Punctuation: Capital letter after colon

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Elaine Koh, Feb 24, 2009.

  1. Elaine Koh Senior Member

    Singapore English
    She leaped into the air as the ballerinas did on television and fell, injuring her knees. The accident taught her Jane one lesson: Never/never to imitate what ballerinas do.

    Should 'never' in lower or upper case?

    Many thanks.
  2. verbivore Banned

    USA, English
    Good question. I've seen natives do both. Any prescriptivists care to chime in?
  3. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    Another Country
    English English
    Hello Elaine. Under normal circumstances, I'd have it in lower case. If I was trying to be funny, I might put it all in upper case:
    ... taught her one lesson: never imitate what ballerinas do.
    ... taught her one lesson: Never Imitate What Ballerinas Do.

    I prefer never imitate over never to imitate.

    I'm not a prescriptivist, though.
  4. Elaine Koh Senior Member

    Singapore English
    Thanks, Verbivore.

    Maybe there is a difference between British and American English on this topic. I don't know. As you said, I have also seen both and it really confuses me. :confused:
  5. Elaine Koh Senior Member

    Singapore English
    Thanks, Ewie.

    I agree. Never imitate ...

    You are British. So it is BrE.

    I wonder whether it is the same in AmE with regard to lower or upper case.
  6. dermott

    dermott Senior Member

    Castiglion Fiorentino, Italy
    B.E. via Australian English
    There's grammatical debate about a capital or lower case following a colon. The only real certainty is that you use a capital letter if (a) it's a quotation following the colon; and (b) more than one sentence follows the colon. Unfortunately neither applies in this case.

    I've also heard it argued that if something prescriptive follows the colon, you start with a capital. That's probably comes closest to the cited example. I think the bottom line is that you'll hear arguments both ways. In which case, the choice is probably yours, Elaine Koh.;)
  7. Elaine Koh Senior Member

    Singapore English
    Thanks, Dermott.
  8. Nunty

    Nunty Modified

    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    I'm not a prescriptivist, but I learned from several. I was taught that if an independent clause follows the colon, the first word of the independent clause should be capitalized; otherwise, no capital.

    These were American prescriptivists.
  9. Elaine Koh Senior Member

    Singapore English
    Thanks, Nun-Translator.

    I agree with your what you said.
  10. Cypherpunk Senior Member

    Springdale, AR
    US, English
    I was taught that a capitalized word should follow a colon only if the word is a proper noun or the beginning of a quote.
    Even if it were followed by an independent clause, I would not capitalize the first word. Otherwise, why combine the two sentences? Leave off the punctuation and just write two separate sentences.
  11. Nunty

    Nunty Modified

    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    Here is another position. It is from the Chicago Manual of Style, but an old edition (14th ed. 1993):

    If the material introduced by a colon consists of more than one sentence, or if it is a formal statment, a quotation, or a speech in dialogue, it should begin with a capital letter. Otherwise it may begin with a lowercase letter.

    I checked the similarly aged MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (4th ed. 1995), but it doesn't address the question at all.

    (I think I really need to get some new style manuals.)
  12. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2009
  13. Matching Mole

    Matching Mole Senior Member

    England, English
    There is an old thread on this topic here (as it is an old one it meanders somewhat). I would only use a capital letter if the introduced material is a quotation or similar; begins on a new line, or, of course, if the word is always capitalized, such as a name. In the topic sentence I would certainly not capitalize.

    And for a bit of British-style, no-nonsense prescriptiveness (in the nicest possible way), see here. This pretty much sums up my views on the topic.
  14. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima (English Only)

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Thanks for the links. I would also not use an initial capital letter in Elaine's sentences, and accords with the Chicago position quoted by Nun-Translator.

    Matching Mole's second link is interesting, but there's an error in the Bible reference example (II Kings 15:14­22 should clearly be II Kings 15:14-22 or nowadays 2 Kings 15:14-22) and over-prescriptive with reference to time. British usage allows for both 2.30pm as well as 2:30pm (and 14.30).
  15. Elaine Koh Senior Member

    Singapore English
    Many thanks to all the members who have responded to my post.

    I believe my English is improving with the help of all the native speakers who have helped me. :)
  16. Embonpoint Senior Member


    There is no debate among experienced editors I know. We all agree: If the clause after the colon is grammatically complete (could be a sentence on its own) capitalize it. A dependent clause, on the other hand, starts with a small letter.

    My preference in your original sentence would be to say simply, "Never imitate ballerinas." And yes, capitalized.

    P.S. We have an expression in AE which you may find amusing. When something on television is clearly not meant to be imitated by viewers, the announcer may say "Don't try this at home."
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2009
  17. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    I think it's not whether what follows can be a separate sentence but whether it actually is. In the original sentence, "never to imitate ballerinas" is a noun phrase, part of the same sentence, so it would not normally be capitalized.

    But without the to, it becomes an imperative, "Never imitate ballerinas", which is a separate sentence.

    In some contexts, you have a choice whether you want something after a colon to be a separate sentence.
  18. Embonpoint Senior Member

    The way I think of it two phrases joined by the colon make up a sentence. "Never imitate ballerinas," could stand alone on its own as a separate sentence but here it does not.

    By the way, just to add to this a bit, even a single one-word command would be capitalized as long as it could be a sentence on its own. I learned one thing from failing all my exams: Study!
  19. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    Add a to, and I would not capitalize it even though "To study" can be a sentence on its own. It is not a separate sentence in this context.

    To me, an imperative not in quotes is a complete sentence, and cannot be an imbedded clause.
  20. Embonpoint Senior Member

    Agreed that it would be lower case if you add "to" and make it "to study."

    I also agree that an imperative "Study!" "Eat!" etc. can standalone as a complete sentence.

    I would call "I learned something important from failing my exams: Study!" one sentence rather than two. But it's a matter of semantics. We agree that both sides of the colon are independent clauses which could stand on their own as sentences.
  21. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    What a relief to be writing in BE :)
  22. xebonyx

    xebonyx Senior Member

    I agree with the others who say it shouldn't be capitalized.

    Capitalizing it makes it seem like a command, or more emphatic. Just my opinion. :)

Share This Page