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I often have to note down a list of people I send documents to at work, eg.,

'PDF sent to: John, Edith, and Margery'

If I only send the document to John, should I still use the colon?

'PDF sent to: John' or 'PDF sent to John'

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    You don't need the colon in the first example either. – Mr Lister Feb 1 '18 at 13:49
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You are not required to use colons for lists. In fact, you are not required to introduce lists at all. Delete the colons from both your examples. They are ordinary sentences that require nothing special.

Colons are used when your context requires an introduction or explanation of something.

Sometimes what is being introduced are the elements of a list. The sentence up until the colon describes what will be provided; what comes after is the details.

What comes after may just be an explanation. A ridiculous example is:

I arrived late at work: my bus broke down.

Do not do that, by the way. Use colons sparingly when simple commas will not suffice for some need.

  • I don’t see why that example is ridiculous, nor why the “don’t do that” (unless you meant “don’t be late for work”). Seems like a perfectly normal, standard use of a colon to me. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 1 '18 at 20:49
  • It my be a matter of style. I try to minimise my use of punctuation marks and use the more common ones when practical. To me, a colon is a big gun I reserve for when I want to grab my readers' attention before something important. – Ross Murray Feb 2 '18 at 1:04
  • I’d say it’s absolutely a matter of style. It’s fine to discuss matters of style here, of course, but since the SE model aims to be authoritative and back up claims with proven fact, eschewing opinion wherever possible, you should probably edit your answer to make it clear that this is a usage of the comma which is seen, but that it is not accepted by everyone (with supporting evidence if you can find any), rather than calling it ridiculous and saying “don’t do that”. That doesn’t really tell the asker anything other than that you don’t like it, which is much less helpful. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 2 '18 at 8:31

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