Capitalization of titles

Posted by in Language

Do you know how to capitalize titles?  I always have the hardest time with that.  I think I finally figured it out, though, with some help from Google and Wikipedia.  The unfortunate downside:  I will never look at titles the same way.  I will be critical henceforth.

Nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, non-infinitive particles, subordinate conjunctions, the first word, and the last word should ALWAYS be capitalized in titles.  Articles, coordinating conjunctions and infinitives, and prepositional phrases should be lowercase, as long as they are middle words.

I will give some title examples (of things that probably aren’t in print) and the reasons why they work (or don’t work) that way.

The Neighbor and his Dog or The Neighbor and His Dog

The latter is proper.  “His” is an adjective.

A Picture on the Wall or A Picture On the Wall

The first one is correct here.  “On” is a preposition in this instance and should be lowercase.

Where Is My Wallet? or Where is my Wallet?

Don’t forget the first example.  “My” is an adjective and should be capitalized.  “Is” is a verb, and should also be capitalized.  Just because they’re both two-letter words does not mean that they can be lowercase.  Number one is right.

Tell it Like it Is or Tell It like It Is

Whew, I know.  Take your time.  The second one wins this battle.  “It” is a pronoun and should always be capitalized and “like” is a comparative preposition.  Oh, and speaking of battles….

War among Nations or War Among Nations

Guess what?  It’s actually the second one!  Yay for English!  There’s an exception to the rule of prepositions.  Anything five letters or longer should be capitalized, according to most style guides (it’s also important to note that some set it to four, even).  Some people don’t (Chicago, for example), but the general consensus is that you capitalize long prepositions.  Yes, it’s stupid.  I won’t yell at you for using either title.

Turn on the Light or Turn On the Light

The second.  “On” is actually part of the verb (it’s a particle, or part of a phrasal verb).  “Turn on” is a completely different verb from “turn”.  Confusing?  Probably.  Correct?  Certainly.

I Want some Food or I Want Some Food

The first is correct.  “Some” is an article here.

You Must Think, As Well As Do or You Must Think, as well as Do

Go with number two.  “As well as” is a coordinating conjunction.

You Must neither Think, nor Do or You Must Neither Think, Nor Do

Neither is correct.  And by that, I mean that both answers are wrong.  It’s a trick question.  “Neither, nor” is a coordinating conjunction.  However, “neither” is longer than four letters.  Therefore, “neither” should be capitalized and “nor” should not.

Lots of Things to Do or Lots of Things To Do

The first one is correct.  In this case, “to” is an infinitive.

Age of the iPod or Age of the IPod

Let’s just agree to hate Apple for their naming scheme and go with the first.

I think the U.S. should simply follow other countries and just use sentence case in all titles and headings.  In the mean time, I hope this is somewhat helpful.

(*This is a good place to find even more detail, such as compound words.  This is another good place where I found some helpful ideas.)