Thursday, April 29, 2010

Capitalization Rules For Life - Part 2 of 3

Guest Post by Darcie Carsner Torres

Capitalization with colons and in dialogue is our topic for today.

We start with the colon, where the rules are simple. First of all, the colon is used in three basic ways:

  1. To introduce a list of items using "pointing out" expressions (e.g., "as follows," "the following," or any other phrase that 'points out' and emphasizes the items in the list;
  • Before a long, formal statement; and
  • Between independent clauses wherein the second clause explains the first.
  • In the first case, the first word following the colon is not capitalized:

    Harry Potter had three unique qualities: intelligence, perseverance and magick.

    Harry Potter had the following unique qualities: intelligence, perseverance and magick.

    In the second and third cases, the first word following the colon is capitalized:

    To me, my father said: "Let the wind blow the petals where it may and the seeds to the four corners of the Earth, such that..." [long statement]

    It was the most peculiar case I had ever seen: The woman had purple blotches with blue centers all over her body.

    There is one last note on colons that grammar books seldom address: the explanation. Just like the previous sentence, the colon can be used to introduce a short phrase, or even a single word, that is explanatory in nature, but which lacks a complete sentence structure:

    He lacked the one ingredient that would make the meal perfect: wine.

    There is one person I despise over all others: my ex-wife.

    If what follows the colon is not a complete sentence, you should not capitalize it unless it falls within the purview of other rules - names for example.

    We've already addressed one rule about capitalization within the world of dialogue, which involves the use of a colon to introduce a long statement surrounded by quotation marks. The first basic rule of dialogue is that every new sentence requires a capital letter:

    Jane said, "I love you, Mark." Then she bowed her head to avoid seeing the hurt in his eyes. "I just can't go on like this anymore."

    That was an easy example. All new sentences are easily identified by a preceding period. What happens when things become complicated?

    "I love you," she said.


    "I love you!" she exclaimed.

    Notice that even though "I love you" is a complete sentence, there is a tag placed at the end. A tag is placed in dialogue to tell the reader who is speaking: she. Therefore, because the sentence doesn't completely end with the statement "I love you," the following word, she, is not capitalized. Regardless of whether the statement ends with a comma, an exclamation point or a question mark, if the tag follows the statement, the first word of the tag is not capitalized unless it is a name.

    Let's go one step further:

    "I love you," Jane said, "but I just can't go on like this."

    Here, we've placed a tag in the middle of a sentence such that the clause ("but...") does not start a new sentence but continues from the preceding phrase. If we removed the tag, the dialogue would be written like this:

    "I love you, but I just can't go on like this."

    Therefore, capitalization rules with dialogue don't differ from the ordinary rules of capitalization.

    In Part 3, we will tie up some odds and ends of capitalization by giving you some quick examples of other capitalization rules that need little explanation, but which you might have forgotten.

    Darcie Carsner Torres is a professional editor and ghost writer with over twenty years experience in the field. She is a favorite on and through her website She also coaches aspiring writers and provides a host of writing resources through

    1 comment:

    1. I'll be checking out the sites provided! Thank you!


    Who links to my website?