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US English

Posted by R. Berg on November 29, 2003

In Reply to: US English posted by pdianek 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.

I don't remember what was said in my (U.S.) schools about capitalizing after a colon. Maybe nothing was said. In writing for publication, consult the publisher's style manual. Many publishers use the rule illustrated by the "hegemony" example above. Some capitalize if the material after the colon begins with a clause.