To Cap or Not to Cap? The Colon Edition

English: CMOS 16 cover image.

English: CMOS 16 cover image. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last month I posed a question to my adoring fans (read: friends) on Facebook.  What niggling questions have you always had but not yet answered?  Regarding style, that is.  I can’t really address the meaning of life.  That might be a job for Carol Saller over at CMoS Q&A.

The response I got asked whether to capitalize after a colon.  Good question.  Fortunately, The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.) has the answer, in the succinctly titled section “Lowercase or capital letter after a colon” (6.61).  At first it’s going to seem kind of complicated, so I’ll summarize: for the most part, no.

Here’s the deal.  “When a colon is used within a sentence, as in the first two examples . . . the first word following the colon is lowercased unless it is a proper name. When a colon introduces two or more sentences . . . when it introduces a speech in dialogue or an extract . . . or when it introduces a direct question, the first word following it is capitalized.”

Here are some examples illustrating when to capitalize.

Participants in the 2011 Jersey Shore Studies Conference at the University of Chicago: Michael Corey, Michael Showalter, Alison Hearn. [proper name]

My parents just couldn’t stop talking about Convocation 2012: The pomp!  The circumstance!  The tams! [two or more sentences]

Juliet: O Romeo, Romeo!  Wherefore art thou, Romeo? [dialogue]

Theresa couldn’t stop asking just one question: When do we get more cake? [direct question]

Hope that answers your question, Susan Stearns!


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