Capitalizing Words and Punctuating Titles

Learning Objectives:

  • Employ proper capitalization for titles of books, articles, and other words.
  • Identify which titles require italics/underlining and which require quotation marks.

LESSON
Proper capitalization is essential to the success of your written work. It ensures that your writing is clear and easily understood. In this lesson, you will learn when you should capitalizeTo use capital letters. words. You will also learn the correct way to punctuateTo use punctuation marks in a text. titles, including whether you should use italicsA formatting style where the typeface appears slanted., underliningA formatting style where the typeface appears with a line underneath., or quotation marksA set of single or double inverted commas (' ' or " ") that are placed around a word or passage to mark the beginning and end of a direct quotation or a title..

Capitalizing Words

Capitalize words at the beginning of a sentenceA group of words, phrases, or clauses that expresses a complete thought. A complete sentence has these characteristics: a capitalized first word, a subject and a predicate, and end punctuation, such as a period (.), question mark (?), or exclamation mark (!)., in acronymsA word that is an abbreviated form of a phrase, term, or organization that is made up of the first letter of each word in the item. Example: NASA is the acronym for National Aeronautics and Space Administration. , and in proper nounsThe name of a person place or thing. Proper nouns should be capitalized. Examples: person: George Washington; place: The White House; thing: The Washington Monument.. Acronyms are words formed by the first letter of each word in a phrase, such as DMV, which stands for the Department of Motor Vehicles. A proper noun is the name used for a specific and individual person, title, place, organization, or thing. Capitalize every word in the proper noun, except prepositionsPart of speech including words or groups of words that connect an object (a noun or a pronoun) to other words to describe it. They usually describe space (location) or time. Examples include: over, in, to, around, through., articlesIn grammar, there are three articles in English: a, an, and the. These words define the specificity of a noun. For example, contrast the meanings of the following sentences: Get in the car. Get in a car. and coordinating conjunctions (FANBOYS)Part of speech that connects words, phrases, and independent clauses. The acronym FANBOYS—for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so—can help you remember coordinating conjunctions., unless it is the first or last word.

Here is a list of proper nouns that you should capitalize.

Punctuating Titles

This section will explain how to punctuate titles of various works, including how and when to use italics, underlining, and quotation marks.

Italics

Use italics to set off the titles of larger, whole works, including the following:

Books Journals Artwork (paintings, sculptures)
Magazines Albums Ships
Television shows Operas Aircrafts
Radio/podcast programs Ballets and other performances Spacecrafts

Long poems

Broadway shows Websites
Plays   Pamphlets/brochures
Newspapers   Reports

For example:

The Baldwin Project is a great resource of classic public domain literature.

One of my favorite books is Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail.

Underlining

Note that underlining takes the place of italicizing if you are writing the title out by hand. Use italics when you are typing; otherwise, underlining follows the same rules as italicization.

Quotation Marks

Use quotation marks to set off titles of "smaller" works; those that make up sections or portions of a larger, whole work. For example, you italicize the title of a book when referenced in its entirety. However, when you discuss or citeTo give credit to the source of ideas or information. a specific chapter of that book, use quotation marks. Smaller works include the following:

Here are some examples of short works used in sentences:

The final episode of The West Wing was called "Tomorrow," fittingly.

In this example, the television show is The West Wing and is italicized. The episode is "Tomorrow," and is set off in quotation marks.

For such a short poem, "This is Just to Say" has inspired countless essays.

In this example, the title of the poem is set off in quotation marks.

There are many titles that can easily muddle a sentence if not set off by quotes or italics.

For example:

I will always remember my favorite year because I saw it with my high school sweetheart.

In this sentence, My Favorite Year is the name of a movie; without knowing this, the lack of capitalization and italics to set it off makes the sentence very confusing.

Correct:

I will always remember My Favorite Year because I saw it with my high school sweetheart.

Another instance in which punctuating titles is especially important is where a short story or song (set off by quotation marks) shares the same title as a book or album (set off by italics). These set-offs provide your reader with more information about your sources and ultimately make your essay easier to follow.

For example:

Whenever I hear one fine day I think of the movie one fine day.

In this sentence, the title of the song and the movie are the same, so without proper quotation marks, capitalization, and italics, it is difficult to understand. The song should be capitalized and in quotation marks and the movie should be capitalized and italicized.

Correct:

Whenever I hear "One Fine Day" I think of the movie One Fine Day.

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