Capitalization After Colons

Capitalization: First Word After a Colon

In British English, the first letter after a colon is capitalized only if it’s a proper noun or an acronym; in American English, the first word after a colon is sometimes capitalized if it begins a complete sentence.

Here are some quick tips for using colons properly:

  • When a colon introduces a list of of things, do not capitalize the first word after the colon unless it is a proper noun.
  • When a colon introduces a phrase or an incomplete sentence that is meant to add information to the sentence before it, do not capitalize the first word after the colon unless it is a proper noun.
  • When a colon introduces a complete sentence, you may capitalize the first word after the colon according to some style guides. Read on for details.

When’s the last time you used a colon in your writing? Many writers avoid this punctuation mark because they’re unsure how to use it properly. Colons can be quite useful, though. Not only do they introduce lists, but they also alert the reader to an explanation of the previous sentence. Colons provide a way of expounding upon information in such a way that connects the ideas in two or more sentences.

Capitalize After Colon? (APA Style)

One of the tricky issues many writers deal with when it comes to colons is whether or not to capitalize the word following the colon. As with so many things in the English language, capitalization with colons can be complex, and many times, it’s more of a style issue than one of correctness. According to APA Style, the first word after the colon is capitalized only if it begins a complete sentence. Consider the examples below:

It’s been snowing for three days straight: the roads around here aren’t very safe for driving.
It’s been snowing for three days straight: The roads around here aren’t very safe for driving.

Capitalize After Colon? (The Chicago Manual of Style)

The Chicago Manual of Style has a slightly different perspective on whether to capitalize after colons. In their view, the word following a colon should be capitalized only if there are two explanatory sentences following the colon. Look at the examples below:

Maggie wears a brimmed cap at all times: Strong light often gives her a headache.
Maggie wears a brimmed cap at all times: strong light often gives her a headache.
Maggie wears a brimmed cap at all times: Strong light often gives her a headache. She also likes the way it looks.

Never Capitalize After Colon When Introducing a List

Both style manuals agree on one thing, though. It is never ok to capitalize the word after a colon when the word introduces a list. The following sentences illustrate this hard-and-fast rule:

Jan needed a few more items to complete her job application: A resume, cover letter, and references.
Jan needed a few more items to complete her job application: a resume, cover letter, and references.

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