Writing Titles (Capital Letters with Title Case)

Writing Titles

Document titles are typically written in uppercase or title case. For example:

THE TITLE OF THE DOCUMENT


Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Maecenas porttitor congue massa. Fusce posuere, magna sed pulvinar ultricies, purus lectus malesuada libero, sit amet commodo magna eros quis urna. Nunc viverra imperdiet enim. Fusce est.

The Title of the Document


Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Maecenas porttitor congue massa. Fusce posuere, magna sed pulvinar ultricies, purus lectus malesuada libero, sit amet commodo magna eros quis urna. Nunc viverra imperdiet enim. Fusce est.

Notice that title case is a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters. In title case, only the first word and the principal words are given capital letters. Prepositions (e.g.,in, on, under, at) and articles (i.e., the, a, an), and conjunctions (e.g., and, or, but) are written with lowercase letters.

Common Title Conventions

Here's some more information about these two conventions:

Uppercase Titles

Here are some examples of titles in all uppercase:
  • INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE
  • THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS
  • BANK HOLIDAYS AND NATIONAL HOLIDAYS
With uppercase titles, all words are capitalized. Often, they are bolded and underlined. Whatever style you use, be consistent.

Also, when a pluralized abbreviation features in an uppercase title, it is acceptable to use an apostrophe to show the plural. Be aware, however, that this might annoy some of your readers. (Oh, and I mean really annoy them. I have literally had death threats over this point.)
  • HOW TO RECYCLE YOUR CD'S
  • (This is acceptable but potentially annoying.)
  • HOW TO RECYCLE YOUR CDs
  • (This is largely acceptable, a bit scruffy but less life-threatening.)
Read more about apostrophes for awkward plurals.

Title Case Titles

Here are some examples of titles in title case:
  • Interview with a Vampire
  • The Last of the Mohicans
  • Bank Holidays and National Holidays
With title-case titles, only the principal words are capitalized. Prepositions (here, with, of), articles (here, a, the) and conjunctions (here, and) are written with lowercase letters. Title case titles can be bolded and underlined too. Whatever style you use, be consistent.

When one of the non-principal words (i.e., a preposition, an article, or a conjunction) starts the title, it is given a capital letter. For example:
  • And Then Came Love
  • (The conjunction And has been given a capital letter because it starts the title.)
  • The Last of the Summer Wine
  • (The article The has been given a capital letter because it starts the title.)
  • In the Name of the Father
  • (The preposition In has been given a capital letter because it starts the title.)

Why Should I Care about Title Case?

Understanding title case allows you to write titles using an acceptable (and defendable) convention. It's pretty handy because it removes the need to think about how to write titles.

There are four noteworthy issues related to title case.

(Issue 1) Giving a two-letter but principal word a capital letter

You will find that two-letter words often look awkward written with a capital letter, but don't worry about that awkwardness. Stick to the rules.
  • I read "How to be Black" in a day.
  • (Despite being short, be is a principal word, so give it a capital letter.)

(Issue 2) Adhering to official versions that break the rules of title case

Be aware that not everyone uses title case. You should copy official versions if you know them.
  • The Light Between Oceans (2016 period-drama film)
  • A River Runs Through It (1976 semi-autobiographical novel)
In these titles, the prepositions Between and Through have been given capital letters. It is not uncommon for the rules of title case to be broken for aesthetic reasons. Also, be aware that some style guides recommend, purely for aesthetics, giving capital letters to non-principal words with more than three letters.

Remember that title case is useful because it gives you an acceptable (and defendable) convention if you find yourself floundering with a title. (Typically, this will be with a document title or a paragraph title in something you’re writing, so there won't be an official version to copy.)

(Issue 3) Using titles as compound adjectives.

A title (written in title case) is often used mid-sentence as a compound adjective (i.e., an adjective made up of more than one word).
  • Did you get the Interview with a Vampire tickets?
  • I love your Thomas the Tank Engine bag.
The words in a compound adjective are usually joined with hyphens (e.g., free-range eggs) to group them, making it clear they're all part of the same adjective. As this grouping effect is achieved with title case, there is no need to use hyphens in a compound adjective that is also a title.

Make sure you stop applying title case when you've finished writing your title.
  • I love your Thomas the Tank Engine Bag.
  • (Bag should be bag.)
  • The Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights document details how to implement the Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework.
  • (Here, the word document is not part of the title but Framework is.)
Read more about compound adjectives.
Read more about alternatives to hyphens in compound adjectives.

(Issue 4) Deleting The if it starts a title used as a compound adjective.

When The is the first word of a title used as an adjective, logical thinkers might feel the need to use the word the twice.
  • The award was won by the The Last of the Mohicans director, Michael Mann.
This is logically sound, but it's messy. Have the confidence to break logic.
  • The award was won by the Last of the Mohicans director, Michael Mann.
  • (For the sake of aesthetics (not logic), use the once and make it lowercase.)
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited and printed to create exercise worksheets.

See Also

What are prepositions? What are articles? What are conjunctions? What are compound adjectives? Glossary of grammatical terms