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Do You Capitalize After A Colon? Learn The Grammatical Rules

Do You Capitalize After A Colon? Learn The Grammatical Rules

One of the most common concerns regarding English grammar would be capitalization rules, especially with colons. Maybe you were writing an essay and wondered if you should capitalize the first word after a color or not. In this article, we will review all the cases in which these are possible and how to use them appropriately.

Generally, colons have three grammatical uses. Suppose you utilize them between complete sentences. In that case, you may capitalize the first word based on some style guidelines, but not when introducing a list of things, phrases, or incomplete sentences.

Regardless of their usage being confusing for some writers, explaining previous sentences or connecting ideas can be beneficial. It is also used to introduce lists, quotations, conclude salutations, connect titles with subtitles, and link two sentences with a cause and effect relationship. Also, it helps to emphasize a phrase at the end of a sentence.

There is no definite answer to the topic of this article. It will all depend on the style guide you choose. But first, let’s view the main rules for capitalizing.

colon in green

Rules For Capitalizing Terms

It is essential to highlight that capitalization rules after a colon may vary depending on the style guide used. Nevertheless, there are some general or universal guidelines concerning this topic.

Here are the main ones:

  • When introducing a list, do not capitalize the first word next to the colon, except when it is a proper noun.
  • If the colon introduces an incomplete sentence or phrase, do not capitalize the first word following the colon, only if it is a proper noun.
  • Based on some style guides, you can capitalize the first letter after the colon to introduce complete sentences.

Besides the general rules, you should also take into consideration the types of English language. For example, British English usually capitalizes the first letter after a colon if it is a proper noun or acronym. However, American English sometimes capitalizes the term following the colon if it starts with a complete sentence.

As stated earlier in the article, depending on the style guide used, the rules may vary. Let’s review them briefly.

APA Style

The rules of APA style are pretty simple to understand. Its guidelines only state two circumstances in which the word after the colon is in capital letters:

  • If the first word next to the colon is a proper noun.
  • If the colon introduces a complete sentence.


  • Megan traveled three hours to get to Miami: She was exhausted by the end of the trip.

  • It has been raining for the past few weeks: The news warns of a possible hurricane coming.

MLA Style

This style guide has a different perspective in regards to the capitalization of the terms after the colon. According to MLA’s guidelines, you capitalize the word after the colon if it begins with a:

  • A rule or principle
  • Has a proper noun
  • Includes several related sentences


  • Knowing how tough the situation is, here’s my advice: Life is too short to be worrying about things that are not worth your time. Always focus on things that matter.
  • He knew where she was: Sarah was on a secret vacation in Maui.
  • According to Newton: “An object will not change its motion unless there is a force that acts on it.”

The Chicago Manual of Style

In this guide, the following word after a colon should be capitalized if it applies to the following:

  • If the term after the colon is a proper noun.
  • It introduces two or more explanatory sentences.
  • If the colon introduces a speech, quotation, dialogue, or question.


  • She wears her sunglasses all the time: Strong sunlight often gives her a migraine. Also, she thinks it makes her look stylish.
  • Haley has a peculiar diet: She only eats vegetables and no eggs, honey, or fish.
  • The book’s author said once in an interview: “Character development is sometimes more important than focusing on superficial things.”

Alternative Rules Regarding Usage Of Colon

Now that we have reviewed the simple rules of the colon’s capitalization after a term depending on the style guide, we can now add more grammatical rules for the colon usage. Hence, it’s more apparent when to utilize it in your writing.

  • Introducing a list of items: the colon is used to help list several related items. However, only if it isn’t part of the flow of the sentence.


The university has the best-renowned graduates from the following fields of study: medicine, law, and business administration.

  • To explain two independent clauses: the colon helps to separate these two sentences when the second illustrates the first.


Each family member has a job: the parents are accountants, the eldest son is a scientist, and the youngest daughter is soon to be a doctor.

  • The first term is capitalized when there are two or more sentences following the colon.

colon word in the dictionary


After the meeting, she decided to add three points: First, the company must invest more in marketing campaigns. Second, design attractive products that satisfy people’s needs. Third, analyze their target market.

  • For Emphasis: the colon is used to emphasize sometimes a word or phrase at the end of the sentence. However, using a dash is more common in these cases.


After rambling about which color would be the most suitable for the living room, they finally concluded: blue.


  • Quotations: the colon is used to introduce a quote.


Sarah sent out a letter to the whole class saying the following: “Thank you all for the support with homecoming. It was a wonderful and magical event. I hope I can count on your support for next year’s as well.”

  • Ratios: the colon is used to express a ratio of two numbers.


1:7, 5:4, 3:6, etc.

  • Times: the colon helps to separate hours from minutes.


11:44 p.m. , 12:50 a.m, etc.

  • References: the colon helps separate page numbers in cited works or chapters from verses in the bible.


Her favorite parable of Jesus is the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37)

  • Titles and Subtitles: the colon is used to separate the book’s title from its subtitle.


My favorite book is This Is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn To See.

  • Salutations: often, the colon is used for emails or correspondence, commonly used with a comma but on business letters used with a colon.


Dear Ms. Johnson:

We want to thank you for your assistance with the last reunion. Your points and suggestions were helpful for our company, and we are looking forward to a consultation next month.


We reviewed everything from what a colon is commonly used for and its grammar rules to understand when we capitalize the term after it. After a brief explanation and summary of the topic, we can conclude it is subject to the style guide you decide to focus on. So, the guidelines depend on if you use the MLA, APA, or Chicago Manual style, but the general one is the following:

  • You can capitalize the term after the colon when introducing complete or consecutive sentences.
  • You do not capitalize when introducing a list, incomplete sentences, or phrases unless it has a proper noun.

There is no definite answer to when it is capitalized. Still, we can guide ourselves from the style guidelines and general rules for the English language. It is also essential to understand what a colon is and the most common use of it to know how to utilize it appropriately as a writing tool. Choose your favorite style guide and start putting these rules into practice.