capitalizing articles and prepositions in your title

Es­ti­mated reading time is 4 min­utes.

IF YOU ARE GOING TO WRITE FOR PUBLICATION, you need ac­cess to at least one Eng­lish lan­guage grammar and usage style­book. No matter how good a writer you may be, no matter how much ex­pe­ri­ence you may have, you will use that book fre­quently. (Un­less you have a pho­to­graphic memory). As­suming you are using Amer­ican Eng­lish (AmE) in­stead of British Eng­lish (BrE), you should prob­ably fa­mil­iarize your­self with William Strunk and E.B. White’s classic El­e­ments of Style.

It’s a small thing—the fourth edi­tion runs all of 128 pages—but it has cast a long shadow on other style­books since its first pub­li­ca­tion in 1920. But El­e­ments of Style is es­sen­tially just a primer for the two style­books used by most pub­lishers and ed­i­tors of Amer­ican English.

The first is The Chicago Manual of Style, which has been pub­lished for gen­eral use since 1906. It brags that it is “the in­dis­pens­able ref­er­ence for writers, ed­i­tors, proof­readers, in­dexers, copy­writers, de­signers, and pub­lishers, in­forming the ed­i­to­rial canon with sound, de­fin­i­tive ad­vice.” Pub­lished by the Uni­ver­sity of Chicago Press, it has been the go-to ref­er­ence book for book ed­i­tors for more than a hun­dred years!

The As­so­ci­ated Press Style­book was cre­ated by jour­nal­ists and ed­i­tors con­nected with the As­so­ci­ated Press (AP) to stan­dardize usage in Amer­ican news­pa­pers. The AP was formed in 1846 and main­tained an in­formal style­book for a hun­dred years be­fore pub­lishing a public ver­sion in 1953.

Other jour­nals have re­lied on it and it seems to be the most pop­ular with non-Chicago style­books. The AP Style­book ex­panded be­yond the con­fine­ment of news­paper needs in 1977, adding more gen­er­al­ized ref­er­ence material.

Most of the rules and rec­om­men­da­tions in both books are sim­ilar, al­though there are no­table dif­fer­ences. For ex­ample, the As­so­ci­ated Press does not rec­om­mend using se­rial commas (“The red, white and blue of the Amer­ican flag”) while the Chicago Manual does (“The red, white, and blue of the Amer­ican flag”). An­other ex­ample is how each cap­i­tal­izes the “lesser” words in a title or proper name.

ChicagoManualOfStyle 2017 300

The sev­en­teenth edi­tion of The Chicago Manual of Style, pub­lished in 2017 by the Uni­ver­sity of Chicago Press, is the latest edition.

Articles and prepositions in titles

The Chicago Manual rec­om­mends that all ar­ti­cles and prepo­si­tions in proper names and ti­tles should be in low­er­case. The AP Style­book rec­om­mends that ar­ti­cles and prepo­si­tions of three or fewer let­ters should be in low­er­case while those with four or more let­ters should be capitalized.

Let’s use one of the most fa­mous movies ever made as an ex­ample as it has a four-letter prepo­si­tion and a three-letter article:

• Chicago Manual: Gone with the Wind
• AP Style­book: Gone With the Wind

Both look fine but for my eyes, the Chicago style looks better, prob­ably be­cause the four-letter “with” is still a short word. Now let’s try it with one of the biggest hits of the ’60s (it reached #1 on the Cash Box Top 100 chart by Glady Knight & the Pips in early 1968 and then did it again by Marvin Gaye in late ’68):

• Chicago Manual: I Heard It through the Grapevine
• AP Style­book: I Heard It Through the Grapevine

Here, the Chicago style may be more con­sis­tent but the AP style looks so much better, so much righter.

If you use a writing ap­pli­ca­tion when pub­lishing on­line such as Gram­marly, most of these apps use the AP style or a style based on the AP style. For ex­ample, as I am typing these words here, there is a red line below “through” in the Chicago style of “I Heard It through the Grapevine”—Grammarly is sug­gesting that I cap­i­talize the word.

AssociatedPressStylebook 2019 300

The AP Style­books of the past few years have had an ex­tended title: The As­so­ci­ated Press Style­book and Briefing on Media Law.

A few from Lew

Nov­elist ex­tra­or­di­naire and Tell It Like It Was con­trib­utor Lew Shiner proofed this piece and of­fered these observations:

“In my pro­fes­sional opinion, AP style is ob­so­lete. It was de­vel­oped at a time when news sto­ries had to be sent by tele­graph and every char­acter cost money (thus drop­ping the se­rial comma, which can lead to con­fu­sion). Many news­pa­pers didn’t have italic fonts, and, again, italics didn’t travel well by tele­graph. Con­se­quently, AP style doesn’t dis­tin­guish be­tween short story and novel ti­tles (both are in­di­cated by quo­ta­tion marks) or song ti­tles and album ti­tles (ditto). This alone is reason enough to never use AP style.”


CapitalizeMyTitle 1300

This is the home page of the Cap­i­talize My Title website.

Capitalize My Title

There are many web­sites on the in­ternet of­fering ad­vice on grammar, punc­tu­a­tion, and cap­i­tal­iza­tion. Some use the Chicago style but most use the AP style or rules sim­ilar to the AP. But rather than rely on a web­site that may not even re­alize there are op­posing styles from two au­thor­i­ties, in­stead rely on the Cap­i­talize My Title tool.

There is a free tool that helps you get the cor­rect cap­i­tal­iza­tion every time Simply type or paste your title into CMT, se­lect which style you want, and press Enter/Return on your key­board. The CMT tool will prop­erly format your title in that style.

Here is a link to the Cap­i­talize My Title tool.

If you are writing only for Medium with no greater ob­jec­tive or am­bi­tion, you can choose ei­ther Chicago or the AP. If, on the other hand, you are am­bi­tious and pub­lish your work on Medium with hopes of at­tracting a pub­lisher, you’re in a bit of a bind: Book pub­lishers will be looking for you to use the Chicago style while news­paper and re­lated jour­nals will be looking for the AP style.

Whichever one you choose, be con­sis­tent and stick with it.




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