Properly Punctuating Titles
Properly punctuating titles of literature, music, art, movies, and other works can be confusing, and the rules aren’t always consistent from resource to resource regarding this topic. Also, since mistakes are prevalent, we are so used to seeing the wrong punctuation that it actually looks right!
Here are some helpful hints on how to properly punctuate titles using capitalization, italics, underlining, and quotation marks.
Step 1, Capitalize Titles Correctly!
Although rules regarding correct title capitalization vary greatly, here are a few pointers to stand by: Capitalize the first and last word in a title and every word in the title except articles and prepositions. Some suggest capitalizing prepositions five letters or more in length, and I agree with this simply because it looks better (hence, my business name is All About Writing instead of All about Writing).
Capitalizing involves only the first letter of the word, of course.
When to Use Italics: Titles of Larger Works
Italics indicate the title of a major or larger work. Use italics for titles such as books, novels, magazines, journals, newspapers, and book-length poems, collections and anthologies; CDs, albums, ballets, operas, and longer, classical music compositions; television series, plays, movies, and films; video games; websites; and works of art and art exhibits.
Just remember, the title of any piece that stands alone as a single, unified work should be italicized.
What About Underlining?
In general, underlining and italics are used interchangeably, so the above rules for italics also apply for underlining.
However, when using the computer or typing, italics should always be used. Underlining should replace italics in handwritten projects only, as who has mastered the art of writing in italics so that it is legible and noticeable?
When to Use Quotation Marks: Titles of Smaller Works
Since quotation marks are tiny, you can remember that they are used for smaller works within the larger work or collection. Use quotation marks for titles of poems, short stories, book chapters, and articles in journals, magazines, and newspapers; and songs, single television episodes, and commercials.
It is important to be consistent throughout your writing with properly using italics versus quotation marks. Writing handbooks (Chicago Manual of Style, MLA, APA, and many others) vary in their rules for capitalizing and punctuating titles. Certain writing projects mandate using one writing handbook’s format over the others, so for academic work, please check with your professor as to the preferred handbook to use for your writing, citation, and punctuation guidelines.
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-by Christa Riddle
We use italics (characters set in type that slants to the right) and underlining to distinguish certain words from others within the text. These typographical devices mean the same thing; therefore, it would be unusual to use both within the same text and it would certainly be unwise to italicize an underlined word. As word-processors and printers become more sophisticated and their published products more professional looking, italics are accepted by more and more instructors. Still, some instructors insist on underlines (probably because they went to school when italics were either technically difficult or practically unreadable). It is still a good idea to ask your instructor before using italics. (The APA Publication Manual continues to insist on underlining.) In this section, we will use italics only, but they should be considered interchangeable with underlined text.
These rules and suggestions do not apply to newspaper writing, which has its own set of regulations in this matter.
Italics do not include punctuation marks (end marks or parentheses, for instance) next to the words being italicized unless those punctuation marks are meant to be considered as part of what is being italicized: "Have you read Stephen King's Pet Semetary? (The question mark is not italicize here.) Also, do not italicize the apostrophe-s which creates the possessive of a title: "What is the Courant 's position on this issue?" You'll have to watch your word-processor on this, as most word-processors will try to italicize the entire word that you double-click on.
Generally, we italicize the titles of things that can stand by themselves. Thus we differentiate between the titles of novels and journals, say, and the titles of poems, short stories, articles, and episodes (for television shows). The titles of these shorter pieces would be surrounded with double quotation marks.
In writing the titles of newspapers, do not italicize the word the, even when it is part of the title (the New York Times), and do not italicize the name of the city in which the newspaper is published unless that name is part of the title: the Hartford Courant, but the London Times.
Other titles that we would italicize include the following:
- Journals and Magazines:Time, U.S. News and World Report, Crazyhorse, Georgia Review
- Plays:Waiting for Godot, Long Day's Journey Into Night
- Long Musical Pieces: Puccini's Madama Butterfly, Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite (but "Waltz of the Flowers"), Schubert's Winterreise (but "Ave Maria"). For musical pieces named by type, number and key Mozart's Divertimento in D major, Barber's Cello Sonata Op. 6 we use neither italics nor quotation marks.
- Cinema:Slingblade, Shine, The Invisible Man
- Television and Radio Programs:Dateline, Seinfeld, Fresh Air, Car Talk
- Artworks: the Venus de Milo, Whistler's The Artist's Mother
- Famous Speeches: Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, Washington's Second Inaugural Address (when that is the actual title of the speech)
- Long Poems (that are extensive enough to appear in a book by themselves): Longfellow's Evangeline, Milton's Paradise Lost, Whitman's Leaves of Grass
- Pamphlets:New Developments in AIDS Research
We do not italicize the titles of long sacred works: the Bible, the Koran. Nor do we italicize the titles of books of the Bible: Genesis, Revelation, 1 Corinthians.
When an exclamation mark or question mark is part of a title, make sure that that mark is italicized along with the title,
- My favorite book is Where Have All the Flowers Gone?
- I love Dr. Seuss's Oh, the Places You'll Go!
(Do not add an additional period to end such sentences.) If the end mark is not part of the title, but is added to indicate a question or exclamation, do not italicize that mark.
- Did you enjoy Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain?
Names of Vehicles
- Orient Express
- U.S.S. Eisenhower (Don't italicize the U.S.S.)
- H.M.S. Pinafore (Don't italicize the H.M.S. when you're talking about the ship. If you're talking about the light opera, then it's part of the title, H.M.S. Pinafore.)
We don't italicize names of vehicles that are brand names: Ford Explorer, Corvette, Nissan Pathfinder, Boeing 747.
Foreign Words or Phrases
- If a word or phrase has become so widely used and understood that it has become part of the English language such as the French "bon voyage" or the abbreviation for the latin et cetera, "etc." we would not italicize it. Often this becomes a matter of private judgment and context. For instance, whether you italicize the Italian sotto voce depends largely on your audience and your subject matter.
Words as Words
- The word basically is often unnecessary and should be removed.
- There were four and's and one therefore in that last sentence. (Notice that the apostrophe-s, used to create the plural of the word-as-word and, is not italicized. See the section on Plurals for additional help.)
- She defines ambiguity in a positive way, as the ability of a word to mean more than one thing at the same time.
Note: It is important not to overdo the use of italics to emphasize words. After a while, it loses its effect and the language starts to sound like something out of a comic book.
- I really don't care what you think! (Notice that just about any word in that sentence could have been italicized, depending on how the person said the sentence.)
- These rules do not apply to newspaper writing.
Words as Reproduced Sounds
- Grrr! went the bear. (But you would say "the bear growled" because growled reports the nature of the sound but doesn't try to reproduce it. Thus the bees buzz but go bzzzz and dogs bark woof!)
- His head hit the stairs, kathunk!
Frequently, mimetically produced sounds are also accompanied by exclamation marks.