Guide to Capitalizing Words in Titles and Headings

This simple guide will help you capitalize words in titles and headings correctly. The three major style guides, The Chicago Manual of Style, The Associated Press Stylebook, and the MLA Handbook have the same guidelines, with two exceptions. This guide explains the common rules and those that differ among the stylebooks. For the most part, if you identify the words you should not capitalize, you won’t have to remember the rules for words you should capitalize.

Summary ~ Capitalization of Titles and Headings

Capitalize the following

The first and last words in the title
Words normally capitalized, such as names (Frank, Oregon, Ford)
Adjectives (large, red, round, bitter)
Adverbs (beautifully, firmly, early)
Nouns (bird, Washington, building)
Verbs (run, throwing, eating)
Pronouns (they, he, she)
Subordinating conjunctions (because, since, therefore)

Do not capitalize the following

Articles (a, an, the)
Coordinating conjunctions (and, but, for, nor, or, yet, so)
Prepositions (above, across, against, at, between, by, along, among, down, in, around, of, off, on, to, with, before, behind, below, beneath, down, from, near, toward, upon, and within)

Exception

The APA stylebook and MLA stylebook suggest capitalizing all words with four or more letters.

Detail ~ Capitalization of Titles and Headings

Capitalize the first and last words in the title

Capitalize the first word and last word in the title, even if the last word is one of the words in the list of words you should not capitalize.

Examples:

Gone with the Wind
The Shape You’re In
The Trial of the Century

Capitalize nouns and pronouns

Capitalize nouns and pronouns. Nouns are the names of persons, places, or things. Pronouns are words that stand for nouns, such as “he,” “it,” and “they.” If the noun is “George,” the pronouns are “he,” “him,” and “his.”

Capitalize verbs and helping verbs

Capitalize verbs, the action words of the sentence and helping verbs. You don’t have to memorize the helping verbs. Just look for words that are connected to the verb. These are helping verbs: am, are, is, was, were, be, been, being, do, does, did, have, has, had, might, will, would, most, can, could, may, shall, should, ought to, and must.

Examples:

Why We Must Learn the Lessons of the Past
The Dogs of War Were Sleeping
Blue Skies Give Way to Storms

Capitalize adverbs and adjectives

Capitalize the words that modify verbs, called “adverbs,” and nouns, called “adjectives.” If a word in the title is defining or modifying another word, it is an adverb or adjective. Capitalize it.

Examples:

The Radical Objectives of the Greenday Movement
(“Radical” modifies “objectives” by telling the reader which types of objectives.)

They Look Greedily at the Shiny Objects
(“Greedily” modifies “look” and “shiny” modifies “objects.”)

Some Costly Gems Are Not the Rarest
(“Costly” modifies “gems.”)

Words You Should Not Capitalize

Articles

There are three articles: “a,” “an,” and “the.” Don’t capitalize them.

Coordinating conjunctions

Lowercase these conjunctions: and, but, for, nor, or, yet, so.

Prepositions

Lowercase these prepositions: above, across, against, at, between, by, along, among, down, in, around, of, off, on, to, with, before, behind, below, beneath, down, from, near, toward, upon, and within.

Differences Among the Three Stylebooks

The APA stylebook and MLA stylebook suggest that all words with four or more letters should be capitalized in the title. The APA stylebook suggests that the second word in a compound word should be capitalized, such as “Self-Report.”
 
 
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