Which words should be capitalized when you write a title? You probably know that you should capitalize nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs, but what about prepositions or articles? Here is what you need to know about title capitalization and how style guides differ on this topic.
Rules Of Title Capitalization: A Simple Guide
Finding an appealing title is a crucial element of writing a great article, especially if you plan on sharing your content online. Once you have found an original idea for your title, you will need to format it properly. Here is what you need to know about title capitalization.
When Should You Use Title Capitalization Rules?
These rules will come in handy when creating content for a website or blog, but they are also used by publishers. You need to capitalize the main title of a piece of content and follow these rules when adding headings and subheadings throughout your content.
You should follow capitalization rules when referencing the title of a work in your writing. You might need to mention the title of a book, essay, song, movie, or write about another article you read. There are additional rules about using italics or quotation marks in this context.
If you are writing an academic essay, you will need to follow capitalization rules when citing your sources on your reference page or when creating your bibliography.
The Different Title Capitalization Styles
Writers can use different style guides when formatting their content. The four main style guides you will encounter when publishing content online and in academic settings include Chicago style, APA style, MLA style, and AP style.
Traditionally, newspapers and magazines follow the AP style guide to format their content. These formatting rules are used by most online news publications.
Research papers are formatted with the MLA style guide, especially in academic fields such as the humanities. You will be more likely to find the APA style being used for scientific papers.
The Chicago style guide is a lot more comprehensive and is primarily used by writers. This is the style guide you might need to follow if you want to submit a manuscript to a publisher.
There are some slight differences when it comes to capitalizing titles with these different style guides. If you are creating content for a personal website or blog, pick a style guide and stick to it. The key is to be consistent in how you format your content.
If you are writing a piece that you want to submit to a specific website, find out which style guide this website uses. If this information isn’t available, contact their editorial department or pay attention to the formatting used throughout the website.
If you need to capitalize a title for an academic essay, check with your instructor or look at the course syllabus to find out which style guide you need to follow.
The Basics Of Title Capitalization
There are a few title capitalization you should follow regardless of the style guide you are using. The main rule to keep in mind is that most words should be capitalized in your titles.
These are the elements you should always capitalize in a title:
- The first word.
- The last word.
- All the nouns and proper nouns.
- All the verbs.
- All the adjectives.
Another rule to keep in mind is that articles, conjunctions, and prepositions will usually be in lowercase unless they have more than four or five letters. The capitalization of longer articles, conjunctions, and prepositions varies from one style guide to another. For instance, a preposition like ‘about’ or ‘between’ would be capitalized due to its length.
Where The Style Guides Differ
Should you capitalize pronouns and adverbs? When should you capitalize prepositions, articles, and conjunctions? This is where the style guides differ. Here is are the main differences you need to know about.
If you decide to follow the Chicago manual of style, you should capitalize all the pronouns you use in titles. This style guide considers pronouns as a subclass of nouns.
However, prepositions are never capitalized in titles. The length of a preposition doesn’t matter. You should never capitalize one when it appears in a title.
The APA style capitalizes any word that has more than four letters. You should capitalize nouns, verbs, adjectives, and pronouns in your titles.
The first word of your title will be capitalized regardless of the grammatical category it falls into. Articles, conjunctions, and prepositions aren’t capitalized if you use APA style unless these words have more than four letters.
If you decide to follow the rules of the MLA style guide for your writing, you should capitalize all the words used in your titles except for prepositions and conjunctions.
However, you should capitalize a preposition or conjunction if it is the first word of your title. Other prepositions and conjunctions won’t be capitalized regardless of their length.
If you are using AP style, you should capitalize all the nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs used in your titles. You should also capitalize prepositions and conjunctions if they have more than three letters.
The AP style rule is fairly easy to apply. Capitalize all the words you use in your titles unless they have fewer than three letters. Ask yourself if these shorter words are articles, prepositions, or conjunctions to determine if you should capitalize them or not.
A Few Things To Watch Out For
There are a few additional things to know about when you capitalize titles.
Title capitalization can get tricky if you are using words with hyphens. Regardless of the style guide you chose, you should always capitalize the first word.
If you are following the rules of the APA style, you should capitalize the second word of a hyphenated word unless this is a word you wouldn’t capitalize if it weren’t hyphenated. In other words, you shouldn’t capitalize the second portion of a hyphenated word if it’s a preposition, conjunction or article with fewer than three letters.
The MLA and AP style guides follow similar rules. The second part of a hyphenated word is capitalized if the word would be capitalized if it wasn’t attached to another word.
The Chicago manual of style is more complex. There is a simplified version of the guide that never capitalizes the second part of a hyphenated word unless it’s a proper noun.
If you decide to use the traditional Chicago style guide, don’t capitalize short and unstressed elements in hyphenated words. Articles, conjunctions, and prepositions shouldn’t be capitalized either.
Brand names often use capital letters in unusual places. Think about words like YouTube or iPhone.
The consensus is to respect the way a brand spells its name or the name of its product. This unusual capitalization is part of what makes the name recognizable.
You shouldn’t change the capitalization of one of these words in a title, even if it goes against the rules established by the style guide you are following. Words like YouTube and iPhone would preserve their bicapitalization in a title.
When To Use Italics And Quotation Marks
If you are referring to the title of a book, essay, or other work in your writing, you will need to follow a few additional formatting rules.
Adding italics and quotation marks is a common practice to make the titles of a work stand out in your writing. You will need to add italics or quotation marks within your title if you are referencing the title of a work in your title. For instance, you would use italics in your title if you were writing a movie review or would use quotation marks if you were writing a blog post about your favorite song.
The capitalization rules of the style guide you have decided to follow apply to the titles of works you are mentioning in your writing. You should use italics for titles of books, journals, newspapers, magazines, movies, TV shows, plays, albums, or the name of a painting.
Quotation marks are used for the titles of shorter works. You would use quotation marks when mentioning the title of a song, poem, or article. Quotation marks are also used to refer to the title of an episode of a TV show or to cite the title of a chapter in a book.
Adverbs And Prepositions
Identifying adverbs and prepositions isn’t always easy. This is something you might have to do to determine if a word should be capitalized since all style guides capitalize adverbs but short prepositions won’t be capitalized in most cases.
An adverb modifies or qualifies a verb, adjective, or another word group. A preposition establishes a relation between two elements of a clause.
However, prepositions sometimes have a function that is similar to what adverbs do and can be mistaken for an adverb. Look at the sentence ‘You need to speak up.’
In this sentence, ‘up’ modifies the verb, but it is a preposition. A good rule of thumb is that you can remove an adverb from a sentence without changing the fundamental meaning of the sentence.
An adverb can also be used to modify any word group. If you see a word and aren’t sure whether it is an adverb or a preposition, try creating a sentence where this word modifies a noun or an adjective. If you can’t create such a sentence, the word is probably a preposition.
These rules will help you use proper capitalization in your titles. Remember that consistency is key when creating content. Choose the style guide that makes the most sense for the type of content you are creating and be consistent when applying capitalization rules.