Monday, May 5, 2014

How to capitalize a title

I like doing these things by hand, but here’s a useful service for the careful writer: TitleCapitalization. Type in your title, and it’s capitalized for you.

This service might not satisfy the super-careful writer. Here are TitleCapitalization’s rules, presented as a paraphrase of The Chicago Manual of Style (8.157):

1. Capitalize the first and the last word.
2. Capitalize nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, and subordinate conjunctions.
3. Lowercase articles (a, an, the), coordinating conjunctions, and prepositions.
4. Lowercase the “to” in an infinitive (I want to play guitar).
The Chicago rules are a bit more complicated:
1. Capitalize the first and last words in titles and subtitles (but see rule 7), and capitalize all other major words (nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and some conjunctions—but see rule 4).
2. Lowercase the articles the , a , and an .
3. Lowercase prepositions, regardless of length, except when they are used ad­verbially or adjectivally (up in Look Up , down in Turn Down , on in The On But­ton , to in Come To , etc.) or when they compose part of a Latin expression used adjectivally or adverbially (De Facto , In Vitro , etc.).
4. Lowercase the conjunctions and , but , for , or , and nor .
5. Lowercase to not only as a preposition (rule 3) but also as part of an infinitive (to Run , to Hide , etc.), and lowercase as in any grammatical function.
6. Lowercase the part of a proper name that would be lowercased in text, such as de or von .
7. Lowercase the second part of a species name, such as fulvescens in Acipenser fulvescens , even if it is the last word in a title or subtitle.
Did I say a bit ? And then there are the rules for hyphenated compounds.

TitleCapitalization won’t solve every title problem (Turn Down , Acipenser fulvescens , E-flat ), but it would go a long way toward getting a title right. It’s saddens me to realize that even the basics of capitalizing a title call for an understanding of grammar (the parts of speech and the functions of words) that most twenty-first-century college students lack.

I found TitleCapitalization by reading Daughter Number Three.

[I know my parts of speech, but I like the modesty of sentence-style titles for Orange Crate Art posts.]


May 9: John Wohn’s Twitter reaction to this post — “Alas, grammar! Grammar blog about capitalizing titles DOESN’T capitalize its titles!! WTF!!” — might have been forestalled had Wohn read the sentence in brackets just above. It’s always been there. WTF indeed.

comments: 2

Fresca said...


Michael Leddy said...