I have a hard time understanding the use of the colon in the following sentence:

Marriage is like a supermarket: easy to get into but hard to get out of.

Is the part after the colon a list of two elements or is it an independent clause where the part "It is" is omitted. For example:

Marriage is like a supermarket: [it is] easy to get into but hard to get out of.

  • 1
    The latter. Some traditionalists would say that this use of a colon is unacceptable (I doubt even they would complain if you swapped it for a dash). However, I'd prefer the colon here as it introduces a reason for the preceding main clause. Colons tend to introduce fairly specific types of follow-on statements; dashes are more flexibly used. Oct 16, 2016 at 18:57
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    Consider a similar sentence: There was only man for the job: Peter. I guess you could argue that Peter is an elided form of it was Peter, but I don't think it's necessary to say that an independent clause need follow the colon. Again, We had the following for Christmas: turkey, beef and cranberry pie. I don't see how this can be considered an elision, since the following refers directly to the three foods; some such proposed clause as they were turkey beef and cranberry pie doesn't work here. Nov 20, 2016 at 15:59
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    Wait, since when is it "hard to get out of" a supermarket??
    – ruakh
    Nov 2, 2017 at 16:56
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    Yeah I'm with @ruakh on this one. Marriage is like a metaphor: very easy to break but hard to fix. Easier to just let it go and look for a better one.
    – RegDwigнt
    May 31, 2018 at 20:30
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    @ruakh Two reasons I can think of: you're having too much fun filling up on all you want; you can't afford the checkout. Aug 25, 2019 at 16:08

2 Answers 2


A Colon separates two halves of a sentence when the second half is directly relating information about the first half.

  • The OP obviously realizes this generality. The question is about a specific sentence where that is not the case.
    – ruakh
    Aug 27, 2019 at 0:14

Picking up Edwin Ashworth's comment and adding some references here some details:

A colon can have the function to lead from a statement on the left side to an explanation on the right side (see grammarbook.com Rule 4). In the sample text the sentence "[It is] easy to get into but hard to get out of." is an explanation of the first sentence "Marriage is like a supermarket."

To be fair, a colon can have the function to introduce a list of items (see grammarbook.com Rule 1a), but in the sample text the phrase "easy to get into but hard to get out of" is not a list of multiple items.

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