Quotation Marks or Italics for Ships, Plays, and Books

by Craig Shrives
The Quick Answer
You can use quotation marks for the names of books, plays, films, articles, ships, aircraft, houses, and hotels. However, this practice is now considered outdated. These days, using italics for titles is a more common style.
use quotation marks or italics for the titles of ships, books, and films

Use Quotation Marks the Titles of Books, Plays, etc.

Quotation marks can be used to highlight the names of books, plays, films, articles, ships, aircraft, houses, and hotels.

Using quotation marks for titles was a common convention when texts were handwritten or typed. Since the arrival of word processors, italics have replaced quotation marks as a way of highlighting a title, including the names of ships, films, and books. For example:
  • The Titanic was the world's largest passenger ship when it entered service in 1912.
  • MS Herald of Free Enterprise was a passenger ferry that capsized moments after leaving the Belgian port of Zeebrugge on the night of 6 March 1987, killing 193 passengers and crew.
  • Katie Scarlett O'Hara is a fictional character and the protagonist in Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel Gone with the Wind.
  • Oliver Twist (also called The Parish Boy's Progress) was Charles Dickens's second novel.
With the names of ships, the ship prefixes such as MS (Motor Ship), HMS (Her Majesty's Ship), and USS (United States Ship) are not italicized.

Use Quotation Marks for Handwritten Texts

If you're handwriting a text, remember that you can use quotation marks for titles. Using quotation marks, or italics, helps to highlight the title and increases reading speed.
  • Jeremy stayed at "The Dorchester" for 3 weeks last summer.
  • "Southern Stars" was Jones's account of the trek; I have read others that contradict his version of events.
  • (In this example, it is useful to group the book title within quotation marks because Stars is a plural word and was is singular.)
  • I was certain the "Spruce Goose" was too heavy to fly.

A Real-Life Example

This page has given me an excuse to include this short story. This actually happened...
  • Sergeant major: Who has stolen Private Hendrix's model of The Enterprise?
  • [silence ensues, then...]
  • Recruit: Perhaps, it's cloaked, sir.
  • Private Hendrix: Don't be stupid. Only Klingon Warbirds can cloak.
  • Sergeant major: None of them can cloak, Private Hendrix!

This Is a Style Convention

Using quotation marks or italics for the titles of books, plays, films, ships, etc., is a style convention. It's not a grammar ruling. So, if you think it helps your reader or looks better with quotations, use them. Feel free not to though.
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

Colon or comma before quotation (speech) marks? Three dots (ellipsis) in quotation (speech) marks Punctuation inside or outside quotation (speech) marks? Double or single quotation (speech) marks? Quotation (speech) marks meaning alleged or so-called