How to Write Book and Movie Titles

When I teach grammar seminars, a subject that almost always comes up is: How do you write book and movie titles? Do you put them in quotation marks? Do you italicize them? Do you underline or even capitalize them?

And, whenever I hear this question, I’m always struck by the facial expressions of the people in the room. The students are really, really interested. It’s clear that the issue has troubled them for a long time. They can hardly wait to hear the answer.

So I tell them what I consider good news: There’s no right or wrong way. It’s just a matter of style. Then I pause to watch their faces light up with joy and relief. But that’s not what happens. The inquisitive expressions don’t fade because they didn't want to hear “Don’t sweat it.” They wanted more specific instruction. So here’s what I tell them.

News style harkens back to the days when printing presses were like dinosaurs: huge, clunky, and destined for extinction. Most couldn’t make italics. So newspapers put book and movie titles into quotation marks.

<<The actors in “Star Wars” went on to have varying degrees of success.>>
<<Johnny read “War and Peace” in school.>>

Magazine titles they just capitalize, skipping the quote marks.

<<Jane writes for the Time and Newsweek.>>

Book publishers, which have a greater need to print things like tables and charts and excerpts, have had a greater need for flexible printing options, including italics. So, because they can, they skip the quotation marks and just italicize those titles instead.

<<We read The Road.>>

Book publishers also italicize magazine titles, but put article titles and chapter titles in quotation marks.

If, like the people in those grammar seminars, you need a thorough how-to, just consult a style guide. Or you could just pick one way, saying using quotation marks, and stick with it. Either way, there’s no need to worry you're doing it wrong.

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3 Responses to “How to Write Book and Movie Titles”

  1. lol...i had a professor in college that told us..."when you get into the real world, no one really looks that hard, just make it look good (clean and professional)!" lol. now, that i write and am in the "real" world, some of what he says is true (to a point that is).

  2. How does one write a movie title in a list?

    Is it "Longest day, The"
    or "Longest day,The" ie without a space between (,The)

    Also, I notice that the words "The" & "A" are printed at the end of the title following a comma --- what about the word "An" ?
    ie: "An American In Paris" (or)
    "American in Paris, An"

  3. Lou: You mean movie titles in citations, bibliographies, etc., right? There are no real grammar rules governing that. That's more a style thing, like the Modern Language Association style, etc. I'm no expert in such things, but I'm quite confident that there are always spaces -- that no word directly touches a comma before it. As for when to put an article like "An" at the end, I'm afraid I don't know. But I bet a copy of the MLA style book could clear it up for you.