Understanding title case is easy – always capitalise nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, and never capitalise articles, conjunctions, and prepositions.
That is, of course, unless the articles are one of the first and/or last words – then they should be capitalised. And if your articles are more than four letters, they might need to be capitalised too (depending on your referencing guide).
Actually, the same goes for conjunctions that are four letters or more.
But prepositions should never be capitalised… unless used adverbially or adjectivally. And, of course, if they’re four letters or more. (Or if you’re following The Chicago Manual of Style and they’re stressed or used as conjunctions.)
OK, maybe understanding title case isn’t as easy as I thought. But it can be simpler if you know what you’re looking for.
Look out for hyphens and colons too
You don’t just need to look out for capitalising nouns, adverbs, and prepositions. Whether or not they’re capitalised might also depend on hyphens and colons.
Some referencing guides say the second word in a compound modifier after the hyphenated prefix should be lower case. Some don’t.
But most referencing guides agree that if the hyphenated word isn’t a compound modifier, and is instead a hyphenated compound noun, verb, adjective, or adverb, then all the component words should be capitalised.
When introducing a list, referencing guides generally agree to never capitalise the first word after the colon. But if a complete sentence follows, referencing guides don’t agree on whether or not to capitalise the first word.
And neither do US and UK English. If you’re writing in US English and the first word after a colon begins a complete sentence, then capitalise it. It’s the opposite for UK English – only capitalise the first word if it’s a proper noun or acronym.
If it’s all too much… automatically capitalise your titles
There are way too many rules to remember – especially if you’re constantly switching between referencing guides for different clients.
The simplest way to check if the case of a title is correct is to use an automatic tool like Capitalize My Title – which makes understanding title case easy in nine styles, including AP, MLA, APA, and Chicago.
Or there’s always sentence case. It’s what’s favoured by newspapers. And, well… by us.