Knowing which words to capitalise in titles and subtitles is tricky! But it often comes down to the difference between ‘title case’ and ‘sentence case’. In this post, then, we’ll look at how title capitalisation works.
When all the main words in a heading are capitalised, it’s known as ‘title case’. Usually, this includes all nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, but not articles or prepositions. The only time these shorter words are capitalised is at the start of a heading or subheading. For instance:
A Guide to Headings: When to Use Capital Letters
Here, we’ve highlighted the capital letters. As well as the first words of the title and subtitle, we’ve capitalised the nouns (i.e. ‘Guide’, ‘Headings’ and ‘Letters’) one verb (i.e. ‘Use’) and one adjective (i.e. ‘Capital’).
However, the rules on which words to capitalise can vary in title case. Some style guides suggest capitalising longer prepositions such as ‘about’ or ‘between’, for example. And others say to capitalise subordinating conjunctions but not coordinating conjunctions.
As such, if you have one, it’s important to check your style guide for advice.
In sentence case, we write titles as if they were sentences. For instance:
A guide to headings: When to use capital letters
Since we’re using sentence case here, only the first words of the title and subtitle are capitalised. However, if a word would normally be capitalised in a sentence (e.g. proper nouns), they should also be capitalised when they appear in the middle of a heading or title.
Title Case or Sentence Case?
If you’re writing an essay or something intended for publication, the first thing to do is check your style guide. It should offer specific instructions for how to capitalise headings. The AP Stylebook, for example, says to capitalise all words more than four letters long.
If you don’t have a style guide, though, it’s pretty much up to you! And if you need any assistance working out which terms to capitalise, there are online tools that can help, or you can get your work proofread.