To capitalize or not to capitalize:
That is the question!
With apologies to William Shakespeare and Hamlet, I’m sure you get the point. Many of us have wondered about this without ever coming to a decision; it seems like it should be easy to figure out but then we forget to check on it.
We may be confused on this topic because we remember someone saying we should capitalize the first word after a colon, but we also remember someone saying we shouldn’t.
What’s a poor writer to do?
So to give you the best information on this pressing issue, I went looking for the definitive answer. Let’s face it: Sometimes things do change, even grammar rules! And I would hate to lead you astray!
What did I find? There is no definitive answer. Even the best authorities don’t completely agree. But at least the AP and Chicago Manual almost agree on this topic. Almost.
The AP and the Chicago Manual of Style agree on this:
Use a lowercase letter for the first word after a colon unless the word is a proper name.
- These are my favorite foods: ice cream, lobster, and chocolate.
- I listened to my friend sing that aria: painful!
- Sarah has a number of hobbies: reading, knitting, and gardening.
- Tom has lived in several cities: Boston, Chicago, and Houston.
- Three agencies were represented: NASA, the FBI, and the CIA.
OK so far? Well, then the AP and Chicago part ways.
The AP says use a capital letter for the first word after a colon if it is either a proper name OR the first word of a complete sentence.
- I listened to my friend sing that aria: It was painful to hear.
- We learned a great lesson from that failure: In the future, we need to watch our expenses more carefully.
The Chicago Manual says to use a capital letter if the first word is a proper name OR the start of at least two complete sentences or a direct quotation or question.
- Several questions came up at the conference: Did we make our goals? Were we on target? What’s next for us?
- We made some important decisions at the meeting: We need to focus on our expenses every month. We need to add at least one client per month. We need to hire two sales associates immediately.
So in keeping with the KISS principle, try this:
If the first word after a colon in a sentence is a proper name, the pronoun “I,” or the start of another sentence, capitalize it.
If it isn’t, don’t.
You could do worse, right? Since no one really knows how to handle this issue, you’ll at least have something to fall back on. But remember: This is an AMERICAN style, and yours may be different.
Does that work for you? Great! So now you can go do something really important like calling your mom to say “I love you” or cuddling with someone special (yes, your dog or cat counts).
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Remembering Jane Straus | May 18, 1954—February 25, 2011 |
Author of the original Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation
Capitalization After Colons
Have you run across the situation where one sentence ending with a colon is followed by another sentence? Do you capitalize the first word of that second sentence? Why would you use a colon between the two sentences rather than a period or a semicolon?
Rule for colons between sentences: Use a colon instead of a semicolon or a period between two sentences when the second sentence explains or illustrates something in the first sentence.
Capitalization rule with sentences after colons: If only one sentence follows the colon, it is often not necessary to capitalize the first word of the new sentence. If two or more sentences follow the colon, capitalize the first word of each sentence following.
One of my favorite novels is by Kurt Vonnegut: his novel Slaughterhouse-Five is often funny yet packs an emotional punch.
Garlic is used generously in Italian dishes: It greatly enhances the flavor of pasta. Garlic also enhances the flavor of lasagna, one of my favorite dishes.
Now, should you capitalize the first word after a colon if it begins a list rather than a new sentence?
Rule: Do not capitalize the first word of a list after a colon.
Example: I like the following Italian dishes: pasta primavera, eggplant parmesan, and lasagna.
Add or remove capitalization as needed.
1. Please visit me at my newly remodeled store: Skylights and large glass windows have been added.
2. Please visit me at my newly remodeled store: skylights and large glass windows have been added. You will also find more inventory and friendly sales help.
3. I need the following items from the store: Bread, salt, and sugar.
Pop Quiz Answers
1. Please visit me at my newly remodeled store: skylights and large glass windows have been added.
2. Please visit me at my newly remodeled store: Skylights and large glass windows have been added. You will also find more inventory and friendly sales help.
3. I need the following items from the store: bread, salt, and sugar.
Posted on Monday, September 10, 2007, at 6:46 pm
If you wish to respond to another reader’s question or comment, please click its corresponding “REPLY” button. If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the “Comment” box at the bottom of this page.
50 Comments on Capitalization After Colons
50 responses to “Capitalization After Colons”
- mark johnson says:January 1, 2011, at 12:25 pm
Do you copy edit manuscripts?Reply
- Jane says:January 8, 2011, at 11:31 pm
No, but you may wish to click on the Editing Services link on my GrammarBook.com web site.Reply
- Kefkolo says:January 11, 2011, at 8:42 am
What about when you have one word before the comma as you have with your example or a note?
Example: This is one sentence.
Note: Do you capitalized here regardless if one or more sentences? Or should the first word “do” not be capitalized if only one sentence?Reply
- Jane says:January 21, 2011, at 6:02 pm
Yes, you would capitalize regardless of the number of sentences.Reply
- Emily Rittel-King says:February 18, 2011, at 8:22 pm
If a colon is followed by a list then a second sentence follows the list would the first word of the list be capitalized or would it be lowercase?Reply
- Jane says:February 19, 2011, at 6:16 am
You would not capitalize the first word of a list after a colon, regardless of how many sentences follow it.Reply
- samir Hafza says:November 14, 2012, at 8:32 am
I don’t understand: I was taught to never capitalize after a colon unless it’s followed by a quotation, or if it’s a salutation of a formal letter, or when we separate a title of a work from its subtitle.
Do we have a case here of British English vs. American English?Reply
- GrammarBook.com says:November 16, 2012, at 4:01 pm
Our rule is in agreement with Rule 6.61 of The Chicago Manual of Style, which states in part, “When a colon introduces two or more sentences … the first word following it is capitalized.” We believe this rule does differ from British English practice.Reply
- Bob Kemper says:March 9, 2011, at 9:44 am
Thanks. When in high-school and college if I had known that I would be writing as much as I do at this point in my life, I would have paid more attention to my English teachers.Reply
- Buddy says:March 14, 2011, at 2:54 pm
If the last sentence of a paragraph follows a colon, and there is a succeeding paragraph, do I capitalize or lowercase the sentence that is following the colon? After all, paragraphs are treated independently.Reply
- GrammarBook.com says:May 17, 2011, at 4:05 pm
If only one sentence follows a colon, it is up to the writer or editor whether to capitalize the first word of the new sentence. If two or more sentences follow the colon in the same paragraph, capitalize the first word of each sentence following. Anytime you start a new paragraph, you would capitalize the first word.Reply
- Neil Mack says:November 29, 2011, at 10:23 am
What about a numbered list following a colon or semi-colon. Are capitals required? And is a period required only after the last item in the list?
Exceptions will be made in the following cases:
1. hair spray
- GrammarBook.com says:November 30, 2011, at 10:15 pm
Rule 3 in the “Colons” section of our English rules states, “Capitalization and punctuation are optional when using single words or phrases in bulleted form. If each bullet or numbered point is a complete sentence, capitalize the first word and end each sentence with proper ending punctuation. The rule of thumb is to be consistent.” Since none of your numbered points are complete sentences, capital letters and periods are not required.Reply
- Dave says:December 6, 2011, at 9:42 am
I am writing a paper that needs to follow APA style (6th edition). Which of these would be correct?
The question now is: where do we go from here?
The question now is: Where do we go from here?Reply
- GrammarBook.com says:December 7, 2011, at 3:07 pm
The Chicago Manual of Style’s rule is “When a colon is used within a sentence, the first word following the colon is lowercased unless it is a proper name.” Since your paper must follow APA style, we recommend that you consult The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association to confirm that they agree.Reply
- Omar says:February 14, 2012, at 4:46 pm
I would appreciate that you may kindly clear my doubt about the following example.
In case of a series following a colon:
1) Should or should we not capitalize each succeeding sentence provided they are separated by semicolons?
2) Should in this particular case a period replace the semicolon as shown in example “c”?
(a) For the realization of these endeavors and projects he received the invaluable help from his friends and associates: notable scientists like Einstein, the American Millikan, or the Indian Jagadis Bose; heads of state like the very president of the United States, T. F. Roosevelt, as well as his minister Wallace; poets like the Indian Rabindranath Tagore; artists like the Americans Robert Edmund Jones and Rockwell Kent, or the Spaniard Ignacio Zuloaga; Musicians like the Russians Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Koussevitzky, or the American Leopold Stokowski; writers like George Bernard Shaw, Herbert George Wells, and Ernest Hemingway; and filmmakers like Charlie Chaplin.
(b) For the realization of these endeavors and projects he received the invaluable help from his friends and associates: Notable scientists like Einstein, the American Millikan, or the Indian Jagadis Bose; Heads of state like the very president of the United States, T. F. Roosevelt, as well as his minister Wallace; Poets like the Indian Rabindranath Tagore; Artists like the Americans Robert Edmund Jones and Rockwell Kent, or the Spaniard Ignacio Zuloaga; Musicians like the Russians Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Koussevitzky, or the American Leopold Stokowski; Writers like George Bernard Shaw, Herbert George Wells, and Ernest Hemingway; And filmmakers like Charlie Chaplin.
(c) For the realization of these endeavors and projects he received the invaluable help from his friends and associates: Notable scientists like Einstein, the American Millikan, or the Indian Jagadis Bose. Heads of state like the very president of the United States, T. F. Roosevelt, as well as his minister Wallace. Poets like the Indian Rabindranath Tagore. Artists like the Americans Robert Edmund Jones and Rockwell Kent, or the Spaniard Ignacio Zuloaga. Musicians like the Russians Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Koussevitzky, or the American Leopold Stokowski. Writers like George Bernard Shaw, Herbert George Wells, and Ernest Hemingway. And filmmakers like Charlie Chaplin.
My heartfelt thanks for your time and effort in answering my question!Reply
- GrammarBook.com says:February 15, 2012, at 4:04 pm
Sentence (a) is correctly punctuated. You should not capitalize after semicolons since the semicolons are simply separating units in a series that contains commas. Nor should you use periods, since the phrases are not complete sentences. The article the is unnecessary before invaluable. To avoid repeating like in every phrase, you might consider the wording: “… received invaluable help from friends and associates such as:” The word “Musicians” should not be capitalized. Since this is a very complicated sentence, you may also want to consider breaking it into two or more sentences.Reply
- Anita says:September 25, 2012, at 9:11 pm
What if two questions follow a colon?
For example: I have two questions: What is the time? Where is the event?Reply
- GrammarBook.com says:September 27, 2012, at 3:40 pm
Our Capitalization Rule 17 states, “Capitalize when two or more sentences follow a sentence ending with a colon.” Therefore, your sentences are correct as written.Reply
- NS says:September 5, 2013, at 11:18 pm
Should the first letters of each point be capitalised in the following example?
Strengths:  a premium brand name in prominent cities commands higher pricing;  strategic co-development with Company ABC and other large developers reduces financial risk;  a prudent financial profile and low leverage provide capacity to fund capex for future expansion; and  a sound access to debt/capital markets, evidenced by the company’s track record of raising equity and debt.Reply
- GrammarBook.com says:September 7, 2013, at 3:34 pm
The first letters of each point do not need to be capitalized, especially since you have joined your points with semicolons. The a following the fourth point is not necessary.Reply
- matt says:January 17, 2014, at 1:39 pm
grateful to review disucssion thread. how about a headline:
Competitive Process milestone: Top five companies announcedReply
- GrammarBook.com says:January 20, 2014, at 7:23 pm
Regarding headlines, according to the AP Stylebook, “Only the first word and proper nouns are capitalized. Exception: First word after [a] colon is always uppercase in headlines.”
Competitive process milestone: Top five companies announcedReply
- Jade says:March 8, 2014, at 1:11 pm
I’m looking for what to do with a word following “a.m.” or “p.m.”
In a book I’m reading there is a sentence (or two?) which confuses me. Here it is: “Well, the duel, as I told you, was scheduled for four A.M. On the edge of the swamp just beyond the city’s northern gate.”
Notice that the “On” is capitalized after the “A.M.”. Is this grammatically correct for one sentence or is this meant to be two sentences? The reason for my confusion is that if “On” began a second sentence, that second sentence would not be a sentence, at all, but a fragment, right?Reply
- GrammarBook.com says:March 11, 2014, at 5:27 pm
It looks like an error to us. The word “on” should not be capitalized. You are correct that if “on” begins the sentence, it is a sentence fragment. (Writers beware: some word processing programs automatically capitalize the first letter following a period, requiring that you manually change it back to lowercase.)Reply
- Bill says:April 8, 2014, at 3:17 pm
I’m sorry, but punctuation’s main purpose is to increase readability and understanding of the written word. To my eye, a capital letter after a colon LOOKS better and I believe it helps in understanding, too.
“I need the following items from the store: bread, salt, and sugar.”
isn’t nearly as eye-pleasing as
“I need the following items from the store: Bread, salt, and sugar.”Reply
- GrammarBook.com says:April 14, 2014, at 12:41 pm
We agree that punctuation should increase readability and understanding of the written word, however, capitalization is not based on aesthetics. Your capitalization of the word “bread” may look better to you, but since bread is not a proper noun, nor is it the first word in a complete sentence, it does not make sense, grammatically speaking, to capitalize it.Reply
- Rose says:October 8, 2014, at 1:09 pm
Is the word following the colon capitalized after Note:
Note: You can also create campaigns.
Note: you can also create campaigns.
Which one is correct? Thanks!Reply
- GrammarBook.com says:October 11, 2014, at 5:34 pm
If a complete sentence follows a colon, it is up to the writer to decide whether to capitalize the first word. Capitalizing a sentence after a colon is generally a judgment call; if what follows a colon is closely related to what precedes it, there is no need for a capital.Reply
- Vernony says:February 22, 2015, at 5:46 pm
Oh well, I always capitalize the first letter after a semicolon, by reason that the semicolon has a full stop in its symbol. My feeling is that if you cannot capitalize after a semicolon without changing the sense, then a colon would have done anyway !Reply
- GrammarBook.com says:February 25, 2015, at 10:31 pm
Our blog Semicolons says, “Semicolons do not represent a full stop at the end of a sentence, as periods do; rather, they’re like the “yellow light” of punctuation marks: they signal a pause between one sentence and the next. You slow down, then stop at the end of the second sentence.” Therefore, it is incorrect to capitalize after a semicolon.Reply
- Karen says:May 3, 2015, at 5:24 pm
When listing points 1)I like your website 2)Grammar is very tricky 3) I wish I would have paid more attention in my grammar class.
It is optional I don’t think the points need to be capitalized but if they are is that a gross error. ThanksReply
- GrammarBook.com says:May 14, 2015, at 5:27 am
We do not see a colon in your example. We assume there will be an introductory sentence that includes a colon. If only one sentence follows the colon, it is often not necessary to capitalize the first word of the new sentence. If two or more sentences follow the colon, capitalize the first word of each sentence following. Your list contains more than one sentence. Therefore, capitalize the first word and end each sentence with appropriate ending punctuation.We recommend using a space after the parenthesis in each point. Example:
I came to some conclusions after visiting your website today: 1) I like your website. 2) Grammar is very tricky. 3) I wish I would have paid more attention in my grammar class.Reply
- Rhys Santoso says:March 7, 2016, at 9:26 pm
In a title for example, can you use the colon this way?
Poetry and the development of oral fluency: a study using poetry in EFL instruction.
Reading the rules it indicated to capitalize the first letter after the colon. thus… fluency: A study..
Or the one I am not sure that can be used is this way.
Poetry and The Development of Oral Fluency: A Study Using Poetry in EFL Instruction.
- GrammarBook.com says:March 11, 2016, at 5:31 pm
The rules in this post apply to sentences. Your example is a title, not a sentence. The colon is used to separate the main title from the subtitle. If the title belongs to a book, it should be italicized. If it is an unpublished work or an article, use quotation marks. We recommend capitalizing and punctuating as follows:
Poetry and the Development of Oral Fluency: A Study Using Poetry in EFL Instruction OR
“Poetry and the Development of Oral Fluency: A Study Using Poetry in EFL Instruction”Reply
- luk says:March 16, 2016, at 1:56 pm
sorry as an Italian I could not resist. Garlic is NOT used generously in Italian dishes in Italy; it is used generously in supposedly Italian-looking dishes across the world (all right, admit that sometimes Italian restaurants catering to foreigners submit to their expectations). We Italians make a very sparing use of garlic, and actually most people avoid it like the pest because of the smell it leaves on you. Please people of the world: use all the garlic you wish, it’s good and healthy, but don’t use us as an alibi…Reply
- denise says:April 6, 2016, at 9:19 am
My question is how do I punctuate a sentence like this?
Bob bring me that book? Would it look like this….Bob, Bring me that book? or would the b in bring be lowercase?Reply
- GrammarBook.com says:April 12, 2016, at 9:35 am
The word bring is not capitalized.Reply
- Wren Franco says:June 1, 2016, at 8:09 am
5. Indicate the kind of orientation an individual requires to adjust with the process of social change:
13. Learning refers to:
(A) change in belief system
(B) change in aptitude
(C) change in behaviour
(D) change in retention
On the above two questions after the colon, serial numbers are in the way; which one would be better Capitalising or in lowercase?? Thanks. Wren. 01st June,2016.Reply
- GrammarBook.com says:June 7, 2016, at 6:50 am
The Chicago Manual of Style gives the following advice regarding vertical lists containing multiple-choice questions:
Unless the items themselves form complete sentences, lowercase the first letter of each item in a multiple-choice list and omit periods:
Blade Runner’s Rick Deckard was, without a doubt,
(a) a replicant
(b) Sam Spade reincarnated
(c) an ordinary human being
(d) an enigma
This style applies to statements and questions. In this way, multiple-choice tests are styled much like unnumbered vertical lists.Reply
- Emily says:July 14, 2016, at 8:50 am
If a question follows a colon, should the first letter be capitalised?
(For example – “First question: Who am I?” or “First question: who am I?)Reply
- GrammarBook.com says:July 22, 2016, at 5:40 am
If the question is a complete sentence following a colon, it is up to the writer to decide whether to capitalize the first word. Capitalizing a sentence after a colon is generally a judgment call; if what follows a colon is closely related to what precedes it, there is no need for a capital.Reply
- Drew says:July 25, 2016, at 4:52 pm
I’m curious about the capitalization required in a list of definitions as described below. Is it proper to capitalize the first letter for the definition, or is it rather a part of an ongoing list? e.g.:
A-weighted decibels: (dBA) are an expression of the relative loudness of sounds in air as perceived by the human ear. Many regulatory noise limits are specified in terms of dBA, based on the belief that dBA is better correlated with the relative risk of noise-induced hearing loss.
Accident: the National Safety Council defines an Accident as an undesired event that results in personal injury or property damage.
Affected Person: any person whose job requires him/her to operate, or use a machine or equipment on which servicing or maintenance is being performed under lock out, tag out or try out (LOTOTO), or whose job requires him/her to work in an area in which such servicing or maintenance is being performed.Reply
- GrammarBook.com says:August 3, 2016, at 6:58 pm
The examples you sent could use some tightening up. In the first, why is dBA in parentheses after the colon? We suggest either putting it before the colon, removing the parentheses, or repeating the abbreviation as follows
A-weighted decibels (dBA): dBA are an expression of …
Also, we notice that your first two definitions are complete sentences and the last one is not. We suggest you choose a method and remain consistent throughout the document. If a complete sentence follows a colon, it is up to the writer to decide whether to capitalize the first word.Reply
- Marcia says:February 20, 2017, at 7:29 pm
I can’t seem to find the answer I’m looking for…
In a sentence that includes a pause in the middle followed by … Is the word following the … capitalized or lower case?Reply
- GrammarBook.com says:February 24, 2017, at 4:57 pm
You are referring to an ellipsis. Unless the word following the ellipsis is a proper noun, it is not capitalized. Please see our rules for ellipses and our post Ellipsis Marks for more information.Reply
- Victor Rodriguez says:June 13, 2017, at 12:51 pm
To leave options to writers is to leave confusion to learners. Why have “up to yous” in some structures and not in others? If the case is to give freedom to the writer, then why not to have freedom in all grammatical structures? If the purpose of grammar is to establish a consistent way of writing, then giving “up to the writer or editor” choices forfeit it.
We, the students, are following “professors” that still don’t have solid criteria. With this, I mean the rules’ makers, not the rules’ instructors.Reply
- GrammarBook.com says:June 19, 2017, at 6:14 am
There are several areas in English grammar in which there is no absolute rule. In those cases we recommend that the writer exercise consistency. For instance, you wrote “professors” that. Many people would have insisted on “professors” who. Thus you have demonstrated judgment in your own writing.Reply
- Rukayat says:June 27, 2017, at 6:16 am
Hello Guys, please for this phrase, am I supposed to capitalise World class or not
Local expertise:world-class solutions or
Local expertise: World-class solutions
- GrammarBook.com says:July 1, 2017, at 4:57 am
We need to understand the context in which this appears in order to be of help to you.Reply
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