Rules for Capitalization in a Title

Updated on November 9, 2019
angela_michelle profile image

Angela is a homeschooling mom with a Special Education background. She loves teaching, especially those who sometimes struggle.

Title Case in APA, MLA, and Chicago Style Writing

If you are anything like me, then you spent years struggling to know how to capitalize on a header in an article. The two biggest mistakes people fall under are capitalizing all the words in a title and capitalizing all words bigger than three letters. Although many times this method may work, it is not entirely accurate.

The three most common formatting styles are Chicago, APA, and MLA. Although they each are very similar, there are slight variations, and so it's essential to know which method to use. Fortunately, when dealing with the title case, there are very few differences. If you are unsure or it does not matter which style you use, then you want to assure that you are consistent throughout your article or paper.

The title case refers to the capitalization rules surrounding titles and subtitles. Use title case when writing the title of a book, song, play, etc. Also, use it in newspaper and magazine headlines, as well as titles and subtitles for an article. It is different than sentence case, which refers to the capitalization rules in the body of a text.

According to MLA, APA, and Chicago standards, this title should read, "Rail Wreck Fatal to 20" The word "to" should not be capitalized.
According to MLA, APA, and Chicago standards, this title should read, "Rail Wreck Fatal to 20" The word "to" should not be capitalized. | Source

What to Capitalize

Significant words are capitalized, while minor words are not. Minor words would include articles, coordinating conjunctions, and prepositions. Although, capitalize minor words if they are:

  • The first word in a title
  • The last word in a title
  • The first word after a colon (:)

A word is a significant word if it falls under one of these categories:

  • Nouns (Chair, Life, Peace, etc.)
  • Pronouns (He, She, They, etc.)
  • Verbs (Sit, Jump, Prance, and all "to be" verbs, etc.)
  • Adjectives (Small, Brown, Annoying, etc.)
  • Adverbs (Quickly, Abruptly, Smoothly, etc.)
  • Subordinating conjunctions (Whereas, As Soon As, Therefore, etc.)

Keep in mind that "to be" verbs are considered verbs. Many accidentally use lower case, because they are very short. To be verbs include; am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been.


What Should Never Be Capitalized

In all four styles, there are three types of words that you should not capitalize. The one exception is if they are the first or last word in a title.

  • Articles (a, an, the)
  • Coordinating Conjunctions (and, but, or, nor)
  • Short Prepositions, which are four letters or less (at, by, of)

Longer prepositions, such as above or under, may be capitalized dependent on what style you use. MLA and Chicago do not capitalize these words (ex. The Troll under the Bridge), whereas APA does capitalize longer prepositions (ex. The Troll Under the Bridge.)

Capitalize the "to" in an infinitive (ex. to play) in APA, but not in MLA or Chicago style.

  • APA example: The Kid Who Had To Walk
  • MLA or Chicago example: The Kid Who Had to Walk

Capitalization in Hyphenated Words

You should always capitalize the beginning letter of a hyphenated word. When dealing with numbers such as "Twenty-Third," or "Two-Fourths," both elements should begin with an uppercase letter in APA formatting. Still, MLA and Chicago will only capitalize the first letter in the first element, such as "Four-fifths."

When hyphenating other words such as "Pre-Test," it is important to follow the same rules as above. For instance, "State-of-the-Art" and "Anti-Processing."

Words That Differ Dependent on Use

In, on, by, up, etc. can be used as both adverbs or prepositions and therefore have different rules dependent on usage.

  • (Up as an adverb) Soaring Up High
  • (Up as a preposition) Walking up the Hill

The coordinating conjunction "but" can also vary

  • (as an adverb) Life Is But a Dream
  • (as a coordinating conjunction) Nothing but the Truth

Unfortunately, there are a lot of sources that disagree as to what should be capitalized and what should not be, even within the same style. The best rule of thumb is to be consistent throughout all of your work. Only make changes if the editor or publisher explicitly states that they want a particular formatting.

Questions & Answers

  • Do you capitalize the word "for" in a title?

    That depends on where the word "for" is in the title. If it is at the beginning, then yes, you should. If it is in the middle, then usually no. If it happens to come after punctuation, then you should capitalize the word "for."

  • Should the word "kept" be capitalized in a title?

    Yes, it should. Since "kept" is a verb, and verbs should be capitalized in a title in all formats, the word "kept" should be capitalized.

  • Should the word 'on' be capitalized in a title?

    In most cases, no it should not be unless it is at the beginning of a title. For example, "On the Border" will have a capitalized 'o' because it begins the title, whereas "Little House on the Prarie" will not have a capitalized 'o' because it is in the middle of the title.

  • In "US mail," should "mail" be capitalized?

    If it is part of a title, then yes, "mail should be capitalized, so that it reads "US Mail."

  • Do you capitalize the word "on" in a title?

    In most cases no, unless it is the beginning of a title or after a punctuation; example "On the Border."

© 2018 Angela Michelle Schultz


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • angela_michelle profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Michelle Schultz 

      24 months ago from United States

      I have noticed that HubPages don't adhere strictly to one, but a highbrid. For instances, the one thing they do not follow with APA is the to in a verb. You'll notice the "What to Capitalize" is not technically APA consistent. On the other hand, they capitalize longer prepositions like through and without, which is APA unique. The key is being consistent and if you are writing for a particular company to understand their requirements.

    • Jean Bakula profile image

      Jean Bakula 

      24 months ago from New Jersey

      Well done! I find HP uses APA, but has a few of their own quirks in there too, and editors often hold a submitted niche article for weeks over one article! What they want is different than what I learned in writing in school, as there was no APA then. My post college aged son also thinks that HP takes liberties with this style, as I sometimes ask him to proof read for me what I can. Thanks for an informative piece!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      2 years ago

      What a valuable article for all writers. I will have to file this for reference.

    • angela_michelle profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Michelle Schultz 

      2 years ago from United States

      I was so not a newbie, but until I decided to write this, I had NO IDEA how to write a header. I kept doing it wrong and the staff kept correcting it. I finally decided to learn so I didn't need to it constantly corrected for me.

    • Gregory DeVictor profile image

      Gregory DeVictor 

      2 years ago from Pittsburgh, PA

      Great article! Because I am a grammar fanatic myself, your article is very informative. I also believe that some of HP’s newbie writers should read your article. Many of them don’t know how to properly capitalize the titles of their hubs as well as the capsule headings.

    • angela_michelle profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Michelle Schultz 

      2 years ago from United States

      I actually wrote it, because I am always capitalizing titles incorrectly. So instead of having editors correct me, I thought I would learn how to do it. Then, figured it was worth writing about it!

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      Excellent post. This is a helpful guide for writers, students, and anyone needing to proofread work.

    • Halley Indonesia profile image

      Halley Kawistoro 

      2 years ago from Indonesia

      nice article mis.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)