It's time for another punctuation lesson. I know... boring! But I see colons misused often in the manuscripts of new writers, along with semicolons, dashes, and ellipses. I promise to post only one punctuation lesson a month.
Today's lesson: The
How do you know whether or not to capitalize the first word following a colon? Always have the word be lowercase except in the following circumstances:
1. If the first word is a proper noun.
Ex: The people who should be on the bus are the following: Mark, Christa, Drew, and Kelley.
2. If the colon precedes a definition or a direct quote.
Ex: When Christy got angry at Karen, Jill told her not to Jake out: An act or instance of turning into a werewolf. (Inspired by the book Twilight.)
Ex: The poignant words of Douglas Adams state: “Flying is learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.”
3. If the colon comes before two or more related sentences.
Ex: Robert had three options: He could walk the six miles to the library. He could call someone and beg a ride. Or he could just take Grandma Nan’s car.
4. If the colon introduces dialogue lines in a speech or drama.
Ex: Juliette: Then, window, let day in, and let life out.
Romeo: Farewell, farewell! One kiss and I'll descend.
Where to use a colon
A colon means as follows. It's used to introduce something (or a series of things).
1. Use a colon after a complete sentence to direct attention to a list.
Ex: Marcia’s daily workout was supposed to include at least the following: twenty sit-ups, ten push-ups, and fifteen minutes of cardio.
Ex: Give us the following construction materials: wood, hammers, and nails.
Ex: This summer our family plans to visit four western states:
2. Use a colon after a complete sentence to direct attention to an appositive: A word or phrase that means the same thing. Appositives are common in fiction.
Ex: We found Fluffy sleeping in her favorite spot: the tree in the backyard.
Ex: There is one obstacle I must conquer before graduation: passing all my classes.
3. Use a colon after a complete sentence to direct attention to a quotation.
Ex: Consider the words of Mother Theresa: “Even the rich are hungry for love, for being cared for, for being wanted, for having someone to call their own.”
**Note: These rules are for writing books. My source is the Chicago Manual of Style. If you're writing articles, some of the rules are a bit different. Refer to the Associated Press Stylebook if you are writing articles.