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Capitalization After Colons: One Sentence or More?

Articles > Capitalization After Colons

Understandably, many editors are confused about when to capitalize the element directly following a colon. The strategy I happen to use is pretty brain-free, which is to say that it follows AP style. Lucky for us, AP and Chicago agree on one thing before they part ways.

AP (p. 366): Lowercase the first word unless it is a proper noun or the start of a complete sentence.

  • These are some of my favorite things to have for dinner: ravioli, Ethiopian food and breakfast.
  • She told me her secret ingredient: It was butter.

Chicago (6.61): Lowercase the first word unless it is a proper noun or the start of at least two complete sentences or a direct question.

  • I finished reading my friend’s first draft: it was painful.
  • We can do several things this weekend: We can watch King’s Speech. We can do our taxes. Or we can have a tequila party.

AP and Chicago agree on one thing before they part ways.

In my work, I come across some pretty bizarre colon usage which I’d like to eradicate. Therefore, please commit the following to memory:

  • Don’t use more than one colon in the same sentence.
  • Don’t add anything else to a sentence after you’ve finished introducing the element(s). For that, I prescribe a pair of em dashes to set off the element(s) instead.
  • Lose the colon before a subtitle, or secondary title, when the title is displayed on a book cover (or movie poster); by convention, the colon is understood.
  • Don’t use a semicolon instead of a colon to introduce a clause.

A note about colons and spaces: Although I, too, was raised to put two spaces after periods, colons, exclamation points, and question marks by a typewriting teacher who was alive during the Great Depression, it is no longer correct to do so, especially in this age of beautifully typeset materials. The fastest way to clean extra spaces from your copy is to use Microsoft Word to “find” two spaces and “replace” them with one space, and then repeat until two spaces cannot be found.

Though AP only gives the colon a scant 7 column inches of space compared to Chicago’s 2 pages’ worth, it goes out of its way to tack on a little note barring the combination of a dash and a colon. I guess emoticons can’t have noses anymore.

:- )
: (

Here’s a bear who’s surprised to be upside down:

0 :3

The empty martini glass that the bear dropped a second earlier:

()>-0

The olive that rolled under the couch to be discovered next spring:

o

And that, my friends, is how you avoid capitalization altogether.

Initials: Tips for Remembering Style

Articles > Initials

You’d think that a post covering initials would be about seven words long, but, as always, Chicago has a lot to say.

Chicago: Periods, space! Except when . . . crap.

  • L. R. R. Hood (10.12)
  • FDR (initials used alone, 8.4)
  • MJ (entire name abbreviated, 10.12)
  • President O. (name abbreviated, 7.62)
  • J.-P. Sartre (hyphenated name, 8.7)
  • H.D. (special case for pen name, 14.73)

AP (p. 142): Periods, no space. I win!

  • L.J. Horner

Chicago separates initials with a space, like you would with a spelled-out name.

Here’s a tip on how to remember this basic distinction (space or no space):

  • Chicago separates initials with a space, like you would with a spelled-out name.
  • Due to the nature of newspapers and web pages, AP runs initials together to prevent them from accidentally breaking across two lines.

For Chicago style, to keep the initials together (with space intact), either manually insert a line break before or after the set of initials—preferably before, to keep the entire name together—or use a nonbreaking space between the letters.

AP runs initials together to prevent them from accidentally breaking across two lines.

At least AP and Chicago are both in agreement about not dividing initials, so let’s end on that high note.

Different Goals, Different Styles: Why AP and Chicago Are Not Friends

Articles > Different Goals, Different Styles

AP and Chicago have very clear yet conflicting intentions, often producing diametrically opposed styles.

If I think of AP as governing “fast content” (newspapers, online articles) and Chicago as governing “slow content” (books, some periodicals), you can see how the different styles grew from different needs.

The different styles grew from different needs.

Main differences in concerns and goals:

  • Layout: With newspaper columns (and online articles), you cannot always control where the break comes at the end of the line, whereas book and magazine publishers can fiddle with kerning, tracking, horizontal scaling, and soft returns, like, forever. Why this matters: Spaces around an em dash will allow it to break across two lines instead of dragging the words before and after it to the next line. Graphic designers working on a magazine article can, instead, manually insert a break after the dash and take their time making things look purdy.
  • Deadlines: Most dailies and many weeklies are constantly under deadline. Having several nuanced style options to choose from will make the editors kill themselves, and that level of clarity is seen as excessive. The other camp, however, has more time to clarify a thought and nitpick its presentation.
  • Compatibility: Ever get an e-mail with weird characters throughout? For copy to travel well—say, from final draft to wire to computer to publication—it must stay intact through its incarnations, with all intended letters, spaces, and punctuation in place. This places a premium on plainness, such as favoring characters over attributes (e.g., quote marks vs. italics). Non-journalistic content generally travels between fewer points and in the same form.

Otherwise kooky style rules come out looking quite reasonable when given the right context.

Maybe I just made all that up, but it sounds good, right? To me, it explains a whole lot, and otherwise kooky style rules come out looking quite reasonable when given the right context.

That’s me being positive.

The Serial Comma: Lovers and Haters

Articles > The Serial Comma

Ah, the serial comma: to do or not to do. In this example, which is correct?

  • I like to pet kittens, puppies and bunnies.
  • I like to pet kittens, puppies, and bunnies.

Before fists start flying, let me say that, in my experience, there’s a clear divide between two camps regarding use of a comma before the conjunction in a series of three or more items. “Highbrow” publications in one corner and, in the comma-hating corner, newspapers and most of my friends.

There’s a clear divide between two camps.

I reviewed a not-random sample of literature to prove my point, and here are the results:

Serial comma:

No serial comma:

Variety made up its own language—excuse me, slanguage—so maybe it made up its own rules for punctuation as well. And we wonder why there are so many errors in ad copy.

AP’s stance is to omit the serial comma except when it prevents misreading, and Chicago’s stance is to always include it—for the same reason.

Here’s what AP and Chicago have to say.

AP (p. 366): What? A comma where? No. Absolutely not. Well, sometimes.

  • I like to pet kittens, puppies and bunnies.
  • I had orange juice, toast, and yam and kegs for breakfast.

(This is the cruelty-free version of AP’s classic “ham and eggs” example.)

Chicago (6.18): Hells, yeah! Bring it.

  • I like to pet porcupines, pufferfish, and cacti.
  • I had rocks, glass shards, and sticks and stones for breakfast.

In short, AP’s stance is to omit the serial comma except when it prevents misreading, and Chicago’s stance is to always include it—for the same reason. Chicago, being twice as long as AP, has twice as much to say on this subject and offers several more variations of proper serial-comma usage on which the AP is mum (6.18–6.21).