Title case: to Capitalise or not to capitalise?

There’s a certain grandiosity to title case, but it can get a little confusing. To help, we’ve set out some general rules and quirks to look out for.

Title case: to Capitalise or not to capitalise?

Understanding title case is easy. Always capitalise nouns (names of people, places, events, objects), verbs (like win, achieve, or grow), adjectives (words that describe, like best, innovative, intelligent) and adverbs (such as quickly, daily, and more).

But never capitalise articles (the, a, or an), conjunctions (connecting words, like and, but, or or), and prepositions (which denote direction, location, or time such as into, after, or with).

That is, of course, unless the articles are one of the first and/or last words – then they should be capitalised. And if your conjunctions are four letters or more (like however or because), they might or might not need to be capitalised too (depending on your referencing guide).

But prepositions should never be capitalised… unless you’re using one to modify a verb (as an adverbial phrase) or a noun (as an adjectival phrase). And, of course, if they’re four letters or more.

(Or if you’re following the venerable 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

You don’t just need to know your adverbs from your prepositions. Whether or not a word is capitalised might also depend on hyphens and colons.

Hyphens

Most referencing guides agree the second word after the hyphenated prefix (Pre-, Anti-, Super-) in a compound modifier should be lowercase. As in Pre-awards Networking Meeting.

But they usually do capitalise after a hyphen if both words are equal and not suffixes or prefixes, like Real-Time Results, Data-Driven Insights, and Cutting-Edge Technology.

Colons

When introducing a list, referencing guides generally agree to never capitalise the first word after the colon.

For instance, When to Capitalise: if it’s a Noun, Verb, Adjective, or Adverb

But if a complete sentence follows the colon, whether you’ll capitalise or not depends on your referencing guide. If you’re writing in US English and the first word after a colon begins a complete sentence, then probably capitalise it. It’s the opposite for UK English.

If it’s all too much… automatically capitalise your titles

That’s a lot. In fact, you might find there are way too many rules to remember. A lot of us internalise how it works without really thinking about it, and write titles intuitively, but that can become a problem if you’re constantly switching between referencing guides or UK and US English 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.

 


Verity

Verity uses her natural curiosity and intellect to help even our most experienced writers improve their work, as well as creating thoughtful, well-researched copy of her own.

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