What’s up with properly capitalized titles? Think you know the rules?
As writers — and especially editors — we are tasked with knowing the “what’s what” of the English language. In our industry, we cannot afford to be the writer that constantly makes grammatical mistakes. Likewise, we cannot be the editor that makes improper changes.
Think you know what’s what with title case?
The General Rules of Title Capitalization
If you think every word in a title should be capitalized, you’re wrong. Specific rules apply to general title capitalization. Here’s the scoop:
Rule #1: The first and last words of a title are always capitalized.
Rule #2: Words that follow punctuation within a title are also always capitalized.
Rule #3: Compound or hypenated words are bestowed capital letters, and it’s not just one of the two words that receives it. The words before and after the hypen are capitalized. Example: Post-Punctuation.
Rule #4: All words between the first and last word of a title should be capitalized, except the exceptions.
The fourth rule can make titles tricky. A few types of words are not to be capitalized because they are exceptions. Five basic exceptions exist.
Exception #1: Articles
The English language contains three articles: The, a, and an. The is a definite article. A and an are indefinite articles.
Articles are never capitalized in a title unless rules 1 or 2 apply.
Exception #2: Conjunctions
If a coordinating conjunction falls between the first and last word of a title, do not capitalize it.
A coordinating conjunction joins two independent clauses, nouns, or verbs together. The best acronym for remembering conjunctions is FANBOYS:
Exception #3: Short Prepositions
Short prepositions are almost never capitalized in a title. But if they are used as adverbs, an inseparable part of a verb, the first or last word of a title, or the first word following punctuation, this exception does not apply.
Most word processing programs will automatically flag improperly capitalized (or uncapitalized) words. The English Club offers a comprehensive list of the 70 most common English prepositions, but remember, only short prepositions are almost never capitalized.
Exception #4: Infinitives, Contractions, and Slang
A title serves two purposes.
- It reflects the context of the copy to follow.
- It piques curiosity to draw in readers.
When used to form an infinitive: to, an infinitive should not be capitalized.
Contractions and slang find their way into titles to pique interest and establish common ground. There’s nothing wrong with using slang as long as these words are capitalized (or not) based on the rules above. For example, you would avoid capitalizing o’ for “of” and ‘n or n’ for “and.”
Exception #5: Writing Guidelines
The final exception is writing guidelines – always follow them.
Publications often use a specific set of writing or editorial guidelines. The purpose of these guidelines is to promote consistency. Established guidelines are the ultimate exception to the general rules of title capitalization. For example, some publications choose to capitalize every word in every title, which is fine, as long as every title is consistent.
Always consult and follow any indicated writing, editorial, or format guidelines. Otherwise, use the four rules above and their five basic exceptions to nail properly capitalized titles.
Feature Image Credit by wavebreakmediamicro