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Is the use of the colon correct in this sentence?

She pushed the thought aside because she didn't want to ask herself questions like: Where did he go? Was he even real? Was she going crazy? She just wanted to pretend like it had never happened.

This is in a work of fiction. I know a colon should come after an independent clause, but are there exceptions to this rule, especially in fiction? This seems like the simplest way to structure the sentence, and I like the placement of the punctuation because it clearly sets off the list of questions, but I also want to make sure this is correct, or at least passable in fiction.

I have both the Chicago Manual of Style and MLA as references, but neither suggests this structure is explicitly incorrect.

Thank you for your thoughts!

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  • Stuart Rossiter, in his answer at Grammarly.com, says that CMoS licenses a list of questions (etc) after a colon after an independant clause. >> 'She pushed the thought aside because she didn't want to ask herself a string of awkward questions: Where ...' But punctuation being available to help rather than cause writers problems, your original is not glaringly sinful. Aug 24, 2016 at 15:46
  • I like the idea of completing the sentence like that. Thanks for the suggestion!
    – user137928
    Aug 24, 2016 at 15:50
  • MLA advice exists.
    – Alan
    May 2, 2019 at 14:59

2 Answers 2

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First off, I am aware of this question being asked quite a while ago, but recently I had to face a similar dilemma. And here is what I found out.

According to The Chicago Manual of Style, direct unquoted questions may be introduced using colons as long as the introduction constitutes a complete sentence: a grammatically complete sentence. (The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th Edition. Part II, Chapter 6, Rule 6.65, University of Chicago Press, 2017.)

So what if you wrote your sentence this way:

She pushed the thought aside because she didn't want to ask herself tough questions: Where did he go? Was he even real? Was she going crazy? She just wanted to pretend like it had never happened.

Indeed, it would look really neat.

Cheers!

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As I read Struck and White on Use of a colon after an independent clause to introduce a list of particulars ... (Chapter 1, Rule 7, McMillan, 1979), it is wrong to use a colon here:

It [a colon] should not separate a verb from its complement or a preposition from its object. The examples in the left-hand column [LHC], below, are wrong; they should be rewritten as in the right-hand column[RHC].

LHC: Your dedicated whittler requires: a knife, a piece of wood, and a back porch.

RHC: Your dedicated whittler requires three props: a knife, a piece of wood, and a back porch.

LHC: Understanding is that penetrating quality of knowledge that grows from: theory, practice, conviction, assertion, error, and humiliation.

RHC: Understanding is that penetrating quality of knowledge that grows from theory, practice, conviction, assertion, error, and humiliation.

The logic of the first paragraph applies equally well when the particulars are questions.

Either of the following would work:

Option 1: She pushed the thought aside because she didn't want to ask herself questions like [or such as] the following: Where did he go? Was he even real? Was she going crazy? She just wanted to pretend like it had never happened. [Not ideal for fiction. :-)]

Option 2: She pushed the thought aside because she didn't want to ask herself questions like "Where did he go?" "Was he even real?" "Was she going crazy?" She just wanted to pretend like it had never happened. [No colon, quotes to separate the questions from the rest of the sentence. Could have italicized the questions instead.]

Option 2 with quotes or italics may be your best bet.

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  • The inclusion of quotes is rather overbearing. Aug 24, 2016 at 15:41
  • Hi Richard. Thank you so much for your detailed response! I believe Option 2 is probably my best bet. I agree with Edwin that the quotation marks would would look too cluttered, so italics it is! I was hoping for an exception for fiction, but the rules are the rules :)
    – user137928
    Aug 24, 2016 at 15:48
  • @user137928 I agree italics works best. Thought of it second, after quotes. Aug 24, 2016 at 16:13
  • @EdwinAshworth I find it amusing to hear you of all people using the word overbearing. :-) Greetings. Jun 16, 2017 at 2:03
  • The kids don't listen unless you sound like Churchill. Usually not even then. Jun 16, 2017 at 8:54

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