Which Words Should Be Capitalized in Titles?

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  • Nancy Tuten

    15 January 2020

    Which Words Should Be Capitalized in Titles?

    Elsewhere on this site we have addressed two other issues involving capitalization: knowing when to capitalize people’s positions and job titles and recognizing when a noun is common, not proper, and therefore should not be capitalized. This article focuses on knowing which words to capitalize in titles.

    If we are following the guidelines of most style books, these three titles would contain capitalization errors. Can you spot them?

    1. A New Approach to Marketing on The Internet
    2. How To Promote Your Small Business In Five Easy Steps
    3. Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Titles But Were Afraid to Ask

    Which Words Should Not Be Capitalized

    The guidelines are fairly consistent from one style book to another* when determining which words to capitalize in a title: unless they are the first or the last words in a title, do not capitalize the first letters of

    • articles (a, an, the),
    • prepositions (regardless of their length),
    • coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet), and
    • the word “to” that marks infinitives (to walk, to run, to play, etc.).

    In sentence 1, the article the should not be capitalized. Notice that the prepositions to and on are correctly lower cased.

    In sentence 2, the infinitive marker to and the preposition in should not be capitalized.

    Sentence 3 incorrectly capitalizes the conjunction but. The preposition about and the infinitive marker to (to ask), however, are correctly lower cased.

    Style Books Differ on Some Points

    Some style books used to advocate capitalizing longer prepositions. But both the Modern Language Association Manual of Style and the Chicago Manual of Style prefer that all prepositions be lower cased, including longer ones such as between, among, and throughout.

    *While these guidelines hold true in most writing situations, keep in mind that some style manuals advocate a different style for capitalization in bibliographical entries. Writers using the American Psychological Association’s style manual, for example, capitalize only the first word and all proper nouns in titles.

    TEST YOURSELF

    Can you spot any errors in the capitalization of words in these titles?

    1. Get it Write
    2. Six Tips For Writing Better Business Letters And Memos
    3. How To Travel Around Europe On A Budget

    ANSWERS

    1. Get It Write (The first letter of pronouns should be capitalized.)
    2. Six Tips for Writing Better Business Letters and Memos
    3. How to Travel around Europe on a Budget

    Copyright 2002 Get It Write. Revised 2020.

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