March 2008 Vol. 13 Issue 1

Grammar Trap: Capitalization after colons vs. lower case after colons

This is an issue I’ve often struggled with myself. Presuming you’ve mastered the proper use of this punctuation, do you know whether to capitalize the first word after a colon or not?

It’s a fair question, especially since there is even some disagreement among various style manuals regarding independent clauses (some say capitalize, others say don’t).

As with a lot of grammar rules, maintaining consistency should be your goal. I would advise you not to capitalize words after a colon unless:

  1. The word is a proper noun.
    Example: There are five members of the committee: Smith, Jones, Mutumbo, Stanton, and Lyle.
  2. The phrase following the colon is a quote.
    Example: He offered advice on colons: “You should know how to use them first.”
  3. The colon is being used as part of a heading or title.
    Example: This line is an example (note the capitalization).

Kevin Leigh Smith,
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