MET workshop: grammar pathway minisession

Handling colons in translated sentences: two types of usage, simple rules

Facilitator: Mary Ellen Kerans

Colons have two syntax-driven uses in English and many other European languages: one use is to introduce examples in apposition to a noun phrase and the second is to introduce a clause that explains or gives a reason for the previous statement. (The previous sentence is an example of the second use.)
This minisession will first provide several examples of the second use — which we see only occasionally in our everyday reading because it is associated with a relatively high register. This sentence pattern crops up in all genres, however, from political speeches to discussion sections of research articles to op-ed journalism. We will discuss participants’ interpretations of such sentences, their preferences for or against them, and alternative edits that might be possible.
We will then turn to the way colons are more frequently used: to introduce an example or list of examples in apposition. (Note how that last sentence illustrates the use of a colon before the example, which is in apposition to the noun phrase “the way...used.” Also consider that a comma might do just as well when there a single example in apposition.)
It’s easy for errors of syntax–punctuation to creep in when we change the order of concepts on translating these sentences to create otherwise correct (even sophisticated-sounding) prose. Such errors involving colons are easier to see if the concept of apposition is well understood and the two colon uses are clear.
About the facilitator: Mary Ellen Kerans is a freelance translator, translation reviser, and authors’ editor in Barcelona; she has also been an instructor of English, academic writing and English for specific purposes. Her interest in a descriptive approach to grammar began happily in the third grade when a public school teacher gave a reasoned, comprehensible explanation for why some books contained sentences starting with and even though teachers told us never to do that. She received a sounder foundation during MA studies.

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