Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. If you are using a later version (Word 2007 or later), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for later versions of Word, click here: Capitals After Colons.

Capitals After Colons

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated April 6, 2013)

Word includes many grammar and spelling aids to help make the job of writing just a bit easier. (Or more frustrating, depending on your viewpoint and needs.) One thing that Word did not include, however, was a feature to automatically capitalize the first word after a colon. In many grammatical circles, it is standard (and proper) to capitalize the first letter of the word immediately following a colon. Since Word does not include this feature, what is a person to do?

Well, the first (and obvious) solution is to simply remember to capitalize the word yourself—i.e., press the Shift key and capitalize the letter as you type. If you are looking for a more automatic approach, then there are several methods from which you can choose. Some Word users might be inclined to think you could use Word's AutoCorrect feature. Theoretically, all you need to do is define a series of new AutoCorrect entries that consist of a colon, followed by a space, and then a lowercase letter. You would then instruct AutoCorrect to replace this sequence with a colon, a space, and the corresponding uppercase letter. Of course, you would have to add 26 such entries, one for each letter of the alphabet.

After doing all this work in AutoCorrect, however, you would immediately find out that it did not work. Why? Because AutoCorrect only uses spaces and punctuation as "triggers" to signal a change may be needed. In other words, the AutoCorrect approach would work if you were typing a colon, a space, a lowercase character, and then another space. This means that in the phrase "this is: a dirty shame" the letter "a" would be replaced by AutoCorrect with an uppercase "A". However, in the phrase "this is: another dirty shame," AutoCorrect does no correction at all. Thus, AutoCorrect can't be used to achieve the desired results.

One possible solution is to try to use Find and Replace. If you perform a wildcard search you could search for a colon followed by any lowercase letter, as in this search pattern:

: ([a-z])

The Replace With pattern should be simple, like this:

: \1

The trick is to make sure that you replace with formatting set to all caps and no small caps. You could even formalize this approach with a reusable macro:

Sub CapAfterColons()
    With ActiveDocument.Range.Find
        .ClearFormatting
        With .Replacement.Font
            .SmallCaps = False
            .AllCaps = True
        End With

        .MatchWildcards = True
        .Text = ": ([a-z])"
        .Replacement.Text = ": \1"
        .Execute Replace:=wdReplaceAll
    End With
End Sub

You could assign this macro to a button on your toolbar and thereby catch all your mistakes in one quick step. There is one thing to be aware of with this approach, be it manual or with a macro: it does not change the first character after a colon to a "true" capital letter. What it does is to change the formatting of the colon, space, and first character to All Caps. This means that the character, even though lowercase, is displayed by Word as uppercase. (You can see this formatting setting in the Font dialog box.)

As a final suggestion, if you don't like to mess with macros, you can still use the AutoCorrect feature, but this time a little differently. Set up AutoCorrect to replace any instance of a colon with a colon-period combination. Thus, as you are typing, when you type a colon followed by a space, Word automatically changes it to a colon followed by a period and then a space. Word's AutoCorrect feature will then, automatically, capitalize the next letter you type since it believes it is the first letter of a sentence. (After all, it follows a period.) When you are done with your document, all you need to do is one quick search and replace to change the colon-period pairs back to just a colon.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (483) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Word (Word 2007 and later) here: Capitals After Colons.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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