Should You Italicize Book Titles?
Do you ever stop mid-sentence to ask yourself, “Should I italicize or quote book titles?”
It’s a fair question, and it deserves a thoughtful answer. Since you want to be a good writer, you need to know these things, and wondering, “Are books italicized?” means you are paying attention to the important details of your craft.
You might also have the following questions:
- “Should I italicize this article title or use quotation marks?”
- “Are books underlined or italicized – or does it matter which one I use?”
- “Should I put this song in italics if it’s a hit single with its own album?”
Hence this article. When it comes to any rule for writing, we’re huge fans of keeping it simple and easy to remember.
Strictly speaking, the question of whether to italicize or use quotation marks is a matter of style; the rules governing the usage of both can change.
But for some time — roughly since computers took the place of typewriters for word processing — writers have used italics (rather than underlines or quotes) to set off the titles of what the MLA (Modern Language Association) style guide calls “containers.”
Each container is a larger work made up of smaller components.
So, do you italicize book titles? The short answer is yes. The longer answer — the one with more nuance and some research — is just up ahead.
Rule of Thumb for Writing Book Titles
The general rule is to italicize the titles of larger works and to use quotation marks to set off smaller works.
For the same reason, you’ll italicize the name of someone’s blog or website (unless you’re writing the full URL), but you’ll put each blog post’s title or page title in quotation marks.
Do you italicize book titles?
Since even short books are made up of smaller parts (chapters, short stories, poems, etc.), they fall under the “larger works” umbrella, so their titles should appear in italics (when possible).
This applies to both fiction and nonfiction, even if their individual chapters don’t have their own titles. The title for the full, publishable work (the book) is italicized.
It gets confusing when a short story is published both as one of several short stories in a collection with its own book title and as a stand-alone book with the same title as the short story. But even then, your choice of italics or quotes will depend on whether you’re referring to the short story itself or to the book bearing the same title.
Title Formatting on Facebook and Twitter
Of course, you can’t use italics on some social media channels — most notably Facebook and Twitter. So, what then?
The publishing industry prefers all caps to set off titles of larger works (books, albums, etc.) when italics and underlines are not options. The AP (Associated Press) stylebook prefers quotation marks in these cases. And some of us still use flanking underlines or flanking asterisks to set off titles of larger works (no matter how weird it looks).
According to Grammar Girl, her readers overwhelmingly prefer the use of quotation marks for all titles when it’s impossible to italicize or underline anything. Other options – including all caps — get the death stare. So, now we know.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to format all your titles on Facebook or Twitter with quotation marks. For some of us, it just feels wrong to give all titles the same formatting. But apparently, that’s not a universal thing. And rules like this are subject to change.
But when formatting options allow, go with italics (or underlines) for larger works. Because if you ask every known style guide, “Are book titles italicized?” the answer is “Yes.”
Do you underline book titles?
If you’re writing something by hand, it’s still acceptable to underline book titles and other larger works, since writing in italics is difficult, and it’s not always possible to distinguish handwritten italics from the rest of someone’s handwriting.
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In other cases where italics aren’t an option, the flanking underline is an early-days substitute for full underlining. If you hate the way it looks, though, you are not alone.
Do you italicize article titles?
Since articles and blog posts are the smaller components of a larger published work (magazine, newspaper, website, or blog), you’ll set these off with quotation marks.
While capitalization rules for the titles of both containers and their smaller components can vary from one stylebook to another (title case or sentence case), the titles of larger works always appear in italics.
Do you italicize song titles?
As with articles, short stories, and blog posts, songs are considered smaller works. A group of songs makes up an album.
So, while we italicize the album name, we put the song title in quotes.
But what about the “single” — in which case the album and the song titles are the same? Even with these, the album title is still italicized, while the song title is in quotes. And if you’re writing in reference to that single, how you format it depends on whether you’re writing about the individual song or about the album title.
Even famous songs that stand alone (as “singles”) — like “Eye of the Tiger” and “We are the Champions” — appear in quotes (even if we think they deserve better).
Do you italicize poems?
The only type of poem that has its title in italics is the epic poem, which is a complete work of its own. Epic poems are divided into smaller parts — which may be referenced in a citation to make an excerpt easier to find.
Here are some well-known examples:
- Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey
- Virgil’s Aeneid
- Dante’s Divine Comedy
- Alfred Lord Tennyson’s In Memoriam
- Milton’s Paradise Lost
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I hope this has helped clarify the rules regarding italics (or underlines) vs. quotation marks for titles. If you feel more confident in your use of both, this article has fulfilled its purpose.
If you’ve found value in it, please share it to help your fellow writers format any title correctly and with confidence.
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