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Italics vs. Quotation Marks
Up until a few decades ago, writers had two choices: write in longhand or use a typewriter. Typewriters had one font. The characters were one size only. If
you wanted to cut and paste, you needed scissors and adhesive tape.
Writing in italics was all but impossible, except for professional printing companies.
Thanks to today's computer keyboards, we now have access to italics. So we need a sensible plan for when to use them and when to use quotation marks. Here
is a formula we recommend: Put the title of an entire composition in italics. Put the title of a short work—one that is or could be part of a larger
undertaking—in quotation marks.
By “composition” we mean a creative, journalistic, or scholarly enterprise that is whole, complex, a thing unto itself. This includes books, movies, plays,
TV shows, newspapers, magazines, websites, music albums, operas, musical theater, paintings, sculptures, and other works of art.
The following sentence illustrates the principle: Richard Burton performed the song “Camelot” in the 1960 Broadway musical Camelot. Although the
word is the same, “Camelot” the song takes quotation marks because it's part of a larger work—namely, a full-length show called Camelot.
Italics are also widely used with names of ships, trains, and planes, e.g., the Titanic, the 20th Century Limited, the Spirit of St. Louis. (Note: with ships, do not italicize prefixes such as USS or HMS.)
Quotation marks are customary for components, such as chapter titles in a book, individual episodes of a TV series, songs on a music album, and titles of
articles or essays in print or online.
Titles of plays, long and short, are generally italicized. Titles of poems and shorter works of fiction are generally in quotation marks. Long poems, short
films, and the extended stories known as “novellas” are a gray area; some people italicize the titles, others put them in quotation marks.
You won't go wrong with this policy: For a full-blown composition, put the title in italics. For something smaller and less ambitious, e.g., a short story
as opposed to a sprawling novel, put the title in quotation marks. That's the long and the short of it.
Because of the e-newsletter’s large readership, please submit your English usage questions through GrammarBook.com’s “Grammar Blog.”
Place italics and quotation marks where they should go.
1. Elvis Presley sang Love Me Tender in the movie Love Me Tender.
2. Chapter 4 of Beautiful Ruins is called The Smile of Heaven.
3. Who sang God Save the Queen on the HMS Bounty?
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Changes Progressing on Our GrammarBook.com Website
We want to update all our newsletter readers regarding our progress in revising GrammarBook.com to reflect the contents of the eleventh edition of The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation. So far, all of the Grammar, Punctuation, Capitalization, and Writing Numbers Rules have been updated. We have also reviewed, revised, and strengthened about one-third of the quizzes. The remaining revisions will be completed over the next couple of months.
We researched the leading reference books on American English grammar and punctuation including The Chicago Manual of Style, The Associated Press Stylebook, Fowler’s Modern English Usage, Bernstein’s The Careful Writer, and many others. As before, we will provide rules, guidance, and examples based on areas of general agreement among these authorities. Where the authorities differ, we will emphasize guidance and provide options to follow based on your purpose in writing, with this general advice: be consistent.
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Following are more selections from a perverse set of rules that are guilty of the very mistakes they seek to prevent. English teachers, students, scientists, and writers have been circulating these self-contradictory rules for more than a century.
Rules for Writing Good: Writing Tips
1. Foreign words and phrases are the reader's bete noire and are not apropos.
2. Who needs rhetorical questions?
3. Always go in search for the correct idiom.
Pop Quiz Answers
1. Elvis Presley sang “Love Me Tender” in the movie Love Me Tender.
2. Chapter 4 of Beautiful Ruins is called “The Smile of Heaven.”
3. Who sang “God Save the Queen” on the HMS Bounty? (no points if you italicized HMS)
Learn all about who and whom, affect and effect, subjects and verbs, adjectives and adverbs, commas, semicolons, quotation marks, and much more by just sitting back and enjoying these easy-to-follow lessons. Tell your colleagues (and boss), children, teachers, and friends. Click here to watch.