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Grammar Tips & Tidbits

 

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Capitalization in Titles and Headings

 

There are tons of seemingly arbitrary rules for capitalizing the words in titles and headings, so when in doubt, it's always a good idea to consult a reference guide. The rules from two leading style guides have been summarized below.

The Gregg Reference Manual (10th edition)
 

Capitalize all words except the following:
●   Articles such as a,  an, and the.
Short conjunctions such as and, as, but, ifor, and nor.
●   Short prepositions such as at, by, for, inof, off, on, out, to, and up.
 
Exceptions:
Articles, short conjunctions, and short prepositions should be capitalized as follows:
 
●   Capitalize the first and last words of titles, no matter the length of the words.  Capitalize the word the at the beginning of a title only if it is actually part of the title.
  Examples: the  Encyclopaedia Britannica, The New York Times
 
●   Capitalize the first word following a dash or colon in a title.
  Example:  Abraham Lincoln—The Early Years
 
Capitalize words such as in, out, off, up, and by in titles when they serve as adverbs rather than as prepositions.
  Example:  "Microsoft Chalks Up Record Earnings for the Year"
 
●  Capitalize short prepositions such as up, in, on, and for when used together with prepositions having four or more letters.
  Example: "Sailing Up and Down the Mississippi"


The Chicago Manual of Style (15th edition)

For the most part, Chicago agrees with Gregg. The primary differences have been outlined below.
 

1) Lowercase all prepositions regardless of length, except in the following situations:
●   When the preposition is stressed.
  Example: through in A River Runs Through It
 
●   When a preposition is used as an adverb or an adjective.
  Examples: up in Look Up, down in Turn Down
 
●  When a preposition is part of a Latin expression used as an adverb or an adjective.
  Examples: De Facto, In Vitro
 
2) Lowercase the second part of a species name.
  Example:  lucius in Esox lucius
 
3) Lowercase the  part of a proper name that would be lowercased in text.
  Example:  de or von


Quick Tip:
Did you know that short verbs such as Be and Is should always be capitalized in titles and headings?

 

For more information on capitalizing hyphenated words in titles and headings, you can read Part II here.

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Sources:
 

1. Sabin, William A. The Gregg Reference Manual. 10th edition.
         New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin, 2005, pp. 116-117.

2. University of Chicago Press. The Chicago Manual of Style. 15th edition.  
        Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003, pp. 366-367.