Should You Capitalize After Using A Colon?

Capitalizing The First Word After A Colon

Let’s talk capitalization after a colon. In short, if used in British English, the first letter used after a colon is usually capitalized if it is an acronym or popper noun. In contrast, the first word after a colon is capitalized if it begins a complete sentence in American English.

Graphic illustrating if you should capitalize the first word after using a colon. If a complete sentence follows the colon, you should capitalize the first word after that colon.

There are a few rules that you can follow to help you use colons correctly:

  1. It is important not to capitalize the first word after a colon (unless it is a proper noun) if a list follows it.
  2. If a colon introduces an incomplete sentence that is supposed to add to the sentence before it, do not capitalize it.
  3. Capitalizing the first word is almost always correct if a complete sentence follows the colon. 

Many writers will avoid colons in their work because they don’t know how to use them or are afraid to mess up their usage. This isn’t beneficial, though, as colons can be quite good, often adding depth and readability to your writing. This is especially true with lists or ideas longer than a sentence, where colons can organize and clear up information. 

Capitalizing After Colons In APA Style 

Many writers also get confused about whether they should capitalize after commas depending on their writing style. In most cases, there isn’t one “correct” answer, and it comes down to style. In the APA style, it is customary to capitalize the first word after a colon only if it begins a complete sentence. 

Here are some sentences using colons following the APA style format: 

  • It’s been hailing here for an hour straight: The roads are probably not the safest for walking. 
  • She has been in school for the last twelve years: She is one of the smartest kids I know. 

Capitalizing After Colons The Chicago Manual Style 

Following the Chicago Manual of Style, the first word after a colon should only be capitalized if there are two or more explanatory sentences that follow the colon. 

Here are some examples of correct colon capitalization according to the Chicago Manual Of Style: 

  • Sharon usually wears a large hat when outside: she is afraid of getting burned. 
  • Sharon Usually wears a large hat when outside: She is afraid of getting burned. She also simply prefers to have the sun out of her eyes. 

Capitalizing When Listing Items After A Colon 

There are some differences between the writing styles. However, there is one main similarity. This similarity is that it is not correct to capitalize the word following a colon if the word introduces a list.

Here are a few examples of correctly (un)capitalizing items listed after a colon: 

  • Jessica needed a few more ingredients to finish her chili: beans, cheese, chili pepper, and cumin.
  • Brandon made a sculpture with a few materials: paper, glue, glitter, and clay. 

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By Ryan Fisher

Ryan holds degrees from Pacific Lutheran University and specializes in proofreading, editing, and content writing with an emphasis on business communication.

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