When to capitalize after a colon

Sometimes a colon is followed by a capital letter, sometimes lowercase. Here's a quick guide to help you choose.

1.  If the stuff introduced by the colon is not a complete sentence, don’t capitalize the first letter (that is, of course, unless it’s a proper name). This is true in both AP and Chicago styles. Here’s an example: “I know what you did last summer: nothing.”

2. If the words that follow the colon form at least one sentence, AP style says to capitalize the first letter. “I know what you did last summer: You did nothing.”

3. In Chicago style, you capitalize the first letter after the colon only when the colon introduces two or more sentences. “I know what you did last summer: You did nothing. You were a couch potato.”

And in case you’re not clear on when to use a colon instead of, say, a dash or a semicolon or to start a new sentence. That's not as serious a problem as you may think. There is some overlap in these choices, which we’ll save for another day. But for now, here, in Chicago’s words, is a simple explanation of when to use a colon: “A colon introduces an element or a series of elements illustrating or amplifying what has preceded the colon.” I think of it kind of like a spotlight or a pregnant pause -- something that says, “Here it comes ...”

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