Thursday, October 19, 2017

Rules for Capitalizing the First Word after a Colon

The rules here follow the New York Times Manual of Style. From Geoff Pullam’s posting on the Chronicle of Higher Education:

The worst trouble I have is with a curious principle governing capitalization after a colon. In Britain, what follows a colon does not get uppercased. My early history (I was educated in England) exposed me to too much of the British practice, so despite decades of writing American English, I tend to do this:

The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club.

For The New York Times (and a range of other American publishers) that’s an error. The correct version would be:

The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club.

However, this example does not violate NYT style:

Fourth rule: only two guys to a fight.

The relevant regulation is interestingly abstract — you can’t even explain it to students unless they know basic grammar. The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage (2015, Page 66) says: “For consistency, capitalize what follows a colon if it is a complete sentence.” Now, this is badly put; what they mean by “complete sentence” is “independent clause” — a clause that could be a complete sentence if you used it on its own. But what’s interesting to me is that the edict cannot be enforced by current word-processing software.

Sounds good to me. You can read more here.


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