At some point in my life I was taught three different "rules" concerning
capitalization of titles of books and such. "Such" being chapters of
books, games, movies, operas, poems, songs, television programs,
articles, art works, lectures, speeches, documents, plays, workshops,
reference materials, classes, magazines, events, and probably other
things I am leaving out.
- Elementary school: Capitalize the first, last, and important
words in a title.
- In eighth grade I started learning Associated Press style because I
took journalism classes. AP style is:
- Capitalize the principal words, including prepositions and
conjunctions of four or more letters.
- Capitalize an article ("the", "a" and "an") or a word of fewer
than four letters if it is the first or last word of the title. (In
other words, the first and last words of a title are always
- Later in life, I needed to use CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE's rules. In
general, they include the two points above covered by AP, plus:
- Capitalize all nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, and
subordinating conjunctions (if, because, as, that, etc.)
- Articles (a an the), coordinating conjunctions (and but or for nor),
and prepositions are always lowercased (unless they are the first or
last words of the title.)
- CMS also includes these points:
- Capitalize the first element in hyphenated and open compounds in
- Capitalize the subsequent elements unless they are articles,
prepositions, coordinating conjunctions, or modifiers such as flat sharp
or natural following musical key elements.
- Capitalize second elements attached by hyphens to prefixes only if
they are proper nouns or proper adjectives.
- Capitalize the final element of a compound that comes at the end of
a title (other than one with a hyphenated prefix) no matter what part of
speech it may be.
Along the way, I was also exposed to other forms of capitalization of
titles -- notes, bibliographies, foreign titles, technical and
scientific writing, library style, and probably others. I also learned
that "house style" for various businesses and institutions can vary from these "rules." My dendrites were somewhat tangled to start with. By
this point they may have knotted in some portions of my brain from the
stress of all this data.
Further complicating the matter is the fact that whatever I've learned
about open compounds, proper adjectives, subordinating conjunctions,
and many other related terms is not at the forefront of my mind at all
What's the answer for you? Unless you are a copyeditor or working within
the rules of a particular style -- keep it simple and, as always,
consistent. Don't get your dendrites in a knot. The U.S. Government
Printing Office Style Manual offers one easy style: "Capitalize all
words in titles of publications and documents, except a, an, the, at,
by, for, in, of, on, to, up, and, as, but, it, or, and nor." I guess
that's about what I learned in first grade.
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