Grammar Capitalizing Composition Titles, Part II |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Capitalizing Composition Titles, Part II

Some may question the need for a two-part series on this esoteric topic. But even those who consider themselves top-notch at identifying parts of speech in a word grouping will find composition-title capitalization a skill worth mastering.

Any title of more than two words can be a challenge. How would you capitalize a title such as not yet rich? Since the first and last word in any title are always capitalized, the only question is whether to cap yet. In this case, yet is an adverb, and adverbs are always capped. So make it Not Yet Rich.

Now suppose the title is rich yet miserable. This time yet is one of the seven coordinating conjunctions (the others are and, or, nor, but, for, and so). Since coordinating conjunctions are not capitalized in titles, the right answer is Rich yet Miserable.

Here are two correctly capitalized titles: Going up the Road and Going Up in a Balloon. In the first title, up is a preposition, and short prepositions are not capitalized. In the second title, Up is an adverb and should be capped.

Along the same lines, compare the following three titles: I Got It off the InternetPlease Put It Off for Today, and I Hit the Off Switch. In the first example, the preposition off is lowercase. But the word must be capped in the second example because put off, meaning “to postpone,” is a two-word phrasal verb (a verb of two or more words). One-word verbs, auxiliary verbs, and phrasal verbs are always capitalized. Off is also capped in the third sentence because the word functions as an adjective in that title, and adjectives are always capitalized.

Although the seven coordinating conjunctions are not capitalized, you may have noticed there are many more than seven conjunctions in English. Most of these are called subordinating conjunctions, because they join a subordinate clause to a main clause. Familiar examples include asalthough, beforesince, until, when.

There are three approaches to capping subordinating conjunctions: capitalize them all, lowercase them all, or capitalize them if they are words of four letters or more. Take your pick.

Try applying your own composition-capitalization policy to any sentence you see or hear. This is a great mental exercise, which will help keep you well grounded in the fundamentals of our language.


Pop Quiz

Capitalize the following titles. Extra credit: indicate which words could go either way. Answers are below.

1. oh, how i hate to get up in the morning
2. we will be there although it is madness
3. always look up as you go down the road
4. i thought it had no on button
5. pick me up on your way over here
6. my work: the search for a life that matters
7. have you heard of that of which I speak?


Pop Quiz Answers

1. Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning (OR how)
2. We Will Be There Although It Is Madness (OR although)
3. Always Look Up As You Go down the Road (as and down could go either way)
4. I Thought It Had No On Button
5. Pick Me Up on Your Way over Here (OR Over)
6. My Work: The Search for a Life That Matters
7. Have You Heard Of That of Which I Speak?

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9 responses to “Capitalizing Composition Titles, Part II”

  1. Hiromichi W. says:

    Thank you for your stimulating newsletter as usual.

    I have a question about your answer below.
    Why is it possible for ‘how’ an adverb to be lowercased?

    Pop Quiz Answers

    1. Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning (OR how)

  2. Jan says:

    In a title such as “The Pressure Is on Mario Draghi”, would you capitalize “on”? It here “to be on” a phrasal verb or something else? What happens with “be on it”, such as if there were a title “I’m On It, Boss!”? “On” is capitalized? I guess those two phrases, “be on it” and “be on”, aren’t synonyms?

    • In your first example sentence, the word on is a preposition used as a function word to indicate the focus of obligation or responsibility.
      The phrase “on it” is an idiom meaning “taking care of the situation.” It usually occurs in informal spoken contexts. The form of be (am in the contraction I’m) is the verb in your second example, and on is a preposition. Short prepositions such as on should not be capitalized. More information can be found in our post Capitalizing Composition Titles: The Lowdown.“The Pressure Is on Mario Draghi”
      “I’m on It, Boss!”

  3. Tracy says:

    How do you handle the capitalization of infinitives? Example: When To and When Not To Use Capitals – or – When to and When Not to Use Capitals?

  4. Robert Messer says:

    Several English country dances have “a'” in them that does not seem to be an article. How would you capitalize the titles “Bar a Bar,” “Jack a Lent,” “I’ll Go No More a-Roving”?

    • says:

      Because “a” is added as a syllable for rhythm, we wouldn’t treat it any differently from how we would the regular article, as it wouldn’t represent any other part of speech. Therefore, we would not capitalize.

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