Words to Capitalize in Titles and Headings


Capitalize the first, last, and all major words in a book title, headline, or first-level heading. Major words are all words except articles (a, an, the), prepositions (on, in, of, etc.), coordinating conjunctions (and, or, but, etc.), and the word to. This capitalization style is called title case.

  • Title case: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
  • Title case: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Capitalize lower-level headings using sentence case, in which only the first word and proper nouns are capitalized (the words that you would normally capitalize in a sentence).

  • Sentence case: The curious incident of the dog in the night-time
  • Sentence case: The strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Style guides like the AP Stylebook, Chicago Manual of Style, APA Publication Manual, and MLA Handbook prescribe additional rules, discussed in this article.

Capitalization styles

Headings and titles of books, movies, TV shows, articles, and other works can be capitalized using either title case (also called headline style or up style) or sentence case (sentence style or down style).

  • Title case: How the Grinch Stole Christmas
    Sentence case: How the Grinch stole Christmas
  • Title case: The Idea of Perfection
    Sentence case: The idea of perfection
  • Title case: How to Be a Better Writer
    Sentence case: How to be a better writer

Titles of books, movies, and other works; names of periodicals and magazines; chapter headings; and titles of articles and blog posts are usually capitalized using title case. Sentence-case capitalization is used for second-level headings and lower.

News headlines have traditionally been capitalized using title case, although these days, sentence case is often used, especially online.

In this article, we discuss the general rules of title-case capitalization and then review any additional rules and exceptions prescribed by the major style manuals.

Title case: General rules

Here are the general rules for capitalizing headlines and titles of books, movies, reports, articles, and other works:

  1. Capitalize the first word and last word of a title.
  2. Capitalize all major words, which are all words except articles (a, an, the), prepositions (e.g., on, in, of, at), and coordinating conjunctions (and, or, but, and nor; also for, yet, and so when used as conjunctions).
  3. Always lowercase the word to.
  4. Capitalize the first element of a hyphenated term. Capitalize any subsequent elements only if they are major words.
  5. Capitalize the first word of a subheading following a colon.
  6. Break a rule if you need to—for example, if a preposition is emphasized in a title, capitalize it.

Title case rules explained

Capitalize all major words—all words except articles, prepositions, and coordinating conjunctions.

  • Love in the Time of Cholera
  • Three Men in a Boat
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • Requiem for a Dream
  • Catch Me If You Can
  • The Portrait of a Lady
  • The Way We Live Now
  • The Girl Who Played with Fire
  • Men without Women
  • The Ground beneath Her Feet
  • Everything Is Illuminated

Capitalize the first and last words of a title, no matter what they are.

  • A Clockwork Orange
  • The Mill on the Floss
  • In Search of Lost Time
  • Through a Glass Darkly
  • From Blood and Ash
  • But What If There’s No Chimney?
  • And Then There Were None
  • Something to Answer For
  • Something to Believe In
  • All We Dream Of
  • Where We Come From

It may not always be clear at first glance whether a word should be capitalized. Check what function it serves in the title.

  • Capitalize over as an adverb, but lowercase it as a preposition.
    Adverb: The Soup Boiled Over
    Preposition: The Light over London
  • Capitalize yet as an adverb, but lowercase it as a conjunction.
    Adverb: Are We There Yet?
    Conjunction: Broke yet Happy

Always lowercase the word to.

  • Train to Busan
  • Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future
  • A Good Man Is Hard to Find

In a hyphenated term, capitalize the first element, but capitalize the following elements only if they are major words.

  • The Man-Eater of Malgudi
    Eater is a noun and should be capitalized.
  • The Academy’s Out-of-Uniform Procedure
    Lowercase of, which is a preposition, but capitalize uniform, a noun.
  • The Step-by-Step Guide to Finding Fairies
  • The Thirty-Nine Steps
  • The Anti-Inflammatory Diet Cookbook
  • Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World
  • The Fire-Breathing Dragon

Capitalize the first word of a subtitle or subheading following a colon.

  • Computer: A History of the Information Machine
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  • The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction
  • A Memoir: Of Mermaids and Waterfalls

Break a rule if you must. If a word is emphasized in a title, capitalize it, even if it is not a major word.


Capitalize all the words that make up a phrasal verb. (A phrasal verb comprises a verb and a preposition, which together form a single verb with its own meaning.)

  • What to Do When You Run Into Someone You Don’t Like
  • How to Set Up Your Spaceship’s AI
  • Don’t Put Off Being Happy

Be and is in a title

Capitalize verbs, including the be verb in all its forms: be, is, are, was, were.

  • There Will Be Blood
  • Tender Is the Night
  • Where the Wild Things Are
  • Then She Was Gone
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God

Also capitalize the have and do verbs in all their forms: have, has, had, do, does, did.

  • The Heart Has Its Reasons
  • Owls Do Cry
  • What Katy Did
  • Inequality: What Can Be Done?

That in a title

The word that is always a major word and should be capitalized. (In most titles, it is used as a relative pronoun.)

  • Companies That Fleece Their Customers
  • The House That Jack Built

It and me in a title

Capitalize all pronouns, including it, my, me, we, our, you, he, his, she, her, they, them, and who.

  • How It All Began
  • Some of My Favorite Things
  • The Best We Can Do
  • The General in His Labyrinth
  • The Woman Who Did

No and not in a title

Capitalize the words no and not (a determiner and an adverb) whenever these words appear in titles.

  • Beasts of No Nation
  • Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

AP and APA style

The APA Publication Manual (used in academic editing, especially the social sciences) and the AP Stylebook (preferred in journalism, media, and corporate communication) both specify one major exception to the general rules:

Capitalize all words of four letters or more, even if they are prepositions.

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  • The Girl Who Played With Fire
  • Men Without Women
  • The Ground Beneath Her Feet
  • So Far From God
  • Once Upon a Time in the West
  • Much Ado About Nothing
  • The Light Between Oceans
  • The Cat Who Walks Through Walls
  • A Woman Under the Influence
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • The World Until Yesterday
  • but
  • The Man in the Brown Suit
  • The Wizard of Oz
  • A Home for Lunatics
  • The Woman on the Beach

Thus, in APA and AP style, words four letters or longer are always capitalized, regardless of function. Note that the other general rules apply as usual. Capitalize any major words, even if they are three letters or shorter: be, has, had, do, did, me, who, my, etc.

  • We Should All Be Feminists
  • If I Had Your Face
  • Marley and Me
  • The Man Who Sold His Ferrari

Another exception is that all conjunctions three letters or shorter are lowercased. Thus, in APA and AP style, lowercase not only the seven coordinating conjunctions (and, or, but, nor, for, yet, so) but also subordinating conjunctions up to three letters long (which pretty much boils down to the word if).

  • Pride and Prejudice
  • I’d Tell You I Love You, but Then I’d Have to Kill You
  • Catch Me if You Can

Also, do lowercase articles and any prepositions up to three letters long: a, an, the, for, in, of, to, etc.

  • The Bridge on the River Kwai
  • Stranger in a Strange Land
  • The Catcher in the Rye
  • A House for Mr. Biswas

Finally, in AP Style, the first and last words are capitalized as usual, regardless of length.

  • An American Tragedy
  • The Invisible Man
  • As I Lay Dying
  • Of Human Bondage
  • On the Waterfront
  • For the Green Planet
  • Something to Answer For
  • These Times We Live In

However, in APA style, the last word is capitalized only if it is a major word or longer than three letters.

  • Something to Answer for
  • These Times We Live in
    In APA style, lowercase prepositions, unless they are four letters or longer.

Chicago style

According to the Chicago Manual of Style, the conjunctions to be lowercased are and, or, nor, but, and for. All others are capitalized. Thus, the words yet and so are capitalized regardless of function. The word if is also always capitalized.

  • Sense and Sensibility
  • The Hobbit, or There and Back Again
  • but
  • Though We Be Dead, Yet Our Day Will Come
  • Even If We Break

In a hyphenated phrase, if the first element is merely a prefix that could not stand by itself (e.g., anti-, pre-, non-), don’t capitalize the second part.

  • The Anti-inflammatory Diet Cookbook
  • Since the prefix anti- can’t stand by itself, don’t capitalize the second part of the hyphenated term.
  • The Thirty-Nine Steps
    The word thirty can stand by itself, so capitalize nine as well.

Remember to capitalize not just the first but also the last word of a title or heading, even if it is not a major word.

  • The Things We Believe In
    Capitalize the last word, even a preposition.
  • Only One Way Through
  • It’s You I’m Dreaming Of

MLA style

The MLA Handbook (used in academic writing for the humanities) specifies no exceptions to the general rules.

  • These Times We Live In
  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
  • The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress

Sentence case

In sentence case, a title is written as a sentence would be: the first word and all proper nouns are capitalized. This capitalization style is generally used for headings that are second level or lower. These days, it is also increasingly being used for online news headlines.

  • Clear light of day
  • We need to talk about Kevin
  • The quiet American

The first word of a subtitle or subheading that follows a colon is also capitalized.

  • Traveling with ghosts: A memoir
  • Understanding comics: The invisible art

If a title begins with a numeral, lowercase the next word.

  • 27 books to read before you die
  • Practice guidelines for the pickling of pineapples: 2019 update

Professional and social titles that precede a name are capitalized as well.

  • The island of Doctor Moreau
  • The strange life of President Farley
  • The story of Father Femy and his music

For more on which words to capitalize in a sentence, see this article on capitalization.

Differences in AP, APA, Chicago, MLA rules

In title case, the first word, proper nouns, and major words of a title or heading are capitalized. Style manuals differ in their guidelines on what qualifies as a “major” word. Here’s a quick summary of the key differences between the popular styles.

In both AP and APA styles, capitalize prepositions four letters or longer. In Chicago and MLA, lowercase all prepositions, regardless of length.

  • APA, AP: The Girl From Mars
    Chicago, MLA: The Girl from Mars
  • but
  • APA, AP, Chicago, MLA: The Woman in Red

Lowercase not just coordinating but also subordinating conjunctions shorter than four letters in AP and APA styles; capitalize all subordinating conjunctions in Chicago and MLA.

  • APA, AP: Isolate if You Are Sick
    Chicago, MLA: Isolate If You Are Sick

Capitalize the words yet and so in Chicago style. In the other styles, lowercase them when they are used as conjunctions, but capitalize when they are adverbs.

  • Chicago: Broke Yet Happy
    APA, AP, MLA: Broke yet Happy
  • but
  • Chicago, APA, AP, MLA: Am I Normal Yet?

Capitalize the last word of the title in AP, Chicago, and MLA styles even if it is not a major word; in APA, capitalize the last word only if it is a major word. (But remember that the APA Publication Manual considers all words four letters or longer major words.)

  • Chicago, MLA, AP: Something to Answer For
    APA: Something to Answer for
  • but
  • Chicago, MLA, APA, AP: The Places We Come From

In all four styles, capitalize the first word (whatever it may be), and lowercase articles.

  • APA, AP, Chicago, MLA: The Girl Who Found a Dragon Egg

Quick Quiz

Which of these is in title case?
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Which of these is in sentence case?
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Which of these is correctly capitalized in title case?
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Which of these is correctly capitalized in title case?
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Which of these is correctly capitalized in title case?
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Which of these is correctly capitalized in title case?
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Which of these is correctly capitalized in sentence case?
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