I read this sentence from Vonnegut, and I was wondering whether this is a sentence fragment. He places a colon after a dependent clause, but aren’t colons allowed after independent clauses only?

And there, I’ve just used a semicolon, which at the outset I told you never to use. It is to make a point that I did it. The point is: Rules only take us so far, even good rules.

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    Colons are allowed anywhere a skilled author chooses to place them.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 13:30
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    @deadrat You may find that these sorts of questions make a lot more sense if you pretend they come from risk-averse eleven-year-olds tired of getting their knuckles loudly rapped by some ancient grey-haired school matron who rages every time her young charges violate not some law but only her own personal sense of punctuational propriety. That’s where these folks are all coming from, or near enough as to make no difference. Correctness is deterministically binary for them, and failure brings the pain of being forbidden entry to higher education, better jobs, and an upwardly mobile future.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 13:34
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    @HotLicks: Colons are allowed anywhere. Skill is not a criterion for what is allowed. ;-)
    – Drew
    Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 18:11
  • This is a general reference question. Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 18:57
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    @tchrist Or it just comes from people trying to improve their understanding of the english language.
    – bugsyb
    Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 19:40

1 Answer 1


It is technically incorrect, as he is "using a colon between a verb and its object or complement". I'm not sure if I would call it a sentence fragment though, since it's a complete sentence, just with an extraneous colon.

You can attribute it to artistic license.

  • How to check for mistakes (when using a colon) *Ask yourself a question: does the material preceding the colon stand on its own? One way to tell if the colon has been properly used is to look only at the words that come in front of the colon. Do they make a complete thought? If not, you may be using the colon improperly. * Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 15:48
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    It is certainly not technically incorrect. It would be incorrect if the rule were correct, but -- as Vonnegut points out -- rules can only take us so far, even the good rules. And this is not a good rule. It is stupidly phrased and impossible to apply in most circumstances. Colons may certainly go between a verb and its object, though the intonation has to change, which is difficult to do in writing because English orthography doesn't represent intonation and rhythm. Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 16:13

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