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In the following sentence as an example, the speaker meets two strangers that happen to be a fox and a cat.

As he turned a corner, he came face to face with two strangers, a fox and a cat.

Should the comma be changed to a colon in order to indicate that the only strangers are the fox and the cat? Otherwise, it sounds like he is meeting 4 'people'.

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    Well, you've answered your own question. – RegDwigнt Jul 3 at 13:05
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    Colons in this usage are rather old-fashioned nowadays; a dash (people in the US generally prefer an em-dash, while I'd say most Brits, myself included, prefer a spaced en-dash) is better in all but the most formal writing. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 3 at 13:31
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    Yeah, the comma suggests four characters. An em dash would work well here, though it is a bit breezy (informal): As he turned a corner, he came face to face with two strangers—a fox and a cat. A colon is nice if you want a formal touch: As he turned a corner, he came face to face with two strangers: a fox and a cat. For drama, it would be worth breaking a rule: As he turned a corner, he came face to face with two strangers. A fox and a cat. – Tinfoil Hat Jul 3 at 14:29
  • This is a somewhat strange appositive. Normally, an appositive that is set off with punctuation is highly restrictive. In your example, it is merely descriptive. I'd tend to use a lexical fix here ... two strangers, to wit, a fox and a cat. Or you could individualize them as proper nouns ... two strangers, Fox and Cat. – Phil Sweet Jul 3 at 16:09

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