog's bollocks were typos. Still an ignoramus to the fine nuances of British typography, I diligently removed all of them. Said line manager came back to me with an order to replace them back. Easy said, easy done I found-replaced ":" with ":-" because the line manager said to me "in the UK you can't possibly have a colon not followed by a hyphen". Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 12:55

English documents written in India often use :-. For example:

(These quotes are merely illustrative and not meant to prove that :- is commonly used in India; however, I have read a number of English documents written in India and can assure you that :- is far more prevalent there than in the US.)

I do not know why :- is common in India (British influence, maybe?), but there you have it. My impression is that :- is used to introduce a list, and : is used in all other circumstances. If somebody could get their hands on a style guide used by the Indian government (if such a thing even exists ― it probably doesn't), that would probably shed some light on this.

The interested reader who seeks additional examples may wish to consult this Stack Exchange Data Explorer query, which identifies instances of :- on Hinduism.SE (which is, of course, largely populated by Indian users).


The enacting formula of UK Acts of Parliaments (e.g. here's a recent example) ends with a colon followed by what appears to be an em-dash.

Looking around this page, colon + hyphen appears to be common to a number of Commonwealth and British territories, though there are exceptions to that rule (e.g. Phillipines).

Usage in legislation would seem to indicate that it is indeed "proper" to use punctuation in this way. The fact that its use is mainly (though not exclusively) in countries with a British connection suggests that it may be more a British style than a non-British one.


It's correct, because it is a recognised, well-known usage. However, it is redundant, and in most situations not the best or right usage. I would only use it where there is an established convention for its usage, such as in certain court documents.

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    When you say, "it is a recognised, well-known usage", do you have some examples? As the OP suggested, perhaps it's used in the UK? I've never seen it in 40+ years of reading, including in court documents, but I'm in the US. Commented Jun 22, 2011 at 19:24
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    @Matthew Frederick: Nothing to hand. I've seen it in old mathematics and computer science papers. The only place I see it now is in certain court documents, where it is conventional to use it, such as after the opening line of a witness statement or affidavit.
    – Marcin
    Commented Jun 22, 2011 at 19:28
  • Think it used to be more common in the UK. Am guessing that it is now not used so much as part of a general trend to simplify punctuation. Commented Jun 22, 2011 at 20:59
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    For an example, there's the Christian Brothers' Irish Grammar, which uses an em dash not only after a colon (if a list follows), but also after a period, with the force of a colon. So instead of “Note: Blahblah”, they write “Note.—Blahblah”. Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 0:11
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    I used to see it, and use it, when I was a child in the UK in the early 80s. Possibly it was more common in less formal writing, e.g. comics. I believe it was used to introduce an indented list preceded by a paragraph break, and not to replace colons in the normal flow of a paragraph. Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 2:15

From the Constitution of the United States of America

Article II, Section 1, last clause

Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following
Oath or Affirmation:—‘‘I do solemnly swear ...

This version is from the 110th Congress, dated July, 2007.

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