Not all style guides agree on what distinguishes a "major word" from a "minor word." See the guidelines below from the American Psychological Association (APA Style), The Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago Style), and the Modern Language Association (MLA Style).
- Guidelines for Using Capital Letters
- Proper Names
- Sentence Case
- Which Words in a Title Should Be Capitalized?
Examples and Observations:
- "A Matter of Concern: Kenneth Burke, Phishing, and the Rhetoric of National Insecurity" by
Kyle Jensen (Rhetoric Review, 2011)
(a journal article title in title case)
- "The Lover Tells of the Rose in His Heart" by William Butler Yeats
(the title of a poem in title case)
- "Probing Link to Bin Laden, U.S. Tells Pakistan to Name Agents"
(headline in title case from The New York Times)
- APA Style: Major Words in Titles and Headings
"Capitalize major words in titles of books and articles within the body of the paper. Conjunctions, articles, and short prepositions are not considered major words; however, capitalize all words of four letters or more. Capitalize all verbs (including linking verbs), nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and pronouns. When a capitalized word is a hyphenated compound, capitalize both words. Also, capitalize the first word after a colon or a dash in a title. . . .
"Exception: In titles of books and articles in reference lists, capitalize only the first word, the first word after a colon or em dash, and proper nouns. Do not capitalize the second word of a hyphenated compound."
(Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th ed. American Psychological Association, 2010)
- Chicago Style: Principles of Headline-Style Capitalization
"The conventions of headline style are governed mainly by emphasis and grammar. The following rules, though occasionally arbitrary, are intended primarily to facilitate the consistent styling of titles mentioned or cited in text and notes:
- Capitalize the first and last words in titles and subtitles (but see rule 7), and capitalize all other major words (nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and some conjunctions--but see rule 4).
- Lowercase the articles the, a, and an.
- Lowercase prepositions, regardless of length, except when they are used adverbially or adjectivally (up in Look Up, down in Turn Down, on in The On Button, to in Come To, etc.) or when they compose part of a Latin expression used adjectivally or adverbially (De Facto, In Vitro, etc.).
- Lowercase the conjunctions and, but, for, or, and nor.
- Lowercase to not only as a preposition (rule 3) but also as part of an infinitive (to Run, to Hide, etc.), and lowercase as in any grammatical function.
- Lowercase the part of a proper name that would be lowercased in text, such as de or von.
- Lowercase the second part of a species name, such as fulvescens in Acipenser fulvescens, even if it is the last word in a title or subtitle.
- MLA Style: Titles of Works in the Research Paper
"The rules for capitalizing titles are strict. In a title or subtitle, capitalize the first word, the last word, and all principal words, including those that follow hyphens in compound terms. Therefore, capitalize the following parts of speech:
- Nouns . . .
- Pronouns . . .
- Verbs . . .
- Adjectives . . .
- Adverbs . . .
- Subordinating conjunctions
- Articles . . .
- Prepositions . . .
- Coordinating conjunctions . . .
- The to in infinitives . . .
(MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th ed. The Modern Language Association of America, 2009)
- "The difference between title case and every word in capitals is minor, and we think that very few of your users will notice. But Opt For Every Word In Capitals And A Few Of Your Users Will Find Themselves Mentally Correcting Every 'Wrongly' Capitalized Word. It's a bit like the use of apostrophes: most people don't notice whether or not you are 'correct'; some people definitely do and their irritation about your 'mistakes' will distract them from the smooth flow of questions and answers.
"Our bottom line: opt for sentence case if you can."
(Caroline Jarrett and Gerry Gaffney, Forms That Work: Designing Web Forms for Usability. Morgan Kaufmann, 2009)