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

Examples
“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.

Examples

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.

Examples

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.

Examples

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.

Examples
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.

2 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.

    • GrammarBook.com says:

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

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