We use italics (characters set in type that slants to the right) and underlining to distinguish certain words from others within the text. These typographical devices mean the same thing; therefore, it would be unusual to use both within the same text and it would certainly be unwise to italicize an underlined word. As word-processors and printers become more sophisticated and their published products more professional looking, italics are accepted by more and more instructors. Still, some instructors insist on underlines (probably because they went to school when italics were either technically difficult or practically unreadable). It is still a good idea to ask your instructor before using italics. (The APA Publication Manual continues to insist on underlining.) In this section, we will use italics only, but they should be considered interchangeable with underlined text.
These rules and suggestions do not apply to newspaper writing, which has its own set of regulations in this matter.
Italics do not include punctuation marks (end marks or parentheses, for instance) next to the words being italicized unless those punctuation marks are meant to be considered as part of what is being italicized: "Have you read Stephen King's Pet Semetary? (The question mark is not italicize here.) Also, do not italicize the apostrophe-s which creates the possessive of a title: "What is the Courant 's position on this issue?" You'll have to watch your word-processor on this, as most word-processors will try to italicize the entire word that you double-click on.
Generally, we italicize the titles of things that can stand by themselves. Thus we differentiate between the titles of novels and journals, say, and the titles of poems, short stories, articles, and episodes (for television shows). The titles of these shorter pieces would be surrounded with double quotation marks.
In writing the titles of newspapers, do not italicize the word the, even when it is part of the title (the New York Times), and do not italicize the name of the city in which the newspaper is published unless that name is part of the title: the Hartford Courant, but the London Times.
Other titles that we would italicize include the following:
- Journals and Magazines:Time, U.S. News and World Report, Crazyhorse, Georgia Review
- Plays:Waiting for Godot, Long Day's Journey Into Night
- Long Musical Pieces: Puccini's Madama Butterfly, Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite (but "Waltz of the Flowers"), Schubert's Winterreise (but "Ave Maria"). For musical pieces named by type, number and key Mozart's Divertimento in D major, Barber's Cello Sonata Op. 6 we use neither italics nor quotation marks.
- Cinema:Slingblade, Shine, The Invisible Man
- Television and Radio Programs:Dateline, Seinfeld, Fresh Air, Car Talk
- Artworks: the Venus de Milo, Whistler's The Artist's Mother
- Famous Speeches: Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, Washington's Second Inaugural Address (when that is the actual title of the speech)
- Long Poems (that are extensive enough to appear in a book by themselves): Longfellow's Evangeline, Milton's Paradise Lost, Whitman's Leaves of Grass
- Pamphlets:New Developments in AIDS Research
We do not italicize the titles of long sacred works: the Bible, the Koran. Nor do we italicize the titles of books of the Bible: Genesis, Revelation, 1 Corinthians.
When an exclamation mark or question mark is part of a title, make sure that that mark is italicized along with the title,
- My favorite book is Where Have All the Flowers Gone?
- I love Dr. Seuss's Oh, the Places You'll Go!
(Do not add an additional period to end such sentences.) If the end mark is not part of the title, but is added to indicate a question or exclamation, do not italicize that mark.
- Did you enjoy Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain?
Names of Vehicles
- Orient Express
- U.S.S. Eisenhower (Don't italicize the U.S.S.)
- H.M.S. Pinafore (Don't italicize the H.M.S. when you're talking about the ship. If you're talking about the light opera, then it's part of the title, H.M.S. Pinafore.)
We don't italicize names of vehicles that are brand names: Ford Explorer, Corvette, Nissan Pathfinder, Boeing 747.
Foreign Words or Phrases
- If a word or phrase has become so widely used and understood that it has become part of the English language such as the French "bon voyage" or the abbreviation for the latin et cetera, "etc." we would not italicize it. Often this becomes a matter of private judgment and context. For instance, whether you italicize the Italian sotto voce depends largely on your audience and your subject matter.
Words as Words
- The word basically is often unnecessary and should be removed.
- There were four and's and one therefore in that last sentence. (Notice that the apostrophe-s, used to create the plural of the word-as-word and, is not italicized. See the section on Plurals for additional help.)
- She defines ambiguity in a positive way, as the ability of a word to mean more than one thing at the same time.
Note: It is important not to overdo the use of italics to emphasize words. After a while, it loses its effect and the language starts to sound like something out of a comic book.
- I really don't care what you think! (Notice that just about any word in that sentence could have been italicized, depending on how the person said the sentence.)
- These rules do not apply to newspaper writing.
Words as Reproduced Sounds
- Grrr! went the bear. (But you would say "the bear growled" because growled reports the nature of the sound but doesn't try to reproduce it. Thus the bees buzz but go bzzzz and dogs bark woof!)
- His head hit the stairs, kathunk!
Frequently, mimetically produced sounds are also accompanied by exclamation marks.
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.