Writing Titles (When To Use Capital Letters)
Writing TitlesDocument titles are typically written in uppercase or title case. For example:
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 ConventionsHere is some more information about uppercase titles and title case.
Uppercase TitlesHere are some examples of titles in full uppercase:
- INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE
- THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS
- BANK HOLIDAYS AND NATIONAL HOLIDAYS
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.
- HOW TO RECYCLE YOUR CD'S (This is acceptable but potentially annoying.)
- HOW TO RECYCLE YOUR CDs (This is largely acceptable but a bit scruffy.)
Title Case TitlesHere are some examples of titles in title case:
- Interview with a Vampire
- The Last of the Mohicans
- Bank Holidays and National Holidays
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 letterYou 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 caseBe 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)
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.
Also, 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 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.
- 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.)