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Title Capitalisation: What to Capitalise in Titles

When proofreading, one thing you need to check is title capitalization. But what are the rules about capitalizing titles? In this post, we look at four common styles:

  • Title case, which capitalizes the first letter of certain key words
  • Sentence case, in which titles are capitalized like sentences
  • Initial case, where the first letter of every word is capitalized
  • All caps, where the entire title is capitalized

After that, we will also look at the rules recommended by various common style guides.

Title Case (Key Words Capitalized)

In title case (or “headline style”), you will need to capitalize the first letter of the following:

You can see an example of this style below:Note that the length of a word does not matter here: We capitalize “Is” even though it is only two letters long because it is a verb, but we do not capitalize the prepositions “at” or “in,” or the conjunction “the.” Capitalization simply depends on the type of word.

Sentence Case (Capitalize Titles Like a Sentence)

Sentence case (or “sentence style”) treats titles like sentences. This means you should only capitalize the first letter of the following:

  • The first words of titles and subtitles
  • Proper nouns, acronyms, and initialisms

In other words, you capitalize a word if you would usually capitalize it in a sentence. If we do that to our example title from above, we would write it like this:Here, the only capitalized words are “A” and “Why” (first words of title and subtitle, respectively), “FBI” (proper noun and initialism), and America (proper noun).

Initial Case (Capitalize Every Word)

In initial case, you capitalize the first letter of every word in titles and subtitles. For instance:This is fairly rare, but some people prefer it for its simplicity.

All Caps (Capitalize Every Letter)

One more way of writing titles is to capitalize everything. This is known as all caps:Some people also mix all caps with another style, using small caps for lowercase letters:These styles are very striking, so they are especially common in marketing copy. However, you will also find them used for certain titles in books, journal articles, and elsewhere.

Style Guide Rules on Title Capitalization

Most style guides and sheets will advise on how to capitalize headings, so make sure to check whether your client is using one. Most will also stick to one of the styles above, but you will find some variations among them, so let’s review some well-known examples:

  • APA Style – APA uses both title case (titles in the main body of a document) and sentence case (titles in reference lists). In addition, when using title case, APA capitalizes all words of four or more letters, including conjunctions and prepositions.
  • Chicago StyleThe Chicago Manual of Style recommends using title case, capitalizing the first letter of the first word of all nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. It also suggests capitalizing all conjunctions other than “and,” “but,” “for,” “or,” and “nor.”
  • MLA Style – MLA style uses a title case system, but it also recommends capitalizing any word of four or more letters, including conjunctions and prepositions.
  • AP Style – The AP Stylebook suggests using title case for headings and subheadings, which includes capitalizing all words or three or more letters.

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