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Grammar Tips & Tidbits


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Capitalization in Titles and Headings -- Hyphenated Words


In the last issue of Grammar Tips & Tidbits, we discussed the rules for capitalizing words in titles and headings. If you missed the last tip, you can view it here. In this sequel to the last tip, we'll zero in on some specific guidelines for capitalizing hyphenated words in titles and headings.

Would it come as a surprise to you that the two style guides I consulted regarding this topic didn't entirely agree with each other? I didn't think so! The good news is that you have the opportunity to choose the set of rules you prefer. Here's the scoop:

The Gregg Reference Manual (10th edition)
In a heading or title, capitalize all the elements except articles (a, an, and the), short prepositions (at, by, for, in, of, off, on, out, to, and up), and short conjunctions (and, as, but, ifor, and nor).
The Chicago Manual of Style (15th edition)
Simple Rule (acceptable but not preferred)
Capitalize only the first element of a hyphenated word unless any subsequent element is a proper noun or adjective.
Traditional Rules (preferred)
1)  Always capitalize the first element.
2) Capitalize any subsequent elements unless they are articles, prepositions, coordinating conjunctions (and, but, for, or, nor) or such modifiers as flat or sharp following musical key symbols.
3)  If the first element is merely a prefix or combining form that could not stand by itself as a word (anti, pre, etc.), do not capitalize the second element unless it is a proper noun or proper adjective.
4) Do not capitalize the second element in a hyphenated spelled-out number (twenty-one, etc.).
5)  Break a rule when it doesn't work (see the examples below that are followed by asterisks).
Comparing Examples
In the following chart, I have provided a number of examples and have compared how each of the three guidelines would treat such words if they were used in a title or heading.


Gregg Chicago - Traditional Chicago - Simple
English-Speaking English-Speaking English-speaking
Two-Thirds Two-thirds Two-thirds
Under-the-Counter Under-the-Counter Under-the-counter
Anti-Intellectual Anti-intellectual Anti-intellectual
Record-Breaking Record-Breaking Record-breaking
E-Mail E-mail E-mail
Cross-Stitching Cross-Stitching Cross-stitching
Twenty-First Twenty-first Twenty-first
Up-to-Date Up-to-Date Up-to-date
De-Emphasize De-emphasize De-emphasize
Mid-September Mid-September Mid-September
Twenty-First-Century Twenty-First-Century* Twenty-first-century
Hand-Me-Downs Hand-me-downs** Hand-me-downs
Run-Ins and Take-Offs Run-ins and Take-offs** Run-ins and Take-offs


* the word first, if lowercased, would look inconsistent here
** lowercase short and unstressed elements

So, which set of rules do you like best? I personally prefer the simplicity and formality of Gregg's guidelines, but I usually defer to Chicago when editing books since it is used widely in publishing.

Remember, these rules apply only to titles and headings. Most of these words shouldn't be capitalized at all if used within a paragraph.


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1. Sabin, William A. The Gregg Reference Manual. 10th edition.
         New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin, 2005, pp. 117-118.

2. University of Chicago Press. The Chicago Manual of Style. 15th edition.  
        Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003, pp. 367-368.