Submitted by rhen on September 26, 2005

Capitalizing After the Colon

I’ve read a number of books, and when an author uses a colon in a sentence to define something he wrote in simpler terms or to define in a more detailed manner, he capitalizes the next word. Such as, “The blue sky was beautiful: The sky resembled a cascading fall into the bountiful white clouds.” Should I also capitalize the T in “The”?

Comments

Sort by

Scott, it is also improper to capitalize after a semi-colon (;). The semi-colon is also a conjunctive tool, thus there need not be a capitalization after such.

39 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

It should not be capitalized. Capitalization should only occur in the case of the beginning of a new sentence or the in the use of a proper noun. Colons are never used (at least not correctly) to indicate the end of a sentence, and "the" sure isn't a proper noun, so "the," in your example, should not be capitalized. While the two parts of the sentence may be independant clauses, the author has grouped them into one sentence using a conjuntive tool (:). The author is incorrect, and the editors did not know or did not care about the error. Even though, as tk stated, it would commonly be capitalized, it doesn't mean it is correct. In fact, the English language is commonly butchered.

27 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Scott Connerly Sep-28-05 1:38AM
It is not appropriate after a colon, but it is appropriate after a semi-colon.
The sky was blue; It resembled the ocean.

Buh?

22 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

I believe that the capitalization rule comes into effect when a new 'sentence' is started after the colon. In the case of a list, it's not necessary.

So, you could say "He saw several things on the shelves: cookies, jam, bread, and soda." and since the continuation after the colon isn't a new idea per-se, it isn't capitalized.

However, in the example you cited, there is almost a new sentence. Lets replace the colon with a period for sake of argument. "The blue sky was beautiful. The sky resembled..." As you can see, it can be two seperate sentences, the colon is just more gramatically correct in this situation, and that's (I believe) why it is capitalized.

20 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

You know what else is weird? It shouldn't really be a colon used in the example in the first place; it should be a semi-colon. Wow! Note my proper use of the semi-colon as well.

18 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Rhen's question was whether to capitalize after a colon when, as in the example given, the colon is being used to link two separate clauses. The short answer, as Scott Connery has recently noted, is no. There are exceptions, of course–this is English, after all.

However, many postings betray confusion over the proper usage of colons and semicolons. Each has multiple uses, but the misunderstanding here is which one to use between independent clauses. There is a simple way to understand the distinction. (I am resisting the urge to use a colon after that sentence.) A colon joins two clauses; a semicolon separates them.

There is more to it than that, of course. A colon indicates that the second clause follows from the first in a definite manner. It may be from premise to conclusion, from general to specific, or from cause to effect. A semicolon separates clauses that are too distinct for a mere comma yet too closely related to live separately, each in its own sentence.

13 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition (the bible of book publishing in the U.S.), section 6.64, says:
When a colon is used within a sentence...the first word following the colon is lowercased unless it is a proper name. When a colon introduces two or more sentences...or when it introduces a speech in dialogue or an extract...the first word following it is capitalized.
(I've elided the references to other sections within the manual.)

10 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Jon, I think we may be connected; we had the same thought about Scott's ridiculously incorrect statement at nearly the same time. I am amazed, and I like you...I think.

9 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

I believe both the colon and the capitalization in this example are acceptable. A colon is used to draw attention to what comes after it. In this case, the second phrase is an expanded explanation of the first phrase; therefore, it is acceptable that a colon is used instead of a period. Because the second phrase is a complete sentence, it is acceptable that the first letter of the first word is capitalized.

On both questions, however, "acceptable" is not the same as "desirable" or "required." Whether to use a colon or a period is a matter of style or the writer's intent. Whether or not the first letter after a colon should be capitalized depends on the style manual you choose: APA requires it when the second phrase is a complete sentence; other manuals are not as clear.

8 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

It is not appropriate after a colon, but it is appropriate after a semi-colon.

The sky was blue; It resembled the ocean.
vs
The sunset was colorful: blue, pink, and orange.

7 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Semi-colons can also be used as separators in a list that contains commas in its elements: Joe, from Mississippi; Anna, from Georgia; and Mike, from Kansas all competed for the prize.

Porsche, darling, your recollection is indeed vague if you think that semi-colons are not used to separate complete sentences; it may shock you to learn that this is their main use.

And Anonymous, thanks so much for the lovely link to the colon information: Maybe readers will learn something there!

6 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

To all the smart people in this discussion: Read The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. You will learn that there is no absoluteness in using the colon.

"But even so, there was a directness and dispatch about animal burial: there was no stopover in the undertaker's foul parlor, no wreath or spray."

"The squalor of the streets reminded him of a line from Oscar Wilde: "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."

5 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

A colon, stylistically (this isn't really a matter of grammar), can appropriately be used to join sentences if the second sentence explains the former.

Semicolons are a bit murkier to me, although it was explained once. They should *not* (stylistically, again) be used to join any random pair of sentences. I think the proper relationship is one of comparison or contrast.

"The sun comes up in the morning; the moon comes up in the evening."

I'm aware that I, personally, *massively* overuse semicolons; I'm trying to cut down.

5 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Just use a period and get rid of the years of bickering and comments.

4 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Such a lot of misinformation you've kicked up! After a colon, the first word is capitalized only if it starts a full sentence. If it kicks off a phrase, then, no. The semi-colon, by contrast, is always followed by a complete sentence which is not capitalized, ever.

3 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

In my entire lifetime, after hearing and seeing many different uses of semi colons and colons, I have only learned one concrete fact--they always drudge up a good amount of debate and frustration.

3 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

I don't believe it is necessary, although I assume that the capitalization is commonly used, and therefore proper.

3 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

I find it entertaining, yet unfortunate (like the presidency of George W. Bush) to watch the hungry, readily poised, feral lions relentlessly devour the poor rabit, naive enough to bounce into the lions den; in other words, the critical people who stare at their computer screens, stalking the slight errors of anyone less educated than they. Forget what your friend told you that one time, or what your mother taught you was right. Look it up, then kindly bring the correct information to those who are wrong.

3 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

It would seem that there are a few sources that disagree. See:
http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/marks/co...

3 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

According to <a href="http://www.informatics.sussex.ac.uk/department/... rel="nofollow">this site</a>, capitalization following a colon is considered acceptable in America, but (aside from proper names or the like) not in England. I rather think, though, that even in America it is only OK if the part after the colon is a grammatically complete sentence.

Dresden: Many excellent writers thoroughly despise <i>Strunk & White</i>. They think it is full of horrible advice, and is far too prescriptive, although I doubt that any would claim that every bit of advice therein is bad. Certainly it is sensible to pick and choose.

As for the Chicago Manual, that is not just advice. If you are writing something to be published by University of Chicago Press, or another publisher that uses Chicago style, you <i>have</i> to do things their way. However, it does not follow that their way is better, and other publishers may insist on something different (or may trust the author's judgement).

You are right about the dash, though. It is not a good thing to overuse.

2 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Ha - ha: "Capitalization is never used, under any circumstances whatsoever, after a colon or a semi-colon in British English"
See:
"2001: A Space Odyssey",
"2010: Odyssey Two",
"2061: Odyssey Three", and
"3001: Final Odyssey",
All written by the great, great Englishman, Sir Arthur C. Clarke.
D.A.W.

.

2 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

To: Samir Hafza
Oh, we will grant you some question marks and exclamation points, now and then
With the Internet, we will give you as many @ signs as you want. .
D.A.W.

2 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Being a journalist, I use "Associated Press Stylebook" as my guide. Its explanation is so very simple: "Capitalize the first word after a colon only if it is a proper noun or a complete sentence." Let's just make it simple for everyone and use that as the authority.

2 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

@Warsaw Will

"I wouldn't be so quick to correct somebody period, even if they really were wrong, which personally, I doubt if Jolie is."

Hmm. Since you yourself were "so quick" to correct Levant for correcting Jolie, I wonder if that makes you hypocritical. I sure hope it wasn't because they said they're non-English speaker.

2 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Douglas, that was one of the best examples ever.

2 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

A colon is used when the sentence could end, but as a small amount of words after to descibe some thing or someone

Example

He was a natural leader: brave and fearless.
and the first letter after should not be Capitalization

2 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Strunk and White would disagree with part of Anonymous's 3/38/08 post. It seems that they say a colon may be used after an independent clause to introduce a list of particulars, an appositive, an amplification, or an illustrative quotation: there is no restriction on the length of what comes after the colon. However, they do agree that one should not capitalize the first letter after the colon. Lynne Truss (one of my heroes) does use a capital letter sometimes after a colon, when it introduces a quote that is either in quotation marks or indented.

2 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Voltaire, are you implying that a colon cannot be used to join what would normally be two sentences? I vaguely recall such a joining as correct and proper as long as the colon is demonstrating some relationship between the sentences, but that semicolons should not be used to join two complete sentences.

2 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

with respect to Voltaire ~ because, after all, how can one NOT respect Voltaire? ~ I agree with Ryan on this, and Abigail. Thanks to you both in seeing it and expressing it simply and clearly.

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

The gross overuse of semicolons in one of those strange artifiacts of British, Irish, and African English.

Jack said it right: "Just use a period and get rid of the years of bickering and comments," and this is the good habit of American and Canadian English.
Just end your thoughts with periods, and then start new sentences.
There isn't any need to try to "blend" them together.
D.A.W.

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

My English is American. Still, it's too bad that we have to be sparing in using the colon. Just like in a good piece of music, it can add color to our prose.
What's next, dashes, semi-colons? Are we going to be reduced to just commas and periods?

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Yes - nice point, D.A. I should have learned by now never to say 'never', although titles fall under a different category.
At the moment I am reading 'Cuba Libre' by that master of stripped-down English, Elmore Leonard. I do believe I came across a semi-colon. Hallelujah!
Skeeter

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Capitalization is never used, under any circumstances whatsoever, after a colon or a semi-colon in British English.

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

@Samir Hafza - On forums like this it is absolutely fair game to disagree with language points other commenters make, and what I was quick to do was to question the grammar point Levant had made, which I thought was questionable.

But personally I don't think it is very good manners to criticise the actual language other people use unless it has a bearing on the point in question, or the other person has asked for our opinion on something. What Levant said about punctuation was a good point, and I pretty well agree with it, but I felt his picking on Jolie's grammar was rather gratuitous, having nothing to do with the subject under discussion, so yes, I did have a mild go at this in my closing remark.

The fact that Levant is not a native speaker is really neither here nor there: it wasn't his language I was (very mildly) questioning, rather the action, so no, I don't think I was being hypocritical. As you can see in these pages, most of the people who take it on themselves to "correct" others are in fact native speakers, and I would have said exactly the same to one of them. I'm surrounded by non-native speakers all day, every day (I'm an EFL teacher), so I assure you I'm not going to pick on people just because they're not native speakers.

In fact, in my experience, most of the people who make comments like this about strict agreement are American native speakers. For example, in your last sentence you use "singular they". For me as an EFL teacher and BrE speaker this is absolutely standard, and I use it myself. And good usage guides will tell you the same. The people who are most likely to think this is an error are in fact native-speaker Americans.

On the other hand, I do think a non-native speaker who hasn't lived for some time in an English-speaking country does need to think (or better still check) very carefully before correcting a native, as there are all sorts of exceptions and nuances that a native speaker will know instinctively that a foreigner may not. And the same applies to me and, for example American English (and vice-versa). I've seen a quite a lot of critical comments made on these pages of language which was perfectly standard within the part of the English community that the original commenter belonged to.

So I will just restate my opinion, that unless asked, it is simply good manners (and often wiser) not to jump in and criticise somebody else's language when it is irrelevant to the question. But once someone crosses that line, then as far as I'm concerned they are fair game.

I will thank Levant, however, as his comment got me thinking about the particular grammar point he brought up, which lead to me writing a post about it on my blog.

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

@Samir Hafza - You can certainly have the link (I'm always happy to blow my own trumpet). I hope you enjoy it, although it's not very conclusive :

http://random-idea-english.blogspot.com/2013/03...

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Hey, M, regarding your posting of links to the Chicago Manual of Style: you have to register to see those links. While they do offer a 30-day free trial, it's a PAY site. You aren't selling something, are you?

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Jack nailed it: Strunk and White tells us that if a period is sufficient, we must use one; other than that, Nancy's post was the gem: Only capitalize if a complete sentence, formal name, quote, or extract follows the colon; the Chicago Manual of Style is where it's at; but really, people, embrace the period: Isn't this ridiculous?

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

For legal writing, the 19th edition of the Bluebook requires that any word immediately following a colon be capitalized. Rule 8(a).

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

I must apologize. 4 years later, I've finally come to realize the truth: you don't capitalize after the color or the semi colon. Sorry for the misinformation.

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

What an introduction to this site. As my first time here, I must say I'm impressed! It is my understanding that it is incorrect to capitalize after a colon unless it is a new sentence. In most cases it would be more appropriate to use a period.

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

This is a great website and after reading the entire discussion, I changed to lower case after my colon in the following sentence. However, is it too messy to include the semi-colon?

"However, even this agreement presents a problem: since the time for a chain to diffuse via reptation over a distance equal to its contour length should increase as M (eqn 1.46), if D ~ M??, then n0 and ?d should vary as M1+?; that is, the respective experimental M-dependences of the viscosity and diffusion constant are mutually inconsistent."

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

I was with Voltaire until I started working with Chicago style (as Nancy noted above). It's one sentence, so why doesn't the CMoS treat it like the semicolon? I don't know.

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

A colon is used for various reasons in BE or NAmE:
to introduce a list; to introduce a quotation; to give an explanation (cause, etc) of the aforesaid; to tell rules and regulations; to tell reasons; and after a short introductory phrase to introduce the main sentence.
NOW,
Capitalize if:
* list has proper nouns (All except Peter were there: Samantha, Ted, Natasha...),
* if the clause after the colon is a complete standalone sentence meant to explain the aforesaid (Napoleon Bonaparte had to suffer the consequences of delay made by one of his generals: Time and tide wait for none.),
* if the introductory phrase introduces a formal quote (This was what Sir Winston Churchill had to say about dictatorship: "Dictators ride to and fro upon tigers which they dare not dismount. And the tigers are getting hungry."),
* if the explanatory statement after the colon consists of more than one sentence, begin, the first sentence with a capital (The drop in enrolment this year may be ascribed to many concomitant causes: First, the last year's incident of the on-campus rape. Second...)
* If the introductory phrase is very short and the main sentence is what follows the colon (Understand: Some adjectives may only be used as predicative adjectives and never as attributive adjectives.)
* If the clause before the colon is meant just to introduce the clause after the colon (Let us repeat that again: Some adjectives may only be used as predicative adjectives and never as attributive adjectives.)
* all the tenants must take care of the first clause of the contract: No tenant is allowed to sublet his/her apartment in any case.)

I hope that helps

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Capitalize after the colon if there are a secession of sentences following. If there is only one sentence following, do not capitalize. That's the general rule, but it can change depending on the sort of style guide one is using. There is the Gregg, APA, Chicago, AP and whatever else is out there that you can choose from. Gregg style says always, always, always capitalize after a colon.

One thing all people need to remember, especially on this board, is there are different rules of writing. You are not right and neither is the next guy.

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

@Jolie

I am sure you meant to say, "Capitalize after the colon if there IS a succession of sentences," not "ARE."

I am a non-native English speaker. But with all due respect to Gregg, my loyalty remains with the period. We can't have two chiefs; we can't have two presidents. The renegade, envious colon can make trouble and try to convince others, but this reader will capitalize following only one punctuation mark: the period.

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

@Levant - Although "there is a quick succession of ..." is the more common expression, a quick check with Google Books shows that there are quite a few examples from reputable publishers that include "there are a quick succession of ...". For example this is from the London Literary Gazette of 1831 - "then there are a succession of flats". The Oxford Handbook of Criminology (2007) has "Again there are a succession of milestones", and here's one from the Oxford Companion to the American Musical (2008) - "there are a succession of specialty spots that pad out the thin storyline".

Just because we have "a" plus a singular noun it doesn't necessarily mean that we always have to use a singular verb. Indeed sometimes a plural verb is necessary - "There are a small number of questions still unanswered" or "There are a lot of different ways of seeing this.". The expressions "a number of" and "a lot of" are quantifiers, and I would argue that "a succession of" could be seen here in the same light. So I wouldn't be so quick to correct Jolie on this one. Actually, I wouldn't be so quick to correct somebody period, even if they really were wrong, which personally, I doubt if Jolie is.

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Wow, this thing gets off-topic a lot sometimes.. Anyways, to answer the original question, you wouldn't even use the colon in the first place in that example, you would use a semi-colon and then *not* capitalize the first letter of the first word after it. But lets just say that you had an urge to use a colon instead for some reason, then I think that, (I've finally come to this conclusion after reading all the comments on this thread), yes you would capitalize it like you did in the example, but only if both clauses on either side of the colon can stand alone as sentences. I may be wrong about that, but thats what it seems to be after reading all the other comments. If the clauses on either side can not stand alone as sentences, *Don't* capitalize the first letter of the first word after the semicolon, only capitalize the first letter of the first word of the sentence.
However, if you have two sentences that you want to connect, I would rather just use a semicolon instead, it looks better, at least to me, and then you don't have to worry about this to capitalize or not to capitalize business, you just don't capitalize the word after the semicolon at all (unless it's a name or something).

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

This thread is informative enough that I may just bookmark it.

I take issue to someone's stating: "The Elements of Style is a good book, but the CMoS is a higher authority."

While this may literally be the case; the literary community commonly accepts TEoS, and it is recommended reading in a lot of cases.

I have had instructors attempt to teach some of Strunk & White, picking and choosing, while disregarding the rest. I believe this is foolhardy; one should stick to a manual of style either wholly or not at all. One should choose the accepted manual that best fits their own style.

So again, to the original poster:

It is a matter of style.

I would much prefer an auteur misusing a device, as long as they are consistent, to an auteur overusing a device.

My girlfriend reads the "Twilight" series, and is often confused by a classic Stephanie Meyer usage of the dash. It may just be my bias, I hate to use dashes, but Stephanie is murdering the dash throughout her series.

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Jabir: That's only in headings and titles, not in the text of the actual document.

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

@Warsaw Wall
Thank you very much for your thoughtful reply. Sorry for being so quick to judge you.
I know we're probably tearing Colon to shreds with all these side issues. But since I deserve partial credit for your post inspired by Levant, could you tell me the link?
Cheers.

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

@Alyssa

Clause - A group of words containing a subject and a predicate and forming part of a compound or complex sentence.

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Lena, Thanks, that's nice of you to say.

I was re-reading Strunk and White's "The Elemsnts of Style" and found the following entry for 'while' in the chapter "Misused Words and Expressions":


"While. Avoid the indiscriminate use of this word for and, but, and although. Many writers use it frequently as a substitute for and or but, either from a mere desire
to vary the connective, or from uncertainty which of the two connectives is the more appropriate. In this use it is best replaced by a semicolon."


That's good punctuation advice, even if it does "bury the lead."

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

This was so helpful! Thank you all. :)

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Please look at the Chicago Manual of Style:

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/ch06/ch06_s...
http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/ch06/ch06_s...

The Elements of Style is a good book, but the CMoS is a higher authority. Wikipedia's article on "Style Guide" refers to EoS as a work for the "general public".

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

If the clause that comes after the colon is independent you must capitalize the first word of it, this i know, but my question is is that considered another sentence?

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Your Comment