One of the most common conundrums writers come across in their work is the question of whether or not to capitalize the first word following a colon.
The rules for colons vary slightly based on which style guide you prefer. However, you can use our simplified guide below to help you spend less time Googling and more time writing.
When to Capitalize After a Colon
The rules for capitalization will vary depending on which style guide you use. However, there are some general guidelines that are universal regarding capitalization after a colon:
- Do not capitalize after a colon if you’re introducing a list.
- When a colon introduces an incomplete sentence, do not capitalize the first letter unless it is a proper noun.
- According to some style guides, you may capitalize the first letter following a colon if the colon introduces a complete sentence. Read on for more details.
Colons and British English
In British English, the first letter following a colon is only capitalized if it the word is a proper noun or an acronym.
In American English, however, there are several cases in which a letter should be capitalized after a colon.
Chicago Manual of Style
According to the Chicago Manual of Style, the first letter after a colon should be capitalized in the following cases:
- The first word after the colon is a proper noun
- The colon introduces 2 or more sentences
- The colon introduces speech in dialogue, a quotation, or a question
See the examples of each case below.
- He knew one thing for sure: Sharon had always stayed by his side, even in the most difficult of situations.
- Karen had very peculiar eating habits: She refused to eat anything green. She also had to drink carbonated water with every meal.
- Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises begins with an abrupt introduction to a key supporting character: “Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton.”
Capitalization after a colon is a bit simpler if you’re following the rules of APA Style.
The guide mandates that a capital letter follow a colon only in 2 circumstances:
- The first word after the colon is a proper noun (see first example above)
- The colon introduces a complete sentence
- The room was completely bare: Aside from a single chair, there was nothing else inside.
- It rained for one week straight: The residents of the village stayed locked in their homes.
According to MLA format, the first letter following a colon should be capitalized if the colon introduces:
- A rule or principle
- Several related sentences
- A proper noun
Download our Capitalization after Colons Cheat Sheet for quick reference so you can write more efficiently.
More Rules for Colon Use
Besides capitalization, there are several other rules that regulate colon usage.
Which punctuation questions still have you stumped? Share them in the comments below!
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