It can be confusing to know which titles get italicized and which get quotation marks when citing them in your writing. An easy rule to remember is that short titles and sections of work, such as a chapter title in a book or an episode in a TV show, get quotation marks while larger titles or works, such as a book title or an album, are italicized. However, which one you use may depend on the style and format of writing you are following.
Why Use Italics and Quotation Marks in Titles?
Italics and quotation marks are generally used to set a composition title apart from the text surrounding it. For example, if you were writing the sentence "I read The Cat in the Hat," it wouldn't necessarily be clear what the title was, or even that there was a title at all.
So, italics and quotation marks make the title stand out. A sentence such as "I read The Cat in the Hat" or "I read "The Cat in the Hat" today" is a lot clearer.
Should you set off a title with italics or should you set it off with quotation marks? Well, there are rules for that.
Rules for Using Italics and Quotation Marks in Titles
There are several different writing style guides: The Modern Language Association (MLA) is the style generally used in arts and humanities papers; the American Psychological Association (APA) is used for social sciences; the Associated Press Stylebook (AP) is commonly used in magazines, newspapers and the internet; and the Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago), one of the most well-known formats, is followed in a wide variety of disciplines from publishing to science.
Each of the style guides have their own rules when it comes to formatting titles. AP style is one of the simpler styles to remember, as it does not use italics in composition titles at all.
All formats except AP recommend the following titles should be in italics:
- Ballets, Operas, Symphonies
- Comic strips
- Exhibitions at a museum
- Aircraft and spacecraft
All formats except APA recommend that the following titles should be in quotation marks:
- Book chapters
- Names of video games
- Single episodes of TV and radio shows
- Unpublished writing such as manuscripts or lectures
- Album tracks or singles
- Podcast episodes
- Short stories and poems
APA differs from other formats in that it does not use either quotation marks or italics for titles of shorter works, such as essays that are in collections, lectures or journal articles. These shorter works are formatted in regular type.
MLA and Chicago, while agreeing on most citation styles, diverge on some points. In MLA the titles of online databases should be italicized; Chicago style says to set those in regular type. MLA says that all websites should be italicized while Chicago style says they should be in regular type.
When Not to Use Italics or Quotation Marks
There are certain titles of things that should not be in italics or quotation marks. The following titles should always be set in regular type:
- Scriptures of major religions
- Constitutional documents
- Legal documents
- Traditional games (such as football, hopscotch or blackjack)
- Commercial products (such as Cocoa Puffs)
- Political documents
- Names of artifacts
- Names of buildings
Print and Online Style Differences
Italicizing is easy to do on the computer, but not practical when you are hand writing something. In such cases, underlining is still used and is the same as writing a title in italics.
When formatting titles for the web, be aware that you should go with whatever style is most visually appealing. Online formats tend to be less formal in style compared to print materials. Styling for the web is about attracting visitors to the site so make the title stand out without looking clunky in order to get more attention.
Determine What to Use
By practicing the above rules for using italics and quotation marks you will find that it will become easier to determine what you should use. If you are uncertain about what to use, ask yourself if the title of a work appears inside a larger body of work or if it can stand alone. If the title belongs inside a larger body of work, use quotation marks. If the title is for a body of work that stands alone, it should be in italics. And remember that consistency is key, whichever style you choose.
To learn about which words should be capitalized in a title read YourDictionary's article on Rules for Capitalization in Titles.
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Using Italics and Quotation Marks in Titles
By YourDictionaryIt can be confusing to know which titles get italicized and which get quotation marks when citing them in your writing. An easy rule to remember is that short titles and sections of work, such as a chapter title in a book or an episode in a TV show, get quotation marks while larger titles or works, such as a book title or an album, are italicized. However, which one you use may depend on the style and format of writing you are following.
When you italicize a word or a phrase, it gets noticed. However, italics (typeface that slants to the right) are a bit understated and do not attract the same attention as say, bold or underline. When to use italics? There are certain style rules to remember. However, italics are popularly used to call attention to certain words in a block of text. When you think about it if all the words looked the same, reading would be a rather boring affair. One thing to remember for any typeface is not to go overboard. If every other word is italics, it loses its effect and becomes less 'special.'
What to Italicize
Like so many rules in the English language, rules for italicization vary. Often italics and underline can be used interchangeably. There are some style guides that prefer the use of underlining over the use of italics (and vice versa).
Here are, though, some rules of what to italicize. However, do keep in mind that for some of these categories below underlining is also possible.
- Emphasis: When you want to emphasize a certain word or phrase in a sentence. (She was the only girl in the class who got 100% on the exam.)
- Titles of Works: (Please note that we can also underline the following)
- Books: (Elements of Style, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Jane Eyre)
- Magazines: (Time magazine, Newsweek, Cosmpolitan)
- Newspapers: (USA Today, Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle)
- Plays: (Romeo & Juliet, Waiting for Godot, Uncle Vanya)
- Movies: (Batman, Casablanca, Twilight)
- Works of Art: (Monet’s Waterlilies, Van Gogh’s Starry Starry Night, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa)
- TV/radio programs: (American Idol, BBC’s Woman’s Hour, The Simpsons)
- CD/Album: (Michael Jackson’s Thriller album, Parachutes by Cold Play)
- Foreign Words/Technical Terms/Unfamiliar Words: When we are writing a text in one particular language (i.e. English) and want to introduce a foreign word or phrase, we tend to italicize the foreign words. (The word for cat in Spanish is gato.)
- Names of Trains, Ships, Aircraft, and Spacecraft: (NASA’s Challenger, QE2)
When to Underline
As we have discussed italics and underline can both be used for titles of major works. There are certain style guides that require underlining for titles, such as the MLA.
I have never seen the movie Titanic.
We have to read two plays by Shakespeare: Hamlet and Macbeth.
Also, sometimes italics can be difficult to read, so some recommend underlining to really emphasize certain words and phrases.
Some Things to Remember
- We do not italicize parts of larger works. For example, chapters in a book, poems, sections of newspapers, songs in a CD. Instead we use quotation marks (We heard the song "Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson on the radio three times last night).
- We also do not italicize religious books (for example, the Bible, Koran, the Torah)
- Italicize (or underline) punctuation marks that are a part of a tile (?, !)- Getting the Job You Want Now! Getting the Job You Want Now!
- Do not use italics and underline at the same time (It only cost five dollars.)
- To get some practice using italics and underlining take Empire State College's quiz
- ESC Online Writing Center has a good overview of italics and underlining