If you have a look at the title of this article you will see that some letters are capitalized and some are not. Although the capitalization of titles can sometimes depend on the particular style of a writer, institution or publication, there are some general rules to keep in mind.
The rules for capitalizing titles not only of articles, but also books, papers, speeches, etc, can vary according to a particular style guide, such as Associated Press Stylebook (AP), Chicago Manual of Style, and MLA style. This is known as title case. While you will find similarities between each guide, it's important to pay attention to their differences.
Style guide similarities:
- In all three styles, always capitalize the first and last word of any title.
- How to Land Your Dream Job
- In all three styles, capitalize nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.
- Visiting Beautiful Ruins (noun)
- As She Ran Away (pronoun)
- The Importance of Learning Fast (verb)
- The Poky Little Puppy (adjective)
- She Quietly Waits (adverb)
- In all three styles, do not capitalize articles, prepositions, or coordinating conjunctions.
- To Catch a Thief (article)
- One Year in Paris (preposition)
- Magic and Daybreak (coordinating conjunction)
Style guide differences:
- In the AP Stylebook, all words with three letters or less are lowercased. However, if any of those words are verbs (is, are, was, be), they are to be capitalized.
- In the Chicago Manual of Style, all prepositions are lowercased, even the lengthier ones (between, among, throughout).
- In MLA style, words with three letters or less are always lowercased.
So, which one should you choose? Well, it all depends if a certain style is required by your teacher, course, or subject/field. For example, MLA style is commonly used in the liberal arts or humanities. AP style is popularly used in journalism, Chicago is often used in business. A suggestion is to choose one style, or check to see what style is required by your teacher or editor, and stick to it.
The General Rules for Title Case
As we can see, there are some exceptions to the general rules for title case set forth by each style guide, but they mostly follow a similar pattern. We know to capitalize the first, last, and important words in a title. Important words include nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, and more. So, generally, these parts of speech are capitalized in titles:
- Nouns – man, bus, book
- Adjectives – angry, lovely, small
- Verbs – run, eat, sleep
- Adverbs – slowly, quickly, quietly
- Pronouns – he, she, it
- Subordinating conjunctions – as, because, that
“Short" words, those with less than five letters, are lowercase in titles, unless they are the first or last words. Generally, we do not capitalize:
- Articles – a, an, the
- Coordinating Conjunctions (fewer than five letters) – and, but, or, for, nor, etc.
- Prepositions (fewer than five letters) – on, at, to, from, by, etc.
When in doubt and you do not have a reference guide in front of you, here is one general rule recommended by The U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual:
"Capitalize all words in titles of publications and documents, except a, an, the, at, by, for, in, of, on, to, up, and, as, but, or, and nor."
What About Sentence Case?
Now that we know some of the ins and outs of title case, let's take a look at sentence case. In sentence case, the title is written as if it is a sentence. This is considered a more casual style and is commonly used in newspapers and on the web.
Only the first word has a capital letter:
- Budget wedding invitations
- Best technology blogs
However, proper nouns within the title are also capitalized:
- Top 10 things to do in Paris
- Hiking at the Grand Canyon
Whether you're writing in title case or sentence case, every style guide is just a little bit different. You might discover that some publications are moving toward sentence case. There are a couple reasons why writers choose this over title case.
First, one could argue that capitalized words slow down a reader's ability to scan. A title written in sentence case could be perceived as having an uninterrupted flow. Next, some publications prefer this style simply because it's more likely to preserve consistency. With sentence case, there's no nitpicking over the capitalization of a three-letter preposition.
You might notice an overall trend toward this style. Many heavy hitters in the publishing industry use sentence case, including The Boston Globe, LA Times, and USA Today. However, if you pick up a copy of The New York Times, you'll see they stick with Title Case.
Advanced Rules to Note
One of the beautiful complexities of the English language is that, for every rule you learn, there's probably an exception. Here are some advanced rules for title capitalization:
Let's take a look at the Chicago Manual of Style's guidelines:
- Capitalize the first element.
- Capitalize subsequent elements unless they are articles, prepositions, or coordinating conjunctions (and, but, for, or, nor).
- High-Quality Web Services
- First-Rate U.S. Lawyers
- Bed-and-Breakfast Options in Savannah
- Capitalize the second element in a hyphenated spelled-out number.
- Do not capitalize the second element if the first element is a prefix that could not stand alone by itself (anti or pre).
- Anti-inflammatory Dieting
An open compound comes to life when a modifying adjective is used in conjunction with a noun. This creates a new noun. Hopefully warning bells will signal in your mind, as nouns are almost always capitalized.
- Salad Dressing Recipes
- The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year
The First Word Following a Colon
Let's take a look at both the Chicago and AP Style guidelines:
- Capitalize the first word after a colon.
- Feminine Poetry: Ten Women Writers from Around the World
- Capitalize the first word after a colon if it begins an independent clause.
- I know who you are: You are my friend
- Do not capitalize the first word after a colon if the clause cannot stand alone.
- I know who you are: nobody
Prepositions That Belong to a Phrasal Verb
Prepositions often find themselves on the 'do not capitalize' list. However, when a preposition becomes an important part of a phrasal verb, it does need to be capitalized.
- How to Back Up a Computer
- Turn Down the Heat to Save You Money
Following the Rules
If you are debating how to capitalize titles in research papers and articles, your professor or editor will most likely delegate a certain style. In that case, make sure you visit the handbook on that style guide's website. There will be ample guidance and examples. Aside from that, there are a wealth of other resources and handy tools out there. As you craft your titles, pay careful attention not only to the type of word, but also the length and placement of each word.
Furthermore, no matter your personal preference, make sure you write the exact titles of books, newspapers, journals, etc. as they are written on the original document (even if they do not follow common capitalization rules).
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Rules for Capitalization in Titles of Articles
By YourDictionaryIf you have a look at the title of this article you will see that some letters are capitalized and some are not. Although the capitalization of titles can sometimes depend on the particular style of a writer, institution or publication, there are some general rules to keep in mind.
Very few people know which words should be capitalized in a title. In fact, the majority of people adopt rules from others who don’t know either. This usually takes on one of two forms: capitalizing every word, or capitalizing words containing three or more letters.
Where blog posts and internal work communications are concerned you can usually get away with such sins, largely because those in the know tend not to point out the error of your ways. But wouldn’t you rather know the truth? Wouldn’t you rather be an ambassador of proper titling rather than a capitalization criminal? Well, today is your chance to repent for improper form, and learn which words should be capitalized in titles, once and for all!
What to Capitalize in a Title
The cool thing about learning what should and shouldn’t be capitalized is that each category contains three core rules.
Always capitalize the first and last word of a title, no matter what the word is.
Always capitalize the following five word categories:
We don’t have the time to list every noun, pronoun, verb, adjective and adverb here, but as long as you remember this list, you can Google the word you’re struggling with to find out whether or not it falls into one of the five categories listed above.
Always capitalize words of five or more letters, regardless of whether the word falls into one of the aforementioned five categories. This rule will help you avoid making errors when using conjunctions and prepositions in your titles. You see, many moons ago, writers did NOT capitalize any conjunctions or prepositions. However, today’s standard practice is to capitalize conjunctions and prepositions of five or more letters.
Here are some examples:
Prepositions (five or more letters):
Within, About, Among, Between.
Conjunctions/subordinating conjunctions (five or more letters):
While, Where, Until, Because, Although.
What Not to Capitalize in Titles
1) Never capitalize prepositions and conjunctions of four or fewer letters. However, remember the above rule: words with five or more letters, regardless of whether the word is a conjunction or preposition, must be capitalized.
Here are some examples:
Examples of prepositions not to be capitalized (four or fewer letters):
at / by / down / for / from / in / into / like / near / of / off / on / onto / over / past / to / upon / with
Examples of conjunctions not to be capitalized (four or fewer letters):
and / as / but / for / if / nor / once / or / so / than / that / till / when / yet
Never capitalize the particle “to”, even when used as an infinitive (meaning with a verb). For example: to See, to Read, to Write, etc.
Never capitalize articles: a, an, the.
Still a Little Confused?
No worries. Below we have created two lists of common words people struggle with when capitalizing titles. Bookmark this page and refer back to the lists when you’re in doubt.
DO Capitalize in a Title
About / Above / Across / After / Against / Along / Although / Among / Around / Because / Before / Behind / Below / Beneath / Beside / Between / During / Except / Inside / Outside / Since / Through / Toward / Under / Underneath / Unless / Until / Whenever / Where / Whereas / Wherever / While / Within / Without
DON’T Capitalize in a Title
and / as / as if / as long as / at / but / by / even if / for / from / if / if only / in / into / like / near / now that / nor / of / off / on / on top of / once / onto / or / out of / over / past / so / so that / than / that / till / to / up / upon / with / when / yet
Tricky Word Groupings
Even when armed with these core rules, people end up making silly mistakes by allowing doubt to make them second-guess their titling. In light of this, here’s a short list of tricky word groupings that often trip people up:
- as Though
- even Though
- in Front of
- in Order that
- Instead of
- Rather than
Start Practicing Today
It’s a lot to take in, we know, and so you’ll need to practice writing a few titles before things begin to click into place. Another great way to learn is to spot mistakes in other people’s work. You’ll be surprised just how many journalists, authors and bloggers (in particular) get titles in a muddle. Bear in mind, though, occasionally a writer will break the rules to suit their preference or to appropriate a concept. For example, a book entitled “Think Like a Genius” might well be adjusted to “Think Like A Genius”, for no other reason than the publishing house or author thinks it looks better on the cover.
That’s it! No more excuses. Start correcting titles today and help make the world a capitalization-friendly place.
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