Very few people know which words should be capitalized in a title. In fact, the majority of people adopt rules from others who don’t know either. This usually takes on one of two forms: capitalizing every word, or capitalizing words containing three or more letters.
Where blog posts and internal work communications are concerned you can usually get away with such sins, largely because those in the know tend not to point out the error of your ways. But wouldn’t you rather know the truth? Wouldn’t you rather be an ambassador of proper titling rather than a capitalization criminal? Well, today is your chance to repent for improper form, and learn which words should be capitalized in titles, once and for all!
What to Capitalize in a Title
The cool thing about learning what should and shouldn’t be capitalized is that each category contains three core rules.
Always capitalize the first and last word of a title, no matter what the word is.
Always capitalize the following five word categories:
We don’t have the time to list every noun, pronoun, verb, adjective and adverb here, but as long as you remember this list, you can Google the word you’re struggling with to find out whether or not it falls into one of the five categories listed above.
Always capitalize words of five or more letters, regardless of whether the word falls into one of the aforementioned five categories. This rule will help you avoid making errors when using conjunctions and prepositions in your titles. You see, many moons ago, writers did NOT capitalize any conjunctions or prepositions. However, today’s standard practice is to capitalize conjunctions and prepositions of five or more letters.
Here are some examples:
Prepositions (five or more letters):
Within, About, Among, Between.
Conjunctions/subordinating conjunctions (five or more letters):
While, Where, Until, Because, Although.
What Not to Capitalize in Titles
1) Never capitalize prepositions and conjunctions of four or fewer letters. However, remember the above rule: words with five or more letters, regardless of whether the word is a conjunction or preposition, must be capitalized.
Here are some examples:
Examples of prepositions not to be capitalized (four or fewer letters):
at / by / down / for / from / in / into / like / near / of / off / on / onto / over / past / to / upon / with
Examples of conjunctions not to be capitalized (four or fewer letters):
and / as / but / for / if / nor / once / or / so / than / that / till / when / yet
Never capitalize the particle “to”, even when used as an infinitive (meaning with a verb). For example: to See, to Read, to Write, etc.
Never capitalize articles: a, an, the.
Still a Little Confused?
No worries. Below we have created two lists of common words people struggle with when capitalizing titles. Bookmark this page and refer back to the lists when you’re in doubt.
DO Capitalize in a Title
About / Above / Across / After / Against / Along / Although / Among / Around / Because / Before / Behind / Below / Beneath / Beside / Between / During / Except / Inside / Outside / Since / Through / Toward / Under / Underneath / Unless / Until / Whenever / Where / Whereas / Wherever / While / Within / Without
DON’T Capitalize in a Title
and / as / as if / as long as / at / but / by / even if / for / from / if / if only / in / into / like / near / now that / nor / of / off / on / on top of / once / onto / or / out of / over / past / so / so that / than / that / till / to / up / upon / with / when / yet
Tricky Word Groupings
Even when armed with these core rules, people end up making silly mistakes by allowing doubt to make them second-guess their titling. In light of this, here’s a short list of tricky word groupings that often trip people up:
- as Though
- even Though
- in Front of
- in Order that
- Instead of
- Rather than
Start Practicing Today
It’s a lot to take in, we know, and so you’ll need to practice writing a few titles before things begin to click into place. Another great way to learn is to spot mistakes in other people’s work. You’ll be surprised just how many journalists, authors and bloggers (in particular) get titles in a muddle. Bear in mind, though, occasionally a writer will break the rules to suit their preference or to appropriate a concept. For example, a book entitled “Think Like a Genius” might well be adjusted to “Think Like A Genius”, for no other reason than the publishing house or author thinks it looks better on the cover.
That’s it! No more excuses. Start correcting titles today and help make the world a capitalization-friendly place.
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Writing Tip: February 27, 2002
Titles: Which Words Should Be Capitalized?
The following three titles contain capitalization errors. Can you spot them?
1. A New Approach to Marketing on The Internet
2. How To Promote Your Small Business In Five Easy Steps
3. Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Titles But Were Afraid to Ask
Follow these guidelines when deciding which words to capitalize in a title: unless they are the first or the last words in a title, do not capitalize
--articles (a, an, the),
--prepositions (regardless of their length),
--coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet), and
--the word "to" that marks infinitives (to walk, to run, to play, etc.).
Sentence 1 is incorrect because the article the should not be capitalized. Notice that the prepositions to and on are correctly lowercased.
In sentence 2, the infinitive marker to and the preposition in should not be capitalized.
Sentence 3 incorrectly capitalizes the conjunction but. The preposition about and the infinitive marker to (to ask), however, are correctly lowercased. As the Harbrace College Handbook (Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace, 1998) points out, some style books used to advocate capitalizing longer prepositions. But both the Modern Language Association Manual of Style and the Chicago Manual of Style prefer that all prepositions be lowercased, including longer ones such as between, among, and throughout.
While these guidelines hold true in most writing situations, keep in mind that some style manuals advocate a different style for capitalization in bibliographical entries. Writers using the American Psychological Association's style manual, for example, capitalize only the first word and all proper nouns in titles.
Can you spot any errors in the capitalization of words in these titles?
1. Get it Write
2. Six Tips For Writing Better Business Letters And Memos
3. How To Travel Around Europe On A Budget
1. Get It Write (Pronouns should be capitalized.)
2. Six Tips for Writing Better Business Letters and Memos
3. How to Travel around Europe on a Budget
Copyright 2002 Get It Write
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