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Proofreading Tips: Prepositions in Title Case

In title case – a common approach to styling titles and headings – the first letters of the main words in a title are capitalized. As a proofreader, your work will often involve checking that titles are capitalized correctly. However, this isn’t always easy! Most notably, different style guides offer different advice on when to capitalize prepositions in title case.

In this post, then, we’ll look at how and when to capitalize prepositions in titles.

Title Case and Prepositions

As a quick reminder, most versions of title case (or headline case) suggest capitalizing:

  • The first letter of the first word in titles and subtitles.
  • All nouns, pronouns, and verbs.
  • All adjectives and adverbs.

The remaining words in a title would then start with a lowercase letter, including articles, conjunctions, and prepositions. However, different style guides vary on the details here, including in relation to whether to capitalize prepositions in titles.

Notably, several major style guides suggest capitalizing longer prepositions, while others suggest using lowercase regardless of length. For instance:

Style Guide Rule
AMA Capitalize prepositions more than three letters long.
APA Capitalize prepositions more than three letters long.
Associated Press (AP) Capitalize prepositions more than three letters long.
Chicago No prepositions should be capitalized.
IEEE Capitalize prepositions more than three letters long.
MHRA No prepositions should be capitalized.
MLA No prepositions should be capitalized.

Thus, when proofreading, you should always check your client’s style guide for advice on how to capitalize prepositions in titles. And if they’re not using a specific version of title case, you should still check to make sure they have capitalized prepositions consistently.

Watch Out for Part-Time Prepositions!

Another point of confusion related to prepositions in title case is knowing when a word is a preposition. Unfortunately, this isn’t as simple as looking it up in a dictionary! Some common prepositions, for example, can be used adverbially or adjectivally in the right context.

This is especially common in phrasal verbs, where a preposition may work alongside a verb to give it a distinct meaning. Take the following, for instance:

The Day He Walked up the Road

Here, “up” is a preposition (i.e., it is part of a prepositional phrase that specifies a direction of movement). Following standard title case rules, then, we have left it uncapitalized.

In a different context, though, “up” can work like an adverb. For example:

When Things Blow Up Unexpectedly

In this case, “up” is part of the phrasal verb “blow up,” so it is essentially serving as an adverb that modifies the verb “blow.” As a result, we have capitalized it accordingly.

When proofreading, then, you should always make sure you understand how words function within a title. There are a couple of tricks you can use here:

  1. Remove the word in question and see if it changes the meaning. Without “off,” for example, “walked off” still refers to walking. But if you remove “up” from “blow up,” the title changes from being about explosions to being about expelling air.
  2. Replace the word with a similar term and see if it makes sense. For example, “walked along the road” is close in meaning to the original phrase “walked up the road,” whereas “when things blow along” is very different to “when things blow up.”

Keep an eye out for these part-time prepositions when checking titles and headings.

Learn to Proofread Effectively

As you can see, capitalization in title case is not as simple as just “major” and “minor” words. But never fear! We discuss capitalization, grammar, and much more in our Becoming A Proofreader course. If you want to know more, sign up for a free trial of the course today!

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