Sign Up For Our Free Grammar E-Newsletter

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.

Examples:
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.

Pop Quiz
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


29 Comments

29 Responses to “Capitalization After Colons”

  1. mark johnson says:

    Do you copy edit manuscripts?

  2. Kefkolo says:

    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?

  3. Emily Rittel-King says:

    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?

    • Jane says:

      You would not capitalize the first word of a list after a colon, regardless of how many sentences follow it.

    • samir Hafza says:

      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?

      • Jane says:

        My 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.” I believe this rule does differ from British English practice.

  4. Bob Kemper says:

    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.

  5. Buddy says:

    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.

    • Jane says:

      If only one sentence follows the colon, do not 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. Any time you start a new paragraph, you would capitalize the first word.

  6. Neil Mack says:

    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?

    For example…

    Exceptions will be made in the following cases:

    1. hair spray
    2. perfume
    3. after-shave.

    • Jane says:

      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.

  7. Dave says:

    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?

    or

    The question now is: Where do we go from here?

    • Jane says:

      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, I recommend that you consult The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association to confirm that they agree.

  8. Omar says:

    Dear Jane:

    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”?

    e.g.:

    (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!

    • Jane says:

      Sentence (a) is correctly punctuated. You should not capitalize after semicolons since the semicolons are simply separating units in a series which contain 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.

  9. Anita says:

    What if two questions follow a colon?

    For example: I have two questions: What is the time? Where is the event?

    • Jane says:

      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.

  10. NS says:

    Should the first letters of each point be capitalised in the following example?

    Strengths: [1] a premium brand name in prominent cities commands higher pricing; [2] strategic co-development with Company ABC and other large developers reduces financial risk; [3] a prudent financial profile and low leverage provide capacity to fund capex for future expansion; and [4] a sound access to debt/capital markets, evidenced by the company’s track record of raising equity and debt.

    • Jane says:

      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.

      • matt says:

        grateful to review disucssion thread. how about a headline:

        Competitive Process milestone: Top five companies announced

        • Jane says:

          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 announced

  11. Jade says:

    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?

    • 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.)

  12. Bill says:

    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.

    The sentence

    “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.”

    • 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.

  13. Rose says:

    Is the word following the colon capitalized after Note:

    Example

    Note: You can also create campaigns.
    Note: you can also create campaigns.

    Which one is correct? Thanks!

    • 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.

Leave a Reply