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English Grammar Rules for Capitalizing Titles

Updated July 20, 2017

"Gone with the Wind" or "Gone With The Wind"? Or is it something else? Improperly capitalising titles is not an uncommon transgression for writers. Whether it is a high school essay or a professionally published article, it is important that your work adheres to the correct procedures for capitalising the names of books, movies, songs, poems, plays, events, and any other proper titles. Fortunately for you, the rules are straightforward and easy to memorise.

First and Last Words

Always capitalise the first and last words of the title.

Important Words

Capitalise all the important words in the title. This includes all nouns, verbs, adjectives, pronouns, and adverbs. Note that this includes short verbs such as "Is" or "Be" and common adjectives such as "His" or "Their."

Unimportant Words

Do not capitalise articles (a, an, the), prepositions (at, by, in, to, etc) and conjunctions (and, but, or, for, nor) that are three letters in length or less.

Four-Letter Rule

Capitalise all words that are four letters in length or more. This includes longer prepositions such as "Before," "With," "Towards," "Across," etc.

Hyphenations

When writing hyphenated words, always capitalise the first element. In most cases, the subsequent element will be capitalised, although some exceptions exist. The second element does not get capitalised if is a word that would not normally be capitalised in a title ("How-to") or if it is a modifier ("B-flat"). The second element also is not capitalised if the first is a prefix ("Re-education"). But the general capitalisation rules trump hyphenation rules: always capitalise the final element of a compound that appears at the end of a title.

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About the Author

A transplanted New Yorker currently living in Boston, Kevin Ryan is a new face in the professional writing industry. He graduated with a Master of Arts in human development from Boston College, where he served as sports editor for The Observer and a columnist for The Heights, the school's premier independent student newspaper.