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Shall we capitalize the word after colon?

For example:

The question is: S/shall we capitalize "s" in "shall"?

Another example, https://stats.stackexchange.com/q/91024/1005

For example:

  • E/every marginal distribution of a multivariate normal distribution must be a univariate normal distribution.
  • S/so it is for the multinomial distribution (which is the multivariate generalization of binomial distribution).
  • S/so it is for Dirichlet distribution (which is the multivariate generalization of beta distribution)
  • N/not sure for multivariate t distribution.

(In other words, should each of those individual bullets be capitalized, or not?)

2 Answers 2

5

It depends on what follows the colon.

  • Is it a list of items? Leave the first item in lower case.
  • Is it more than one sentence? Capitalize all of them.
  • Is it one sentence? It's your option. I'm more prone to use upper-case depending if I want a sharper demarcation between what precedes and follows the colon, and a lower case if I want a smoother flow.

This pretty much echoes the guidance given by sites such as Grammar Girl, CCCF, GrammarBook, UNC Writing Center.

Examples:

  • These three things remain: faith, hope, and love. [list]
  • Everybody wanted to know: What would happen next? Would Batman be saved? [two sentences]
  • All of the clues led to one conclusion: The butler was the one who did it. [single sentence, upper case]
  • The librarian warned the rowdy students: excessive noise would not be tolerated. [single sentence, lower case]

I like the practical guidance one person wrote at the Q-and-A site for the Chicago Manual of Style:

Rules can’t cover every instance. Don’t waste time overthinking: if it’s that hard to determine, it probably doesn’t matter.

1

In some cases, a list such as this punctuated as one sentence, despite the bullet points. This means that every point starts with a lowercase letter, and every line finishes with a comma / semicolon, apart from the final line, which ends with a full stop (or period, as Americans would say).

When writing less formally, or in general, you would forget the layout described above, and every point would start with a capital, and every line would finish with a full stop (period, as Americans would say).

I would say that it mostly comes down to preference. It is likely there is a rule defining how such lists should be formatted, but very few people still consider them relevant. There is no longer a 'right' or 'wrong' way, and it is more likely that the capitalisation would happen.

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  • What about the lines before the final line are questions? Shall them be ended with a question mark instead of a semicolon, and shall the first letter of the next line be capitalized?
    – Tim
    Mar 26, 2014 at 22:27
  • If the statement with the bullet list is a question, all the point would end with a semicolon, and, correct, the final line would end with a question mark.
    – MMJZ
    Mar 26, 2014 at 22:29

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