Grammar Capitalizing Titles |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Capitalizing Titles

When and how to capitalize titles of works and titles of formal rank or professional status can remain a common question. We’ll focus on that topic today for additional clarity.

(Note that style for capitalizing titles can vary among stylebooks and in-house style guidelines. What we share here offers a baseline that you can follow; the rules are not absolute. If you would like further insight into the subject, you can review our related topics using the links at the end of this article.)

Capitalizing Titles: Works

For titles of books, screenplays, stories, TV shows, songs, and so on, capitalize:

first and last words

all nouns, pronouns (including it), verbs (including to be verbs such as is), adjectives, adverbs, and subordinating conjunctions (e.g., whether, since, before)

longer prepositions (usually four or five letters and more based on preference, such as over or between)

any word that follows a dash, colon, or question mark

Do not capitalize the following unless they are the first or last words of the title:

articles (e.g., a, an, the)

short conjunctions (e.g., and, but, yet)

short prepositions (e.g., in, on, at)

the word to in infinitive phrases

“The Boy Who Cried Wolf” “Married with Children”
For Whom the Bell Tolls “The Boy Born to Run”
To Kill a Mockingbird “As Time Goes By”

If a title has a subtitle, use a colon after the main title and the same capitalization guidelines for the subtitle, including capitalizing the first and last words: My Climb up Mount Kilimanjaro: Lessons to Learn From.

If a title includes a hyphenated compound, capitalize the first word. Capitalize the following word if it is a noun or a proper adjective or if it is equal in importance to the first word.


Building Your Company A-Team (noun)

The Spanish-American War (proper adjective)

“Midwestern Bed-and-Breakfast Getaways” (parallel words)

A second word in a hyphenated compound that is descriptive in a title (i.e., an adjective) might not be capitalized: “Achieving an Iron-rich Diet.”

Capitalizing Titles: Formal Rank or Professional Status

Capitalize titles of honor or rank—governmental, military, ecclesiastical, royal, or professional—when they precede names. When these titles do not precede names, they are typically not capitalized.


President George Washington; George Washington, the president

King Louis XIV; Louis XIV, the king

Washington Governor Jay Inslee; Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington

U.S. General William Y. Smith; William Y. Smith, a general in the U.S. military

Also keep in mind that occupational descriptions differ from titles of rank or professional status. For example, we would write author Stephen King but Senator Joseph Hill, as well as football coach Bobby Petrone but Queen Elizabeth II.

On occasion, we might capitalize an occupational title if it replaces a first name: professor Richard Drew but Professor Drew.

Capitalizing Titles: Direct Address

We would typically capitalize titles of rank, status, occupation, or kin if addressing the person directly in a way that identifies him or her.


We hope you can come to the birthday party, Dad.

Will you be taking any further questions, Madame President?

Do you have any other recommendations, Doctor?

We would similarly capitalize titles that stand in for a person’s name: Do you know if Mom is here yet? Titles in family names also are capitalized when they precede a name: Uncle Buck, Grandpa Joe.

An exception to this guideline can include a direct address that is more general, descriptive, or nonspecific: Okay, buster, we caught you red-handed this time; Thank you, dear.

Capitalizing Titles: Academic Courses

Capitalize the names of specific course titles but not general academic subjects.

I must take at least one mathematics course as well as Biology 101.
She has a double major in economics and political science.

Related Topics

Capitalizing Composition Titles: The Lowdown
Capitalization Rules
Capitalization of Job Titles

Pop Quiz

Using what you understand from the discussion, either capitalize the title properly or correct the title if it is not properly capitalized.

1. “the man who knew too much”

2. “too Close for Comfort”

3. Jimmy Carter, former U.S. President and U.S. Navy Lieutenant

4. “Enhancing your Time-management Skills”

5. “I know, mom, but you and dad said I could drive the Porsche.”


Pop Quiz Answers

1. “The Man Who Knew Too Much”

2. “Too Close for Comfort”

3. Jimmy Carter, former U.S. president and U.S. Navy lieutenant

4. “Enhancing Your Time-Management Skills”

5. “I know, Mom, but you and Dad said I could drive the Porsche.”

If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

9 responses to “Capitalizing Titles”

  1. Shawna Laderach says:

    I’m wondering if the “title” of a section of a form/certificate is capitalized. We have a construction approval certificate with three sections, approval to construct, interim approval to operate, and final approval to operate. At the beginning of our letters we refer to the form and section of the form that is signed by us. So is it correct to write, “Enclosed is a Construction and Operation Certificate with the Approval to Construct section signed” with “approval to construct” capitalized?
    Thank you for your help.

    • says:

      If your company uses formal titles for certificates and sections, you may capitalize to distinguish them.

  2. Deryck O'byrne says:

    I have problems working out whether the title of a story, as opposed to a book, should be capitalizsed. The same with chapter titles. It confuses me that album titles and song titles now have so much capitalization; I used to only capitalize words I expected should be, such as Iron Maiden’s The number of the Beast (beast because it refers, essentially, to the Devil, a kind of name as such) but I see now it’s written Iron Maiden’s The Number of the Beast. The definite article is of course only capitalized because it’s the beginning of the title, so I understand that another album title, such as Yes’s album Close to the Edge does not need “the” capitalized.

    But chapter/story titles give me a headache. Which is correct here?

    (Book title) Journeys into Imagination
    (Chapter title) Chapter VII: Far Beyond the Event Horizon
    Far beyond the event horizon
    or even
    Far beyond the Event Horizon

    Is it
    A Brief Guide to Hunting Down Witches
    A brief guide to hunting down witches?

    Very grateful for any guidance.
    Thank you.

    • says:

      Story and chapter titles should both be capitalized. Book titles are italicized; and titles of articles, chapters, and other shorter works are set in roman and enclosed in quotation marks.
      Journeys Into Imagination or Journeys into Imagination (style may differ for capitalization of prepositions)
      Chapter VII: “Far Beyond the Event Horizon”
      A Brief Guide to Hunting Down Witches (if a book title)
      “A Brief Guide to Hunting Down Witches” (if an article)
      See our post Titles of Books, Plays, Articles, etc.: Underline? Italics? Quotation Marks?

  3. Dorianne says:

    This is very helpful, and I hope to use this more. I’m so glad I found this site.

  4. Carolyn Eagle says:

    When rewriting the title of a book (children’s picture book) that has all capital letters for all or most of the words, how do I write the title?

  5. Margaret M. Jernberg says:

    Do you capitalize titles used in plural as form of address: Excuse me, Officers (or officers?)? Thanks for letting me know.

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