Title Style Capitalization

Did you learn to capitalize all the “big” words and lowercase all the “small” words in titles? I sure did. But since becoming an editor, I learned that different style guides have different rules about what to capitalize in a title and what not to capitalize.

A River Runs through It = correct according to Chicago and MLA style

A River Runs Through It = correct according to APA, AP, NYT, AMA style

If you want to use title case (also known as headline-style capitalization) to capitalize your book’s title, headings, and subheadings, you’ll need to know which words to capitalize.


Chicago Style Capitalization Rules

Chicago Manual of Style is the preferred style guide for books published in the US. Technical medical books follow AMA and technical scientific works follow APA. But for the most part, books use CMoS, so that is the style guide I am using for the rules.

With CMoS, capitalization has nothing to do with length of words but rather with part of speech and placement of the word.

  • Capitalize first and last words
  • Capitalize all major words
    • Nouns
    • Pronouns
    • Verbs
    • Adjectives
    • Adverbs
    • Subordinating and correlative conjunctions
  • Lowercase articles (a, an, the)
  • Lowercase prepositions, except when used adverbially or adjectively (Look Up, Turn Down, The On Button, Came To)
  • Lowercase “to” and “as”
  • Lowercase coordinating conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so)
  • Capitalize the first element of a hyphenated compound
  • Capitalize subsequent elements of hyphenated compound unless they are articles, prepositions, or coordinating conjunctions
  • Lowercase the second element of hyphenated words if the first element is a prefix (unless the second element is a proper noun or adjective)

This means the two-letter word “is” is capitalized because it is a verb and thus considered a major word. And guess what? This is true no matter which style guide you’re using. Verbs are always capitalized.

It also means the three-letter word “she” is capitalized because it is a pronoun and thus considered a major word. All style guides call for capitalizing pronouns.


Examples

What She Thought She Knew

  • Capitalize “she” because it is a pronoun
  • Capitalize “thought” because it is a noun
  • Capitalize “knew” because it is a verb and the last word in the title

What Are You Preparing For

  • Typically, you wouldn’t capitalize “for” since it is a coordinating conjunction, but here it is capitalized since it is the last word in the title.
  • Though “are” and “you” are small words, they are capitalized because of their part of speech: verb and pronoun.

The Day I Went and Didn’t Return

  • “The” is capitalized here since it is the first word in the title.
  • “And” is a coordinating conjunction, so it is lowercased.
  •  All the other words are major parts of speech, so they are capitalized.

When to Chatter and When to Listen

  • “To” is always lowercased unless it is the first or last word of the title.
  • “And” is a coordinating conjunction, so it is lowercased.

To Learn, Not for Glory

  • “For” is a coordinating conjunction, so it is lowercased.
  • All the other words are major parts of speech.

Step-by-Step Guide to Finding Your Superpower

  • “By” is lowercased because you lowercase prepositions in a hyphenated word.
  • “To” is always lowercased.

The Tide Is Coming and You Don’t Care

  • “Is” is capitalized, as it is a verb.
  •  “And” is lowercased because it is a coordinating conjunction.

Four Theories concerning the Gospel according to Luke

  • “Concerning” and “according” are used as prepositions here, so they are lowercased.
  • “The” and “to” are always lowercased.

Are Species Co-occurrences on Islands Non-random?

  • “Occurrences” and “random” are lowercased because they are the second element of a hyphenated word that begins with a prefix.
  • “On” is lowercased, as it is a preposition not being used adjectivally or adverbially.

Drive-In Movie Theaters Are Making a Comeback

  • “In” is capitalized even though it is a preposition because here it is used “adjectively” (to describe movie theaters”).
  • “Are” is capitalized since it is a verb.
  • “A” is lowercased since it is a coordinating conjunction

Twenty-One Ways to Rise above Your Competitor

  • “One” is capitalized since it is the second element in a hyphenated word and it isn’t a preposition, article, or coordinating conjunction
  • “To” is always lowercased.
  • “Above” is a preposition.

The Camping Trip with the One

  • “With” is a preposition
  • “The” is capitalized in the first instance since it is the first word but not in the second since it is an article.

Tool for You

If you’re unsure if a word is functioning as a preposition and therefore should be lowercased, or if a preposition is functioning adjectivally or adverbially, or forgot the hyphenation rules, you can use this free tool to ensure you’re capitalizing your headings correctly.

Just select what style guide you are following, then select “title case,” and type in your title, and it will show you the correct capitalization.

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With a passion for words, collecting quotes, and reading books, I love all things writing related. I will admit to having a love-hate relationship with writing as I am constantly critical, but I feel a grand sense of accomplishment spending hours editing my own writing.

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