How do you format a book or movie title? Italics or quotation marks? Here are the rules for any kind of title you might use, and some you probably never will.
Write all titles in headline style. That’s to say, capitalize most—but not all—of the words; see Headline Styling to learn which ones. Other languages, however, have their own rules about these things, so if your title is in a foreign language, don’t mess with it:
- The French movie La cage aux folles was remade as The Birdcage, though where birds come into it I don’t know.
In bibliographies, some people write titles in regular sentence style instead of headline style. Feel free to do this if for some reason you wish to make your life more complicated.
Italics and Quotation Marks
Almost all titles are further set apart by either italics or quotation marks. During the age of the typewriter, underlining was an acceptable substitute for italics, but these days it’s likely to be mistaken for a Web link and is therefore best avoided. Underlining does come in handy when you’re writing longhand, but who does that anymore?
When you’re italicizing a title that already contains a word in italics, the two italics cancel each other out, like sound waves, and the word is written in regular (roman) font:
- Her Aquanet-laced memoir was called Notes From the Girls’ Bathroom Circa 1987.
If you’re putting quotation marks around a title that already contains quotation marks, use single marks inside and double marks outside:
- “The Tragic Death of Joe ‘Train-Wrestler’ Johnson” is a famous 1930s folk song.
Now you know how to use italics and quotation marks, but the tricky question is when to use them.
Titles of Books (and Book-Type Stuff)
Write book titles in italics, even if you’re friendly enough with the book to refer to it by an abbreviation such as OED (that’s the Oxford English Dictionary for you non-language-geeks).
Enclose titles of short stories and essays in quotation marks. Also use quotation marks for the titles of book chapters or other book parts, but note that this only applies to titles—just mentioning chapter 3 or the introduction doesn’t require quotation marks or capital letters.
- Kafka’s short story “Metamorphosis” is a favourite of depressives and entomologists.
- The second chapter of A Room With a View is ominously titled “In Santa Croce With No Baedeker.”
Write the titles of book series and editions in headline style without either quotes or italics:
- In Churchill, Manitoba, the His Dark Materials series has led to a rash of disappointed polar-bear tourists.
Movie and TV Titles
Write the titles of movies and television shows in italics. TV episodes, however, should be written with quotation marks. Should you ever find yourself writing the title of a radio show, treat it the same as a TV show.
- One of the best—and longest—movie titles is Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.
- “Law and Disorder” is the infamous Brady Bunch episode in which the actor who played Greg was stoned during filming.
Titles of Web Sites
The titles of Web sites should be written in headline style without quotation marks or italics. For the titles of all other online materials, the Chicago Manual of Style recommends the same treatment as print materials: italicize titles of book-length items and use quotation marks with titles of article-length items.
- I found the article “How to Remove Tapestries From Anthills” on the Useless Tips site.
Magazine and Newspaper Titles
Italicize the titles of magazines, periodicals, journals, and newspapers. If a title starts with the, write the word in lower case and don’t italicize it. Use quotation marks for the titles of articles, but italicize titles of newspaper sections that are published separately.
- A precocious child, he liked his parents to read to him from the Economist at bedtime.
- I photocopied “Tying Flies and Flying Ties: A Deconstruction of Masculinity” from last month’s Postmodern Angler.
- Her latest novel was ruthlessly eviscerated in the New York Times Book Review.
Titles of Plays, Poems, and Music
Italicize the titles of plays:
- In his opinion, the gay subtext of The Importance of Being Ernest is barely sub.
Write poem titles with quotation marks. Book-length poems are an exception; their titles should be italicized. Untitled poems use their first lines as titles. In these cases, use quotation marks but not headline style; that is, don’t add any capital letters beyond those already in the first line.
- Memorizing “There Once Was a Girl From Nantucket” does not make you a connoisseur of poetry.
- Most readers relish the torments of Dante’s Inferno but lose interest in the holier thrills of his Paradiso.
- I love the unexpected imagery of e.e. cummings’s “the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls.”
Treat music titles much the same as poems: italicize titles of operas and long compositions, but put titles of ordinary-length songs in quotation marks. Album titles should be italicized.
- Die Fledermaus is an opera about a giant bat running amok in 19th-century Germany.
- If you sing “The Piña Colada Song” one more time, I’m going to throttle you.
- Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon and MGM’s The Wizard of Oz make an eerie combination.
Titles of Works of Art
Italicize the titles of paintings, statues, drawings, comic strips, and other works of art. The only exceptions are photograph titles, which you should put in quotation marks, and works of art from ancient times, which are so familiar they don’t need marks or italics.
- Looking at Picasso’s Guernica gave the general indigestion.
- Far from refreshing her, the family holiday made her feel like the subject of Dorothea Lange’s famous “Migrant Mother” photo.
- The Venus de Milo is best known for what she lacks: arms.
These complicated and rather arbitrary rules may be tiresome, but they’re worth memorizing if you want to look intelligent. After all, there’s no point in pompously citing Foucault’s Madness and Civilization or Dalí’s The Persistence of Memory if you flub the delivery and undermine your intellectual street cred.