Should You Capitalize the Next Word After a Colon?
  • 4-minute read
  • 20th June 2023

Should You Capitalize the Next Word After a Colon?

The Colon: Tiny but Tricky

In this post, we’re talking about when we capitalize the word that follows a colon. You can check out our guide to general use of the colon, if you’re not sure of the other rules about the colon.

Usually, rules for using punctuation are cut and dried. They often say things like “always do this” and “don’t do that.” But deciding whether to capitalize the word immediately after a colon is one of those times when the rule is “it depends.”

A Colon Introducing a List

We often use a colon to tell us that a list is coming next. This is one time when we don’t capitalize the next word after the colon – unless it’s a proper noun:

These are useful things to have in your school bag: pens, pencils, an eraser, and a ruler.

These are the people attending the meeting: Katie, Rachel, John, Joe, and Hannah.

A Colon Pointing to an Explanation or Giving More Detail

This is the most common use of a colon. We capitalize the word following a colon if that word is the start of an independent clause (a clause that can be a sentence by itself):

Punctuation is crucial: Using it wrongly can lead to misunderstandings.

If the colon comes before a phrase that isn’t an independent clause, we don’t capitalize the next word:

This dress comes in three lengths: short, regular, and long.

But here comes the “it depends”: If we are using a style guide, it depends on what the style guide says. Proofed has lots of information about style guides, and each major guide is accessible online.

Chicago Manual of Style tells us to capitalize the word after a colon if the colon introduces two or more sentences:

I have an unusual dress sense: I always wear odd socks. I always wear pink shoes.

APA style guide tells us to use a capital letter for the word following a colon if the colon introduces one complete sentence:

The reason I love open water swimming: It makes me feel truly alive.

Note that in British English, the word following a colon isn’t generally capitalized.

Using a Colon To Introduce a Quotation

Again, this is an “it depends” situation.

If your quotation is a full sentence, the word after the colon should start with a capital letter. Make sure you use a full sentence before the colon:

These inspirational words are from the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

If your quotation is not a full sentence, it should not start with a capital letter, even though it follows a colon:

These inspirational words are from the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell: “… it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

Using a Colon With Dialogue

A colon can replace quotation marks if you are using a lot of dialogue in a piece of writing or if you are writing a play. In this case, capitalize the first letter of the word following the colon:

Zac: Jack told me he loved me.

Jill: And did you believe him? Did his actions reflect his words?

Zac: No, no they didn’t.

Jill: So do you still think he loved you?

A Colon in Letter Writing

American English uses a colon after the greeting at the start of a letter. Because the main body of a letter is the start of a new sentence, the first word after the colon should be capitalized:

Dear Jack:

I’m writing to tell you things are over between us. You said you loved me, but you never once behaved as though you did.

Goodbye. I never want to see you again.

Sincerely yours,



Capitalize the next word after a colon if:

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●  It’s a proper noun (name of a person or place)

●  It begins an independent clause

●  Your style guide requires it

●  It’s the start of a full sentence quotation

●  It’s the start of dialogue

●  It’s the start of the first sentence in a letter

Do not capitalize the word following a colon if:

●  It starts a list

●  It begins a short phrase

●  It starts a quotation that isn’t the start of a sentence

As we said right at the start of this post, the colon is tiny but tricky. Did you notice that “tiny” is capitalized in the heading up there at the start? That’s because it follows a colon in a heading using title case.


How can I find more writing tips from Proofed?

Take a look at our blog: It’s full of tips for all areas of your writing!

What can I do if I’m unsure that I’ve used punctuation correctly?

Contact us, and our experts will check your writing for you.

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