Title Case

Title Case

Title case is a convention for writing titles. With title case, only the first word and the principal words start with a capital letter. Non-principal words (i.e., the articles, conjunctions and prepositions) in the middle of the title are not given a capital letter.

Easy Examples of Title Case

  • The Last of the Mohicans
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
  • Newcastle upon Tyne
With title case, the first word is always capitalised. Thereafter, only the so-called principal words are given a capital letter. The "principal" words are all the words that are not:
  • Articles (i.e., a, an, the)
  • Conjunctions (e.g., and, but, or)
  • Prepositions (e.g., in, of, on, upon, to, with)
  • (This includes to as part of an infinitive verb, e.g., to be.)
There are entries on articles, conjunctions and prepositions.

More Examples of Title Case

Remember, the opening word gets a capital letter, even if it's a non-principal word.
  • The Last of the Summer Wine
  • (As it starts the title, the article The is given a capital letter.)
  • And Then Came Love
  • (As it starts the title, the conjunction And is given a capital letter.)
  • In the Name of the Father
  • (As it starts the title, the preposition In is given a capital letter.)

Why Should I Care about Title Case?

Understanding title case allows you to write titles using an acceptable (and defendable) convention. It's pretty handy because it removes the need to think about how to write titles.

There are four noteworthy issues related to title case.

(1) Giving a two-letter but principal word a capital letter

You will find that two-letter words often look awkward written with a capital letter, but don't worry about that awkwardness. Stick to the rules.
  • I read "How to be Black" in a day. [wrong]
  • (Despite being short, be is a principal word, so give it a capital letter.)

(2) Adhering to official versions that break the rules of title case

Be aware that not everyone uses title case. You should copy official versions if you know them.
  • The Light Between Oceans (2016 period-drama film)
  • A River Runs Through It (1976 semi-autobiographical novel)
In these titles, the prepositions Between and Through have been given capital letters. It is not uncommon for the rules of title case to be broken for aesthetic reasons. Also, be aware that some style guides recommend, purely for aesthetics, giving capital letters to non-principal words with more than three letters.

Remember, title case is useful because it gives you an acceptable (and defendable) convention if you find yourself floundering with a title. (Typically, this will be with a document title or a paragraph title in something you’re writing, so there won't be an official version to copy.)

(3) Using titles as compound adjectives.

A title (written in title case) is often used mid-sentence as a compound adjective (i.e., an adjective made up of more than one word).
  • Did you get the Interview with a Vampire tickets?
  • I love your Thomas the Tank Engine bag.
The words in a compound adjective are usually joined with hyphens (e.g., free-range eggs) to group them, making it clear they're all part of the same adjective. As this grouping effect is achieved with title case, there is no need to use hyphens in a compound adjective that is also a title.

Make sure you stop applying title case when you've finished writing your title.
  • I love your Thomas the Tank Engine Bag. [wrong]
  • (Bag should be bag.)
  • The Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights document details how to implement the Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework.
  • (Here, the word document is not part of the title but Framework is.)

(4) Deleting The if it starts a title used as a compound adjective.

When The is the first word of a title used as an adjective, logical thinkers might feel the need to use the word the twice.
  • The award was won by the The Last of the Mohicans director, Michael Mann.
This is logically sound, but it's messy. Have the confidence to break logic.
  • The award was won by the Last of the Mohicans director, Michael Mann.
  • (For the sake of aesthetics (not logic), use the once and make it lowercase.)
On a point related to titles, titles are often written with all uppercase letters.
When a pluralised abbreviation features in an uppercase title, it is acceptable to use an apostrophe to show the plural. Be aware, however, that this might annoy some of your readers. (Oh, and I mean really annoy them. I have literally had death threats over this point.)
  • (This is acceptable but potentially annoying.)
  • (This is largely acceptable, a bit scruffy but less life-threatening.)

Key Points

  • When writing a title, capitalise the first word and then just the principal words (i.e., not the articles, conjunctions or prepositions).
  • If a "principal" word is short, stick to the rules. Give it a capital letter.
  • When writing an established title (e.g., the title of a book or a film), copy the capitalisation in the official version. (If you can't find it, stick to title case.)
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