Writing‎ > ‎


General Rules
  1. Always capitalize the first and the last word.
  2. Capitalize all nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, and subordinate conjunctions ("as", "because", "although").
  3. Lowercase all articles, coordinate conjunctions ("and", "or", "nor"), and prepositions regardless of length, when they are other than the first or last word. (capitalize prepositions of five characters or more ("after", "among", "between").)
  4. Lowercase the "to" in an infinitive.

Most writers are familiar with these general rules. But some have difficulty identifying the various parts of speech, while others have internalized incorrect "rules" taught in elementary school. These individuals are therefore prone to making mistakes when capitalizing or lowercasing words in titles. The most common mistakes are presented below.

Two-Letter Words
Some writers lowercase all two-letter words, probably by extrapolation from the short prepositions "of", "to", "up", and so on, and the word "to" in infinitives. But if a two-letter word is acting as a noun, pronoun, adjective, or adverb, it must be capitalized. For example:

    Go Tell it on the Mountain
    (wrong; "it" is a pronoun and should be capitalized)

    When is a Spade a Spade?
    (wrong; "is" is a verb and should be capitalized)

Multipurpose Words
Some writers lowercase words that can function as prepositions when those words are currently functioning in other capacities. For example:

    The Man in the Moon Owns a Yellow Balloon
    (correct; "in" is functioning as a preposition and should be lowercased)

    Bringing in the Sheaves
    (wrong; "in" is functioning as an adverb and should be capitalized)

Phrasal Verbs
Some writers find it hard to decide how to capitalize a title containing a phrasal verb. Phrasal verbs are verbs whose meaning is completed by a word called a particle. For example, the verb "to give" has a different meaning than the phrasal verb "to give up".

Like other multipurpose words, words functioning as particles must be distinguished from the same words functioning as prepositions. Particles are always capitalized because they form part of the verb. For example:

    My Travels up Nova Scotia's South Shore
    (correct; "up" is functioning as a preposition and should be lowercased)

    Setting up Your Computer
    (wrong; "up" is functioning as a particle and should be capitalized)

Mistaken Notions
Grammar just doesn't sink naturally into everyone's head. To some writers, the fact that one word resembles another is enough reason to treat those words equally when it comes to capitalization in a title. For example:

    The Time of their Lives
    (wrong; "their" is an adjective and should be capitalized—the writer probably extrapolated from "the")

Subpages (1): What's in a Title?