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US English

Posted by Pdianek on November 29, 2003

In Reply to: US English posted by Smokey Stover on November 29, 2003

: : Guidance/answer please.
: : From another forum:
: : "Growing up in England I was taught that a colon must always be followed by a lower-case letter. One of my students claims that US English allows an upper-case (capital) letter after a colon. Is this right?"

: : I would be as glad as James Briggs to know what is being taught in Amercian schools regarding the colon, punctuation generally, and the English language. The smallish children whom I have asked about it are so vague that I suspect English may be taught quite differently than in former days. To ask about spelling class, or handwriting class, is to provoke a blank stare. But I am ill-informed about this. I will say that insofar as I was taught anything about colons, it was that the normal punctuation of what followed the colon would usually prevail. If it introduced a formal list consisting of sentences, or a quotation, or a speech in a dialogue you would expect to see a capital letter. Usually you would (and do) expect to see lower-case, if that is what you would see after, say, a comma or semi-colon in that position. But US English, especially after 1963, is very tolerant, and I have seen plenty of capital letters following colons where I would not have expected to see them. SS

Current US usage (not as taught in schools or seen in newspapers or magazines, but as practiced by well-taught editors) is that a colon is followed by a lowercase letter in the normal course of events.

*As in a list: colons, semi-colons, commas.*

However, if the colon precedes a full sentence (e.g., a quote), then it is followed by an uppercase letter.

*Here is what is meant by hegemony: The United States administration, as distinguished from its people, intends a "pax americana" enforceable by right.*

Most American state-run elementary schools are a bit lax in teaching punctuation beyond commas and periods (full stops) and question marks. Handwriting, though, I think they've got -- my children a few years ago despaired of ever being able to form cursive letters.

Is English being taught differently than it was a few decades ago? Absolutely. It's more embracing of non-classic literatures, children are more encouraged to write and describe their lives and dreams -- but it's worrisome when the basics are back-burnered.

And "creative spelling", much used in kindergarten through second grade (ages 5-8)? Don't let's go there.