1. Education
Richard Nordquist

Rules for Capitalizing the Words in a Title

By April 11, 2008

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Which words in a title (of a book, article, essay, movie, song) should be capitalized?

For an answer, let's turn to the "World's Most Authoritative Newspaper" (and the owner of About.com). Take a good look at three headlines from the front page of a recent issue of The New York Times:

  1. Supplier Under Scrutiny on Aging Arms for Afghans
  3. Equity Loans As Next Round In Credit Crisis

The first headline employs a common form of title case, capitalizing "all nouns, pronouns and verbs, and all other words of four or more letters"--just as the convention is described in The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage (Random House, 1999).

However, the second headline employs all capital letters (or majuscules, if you like technical terms). And the third uses a version of title case with the initial letter of every word capitalized, even though the Times Manual insists that as and in should be in lowercase.

For the complete article, go to Which Words in a Title Should Be Capitalized?


April 13, 2008 at 4:19 am
(1) hoca says:

We learned this in high school in the 50s. Where’s the problem?

April 17, 2008 at 2:36 am
(2) Kelly says:

The problem is that this is not being taught in many schools today. Those schools that still teach it, gloss over it.

Remember when they used to teach manners in school? I remember being taught how to properly answer the phone if my mother was busy or not at home, and how to properly address adults.

Unfortunately, much has been lost as school funding continues to be cut in favor of lining the pockets belonging to friends of government.

October 16, 2008 at 8:53 pm
(3) Steven says:

The question is which style you would choose to teach prescriptively in a school? That’s a pretty big problem itself…

November 3, 2008 at 1:49 pm
(4) Patricia says:

Thanks, this was very helpful. English is my second language and though I learned it young, some things were just never completely clear. I chose a style and I’m sticking to it now!

August 26, 2009 at 2:43 am
(5) sharon says:

Thank you for this entry. I tend to get confused over such capitalising. I am picking the sentence case and sticking with it. Thanks!

October 14, 2010 at 9:29 am
(6) grajz24d says:

Bravo, the excellent message

gry smieszne
| gry strzelanki

January 21, 2011 at 12:31 pm
(7) JM says:

@Steven: Sentence case should be the style taught prescriptively.

@hoca: Computers have made it possible to italicize titles as we type them. It is no longer necessary to capitalize title words so that we can underline them with a pen.

Of course, the capitalization of titles predates typewriters. I haven’t researched this fully, but I suspect it a remnant of the archaic practice of capitalizing all nouns. The set of proper names and titles, seen as deserving of the most respect, remained capitalized for longer than the set of all nouns. The lowercasing of titles proceeds as part of the same development. CMOS now uses sentence case style for books (e.g. The arts and the American home but headline style for newspapers and journals, perhaps because they are seen as more like organizations (e.g. The New York Times) or Journal of Social Activism.

I see this is a positive development.

January 21, 2011 at 12:43 pm
(8) JM says:

In similar news, it is no longer necessary or desirable to flout typographic convention by leaving two spaces after a period. That also was a consequence of monospaced typewriter fonts.

@Kelly: I’m 29 and I teach manners in my classroom! I also teach that capitalizing every word in a title is an archaism from a world in which respect tended to be based on arbitrary authority. Respect, like good grammar, is a tool for building just ends in society, not an end itself.

Point well taken about the cutting of school funding, though the solution is not less government, but better government that is not connected by the revolving door to corporate interests. That reference is to a different form of “capitalization!” :)

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