Should the first word after a colon be capitalized? Which of the following is correct?

  1. For example: This.

  2. For example: this.


This can go either way. If you are starting a complete sentence that represents a summation of what came before, you are certainly entitled to capitalize the sentence.

Here's an example of such a sentence: There is a sentence after the preceding colon.

But if you are using the colon to offset a list or other material that does not form a complete sentence, it makes no sense to capitalize what follows:

Here are some examples of breakfast foods: eggs, bacon, toast, hash browns, orange juice, coffee.

  • 3
    @Maxpm -- Unless you get unlucky with something like: Here are some places where they speak English: America, most of Europe, Canada. =)
    – BeemerGuy
    Dec 16 '10 at 22:52

The answer is culturally dependent. In English, we would not capitalise after a colon (unless the next word was a proper noun). However, it appears that in American English the rules are different... and different depending on whose style rules you are following.

For example, you may follow a colon with a capital if it follows with:

  • a proper noun
  • direct speech
  • a complete sentence
  • two complete sentences

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colon_(punctuation)#Use_of_capitals

  • 4
    by English, you mean British English
    – Theta30
    Nov 26 '11 at 23:06
  • 9
    No, I meant 'English'. By all means, if you speak a variant, call the mother tongue 'British English', but don't expect us to.
    – CJM
    Nov 27 '11 at 9:28
  • So, are you talking about the English you spoke in the 1600s when you colonized us, or the variant you speak now?
    – KutuluMike
    Sep 11 '15 at 11:59
  • 1
    @MikeEdenfield I think he was talking about the language spoken in England, namely English. Since in Poland they speak Polish, and in France they speak French, in Spain - Spanish, is it little wonder that the language spoken in England be called English.
    – WS2
    Nov 6 '15 at 15:55
  • 1
    @CJM So is Jennifer Frost whom you quoted on the British side of things. The second sentence in this answer is disingenuous and factually incorrect, meriting a downvote from me. No such blanket statement can be made about English, and juxtaposing it with American English, which it subsumes, makes no more sense than to juxtapose ‘women’ with ‘people’. British English is no more the “mother tongue” of English than American English is; to claim otherwise is staggering ignorance of language development. Oct 10 '16 at 15:58

Style guides and dialectical conventions aside (and giving due recognition and exception to an old device whereby the colon served the function of inverted commas to introduce a directly spoken sentence, as in Father said: You cannot do that) the whole question of capitalisation hinges on the fact that A COLON DOES NOT END A SENTENCE THE WAY A FULL STOP DOES. There may indeed be a sentence after the colon, but the original sentence has not ended yet!

With the exception of proper nouns, it is amazing to see capitals in the middle of a sentence, and very unusual (to be polite) -- in fact, highly irregular -- to see experts accepting it, even if apparently sanctioned by certain style guides and conventions!

I mean no disrespect, and do acknowledge the legitimacy of said usage because of the Wikipedia article, but I consider it yet another liberty taken with the fundamentals of the language (which, of course, English cheerfully allows!)

However, I have never come across it in a proper book, whether British, American or Indian, in my 33 years of reading (I am nearly 38 and have been reading since the age of five) so it seems to be very much a 'technically barely correct' niche usage.

  • 1
    Kindly bear with me while I point out that a controversial or niche usage or convention which is accorded legitimacy in only one or the other variant of English is best not recommended as 'correct usage' to readers from all over the world, because they are likely to interpret it as 'universally correct usage' which it is not, possibly leading to a great deal of criticism from unwary souls when they proceed to use it based on our recommendation! Apr 19 '17 at 6:23
  • I'm with you, ES. I grew up in the 60s in New York and New Jersey. It seems to me that the idea of following a colon with an uppercase letter (except for the beginning of a proper noun) was pushed by some hack journalists and caught on. Dec 1 '17 at 4:51
  • It is an example of a possibly historically legitimate style convention that became accepted or re-accepted in some circles as an "alternatively correct" orthography (while being considered a technical error by others) @Blaise Zydeco. The 'rule' is not clear and not universal. As I said there is a lack of unanimous consensus for its "correctness" and here in India most English teachers would mark it "wrong" so we need to be careful while "recommending" this style to an unwary learner. Dec 1 '17 at 4:55
  • I'm talking about the current incarnation of the rule. Most influential of these in the U.S. is probably the New York Times Manual of Style. archives.cjr.org/language_corner/how_to_use_the_colon.php Dec 1 '17 at 5:21
  • Thanks for the illuminating link @Blaise Zydeco! Influential style manuals confer legitimacy on 'new incarnations' of rule variants, leading to widespread practice. What is so confirming/ clarifying/ convincing on that page: "In American English, to capitalize or not to capitalize is not a question of grammar: It’s a question of style." I would amend that slightly and call it "a stylistic decision." According to some experts, 'consistency is most important when it comes to style.' Dec 1 '17 at 6:21

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