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Title Capitalization in the English Language

Titles of blog posts and web pages are very important. Having important keywords in the title is the most important ranking factor for search engine optimization. It is also  important to make the title appealing and interesting at the same time, because it is usually the first thing people notice when they see your post or web page in the search results of search engines, feed readers (blogs) and news aggregators. Anybody who tries to attract the Digg.com crowds knows that the title tag can make the difference between having a winner and going unnoticed into oblivion.

Interesting about titles in the English language is also the fact that they follow different capitalization rules for the words used in the title compared to the capitalization rules of regular content.

English is my second language and we do not have different rules for this in the German language. It was always a mystery to me, which words have to be capitalized and which words do not. A simplified but wrong rule is to capitalize every single word in the title. It does look awkward in most cases, independent of the fact that it is just wrong to do it that way.

I used my gut feelings most of the times, but decided to get to the base of it and figure out if there are any specific rules that state which word needs to be capitalized and which word does not. Most people probably know about these rules, but I am sure that I am not the only one who did not learn this in school or college. The people who had it in school can consider this information a “refresher”.

In titles of songs or albums and band names, blog posts or articles, the standard rule in the English language is to capitalize words that:

  1. Are the first or the last word in the title
  2. Are not conjunctions (“and”, “but”, “or”, “nor”), adpositions (“to”, “over”), articles (“an”, “a”, “the”), or the “to” in infinitives.

Conjunctions
Correlative conjunctions are pairs of conjunctions which work together to coordinate two items. English examples include for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so, both … and, either … or, neither … nor, and not (only) … but (… also).

Subordinating conjunctions, also called subordinators, are conjunctions that introduce a dependent clause; English examples include after, although, if, unless, and because. Another way for remembering is the mnemonic “BISAWAWE”: “because“, “if“, “so that“, “after“, “when“, “although“, “while“, and “even though“.  

Adposition
An  adposition is an element that combines syntactically with a phrase and indicates how that phrase should be interpreted in the surrounding context.  “Adposition” is a general term that includes the more specific labels preposition, postposition, and circumposition, which indicate the position of the adposition with respect to its complement phrase. Adpositions are among the most frequently occurring words in languages that have them. Examples: of, to, in, for, on, with, as, by, at, from  

Articles:
The words: the, a and an

Infinitives
The infinitive of a verb is its basic form with or without the particle to. Therefore, do and to do, be and to be, and so on are infinitives.

I found most of the information on Wikipedia and used some of its content directly or in altered form in this post. I also used a few other online resources for complimentary information.

There are always border line cases so I would not worry about it too much, but it helps with the decision if or if not a word in the title should be capitalized if your guts took time of right at the time when you are finalizing a great post for your blog or website.

Cheers!

Carsten Cumbrowski
Resources for internet marketers at Cumbrowski.com, for example keyword research tips and guides for SEO and SEM.

e6149739a0ceadb8fde822225838bd26 64 Title Capitalization in the English Language
Carsten Cumbrowski has years of experience in Affiliate Marketing and knows both sides of the business as the Affiliate and Affiliate Manager. Carsten has over 10 years experience in Web Development and 20 years in programming and computers in general. He has a personal Internet Marketing Resources site at Cumbrowski.com. To learn more about Carsten, check out the "About Page" at his web site. For additional contact options see this page.

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22 thoughts on “Title Capitalization in the English Language

  1. Great post for us non-native speakers. I’d post a printout next to my monitor if your site had a decent print version. ;-)

  2. Jan,

    and there are quite a few of us in this country and elsewhere. The blog is not only read by people who live in the united states. :)

    Btw. just print the post. The site has a print style sheet that makes the content printer friendly when you print it.

    There is no need for a separate “printer friendly” page that only has the potential to create duplicate content issues, if it is not blocked for the search engines. :)

    Cheers!

  3. When I just print this page, all the navigation + ads move to the end. Printing at 75% in Firefix its still 5 pages, but indeed the first page of it is just the text.

  4. Great post. I’ve had the opposite issue publishing articles in German. From what I’ve heard the only word capitalized in most European languages is the first word. Is that true for German?

  5. David, thanks and to your question does not exist an easy answer :).

    General rules for capitalization: First word of the sentence, nouns, proper names/brands and nouns that derive from another word-types (could not find an English translation for “Substantivierung” ) also the pronouns in salutations in the 2nd person.

    I hope the last part made sense. I had to translate it myself because there does not exist an equivalent for it in the English language. Here is an example to illustrate it.

    “Could You please do this for me?”. The “you” is used to address a person and replaces the 1st person salutation e.g. the name of the person and capitalized in German because of that.

    You can also write it in lower case, but that is only one example of the mess created by the reformation of the German language that started in 2005 and was finalized in August last year. A lot of people were opposed it and they already changed things again as a compromise.

    There are 21 rules for capitalization in the German language (and 11 rules for the use of lower case letters)

    Sorry for all the references in German. I don’t know of any good sources that covered this ordeal and mess over the past years to be accurate enough.

  6. Thanks for the info on capitalization. I’ll have to go back and review everything I’ve published in German now.

    > Sorry for all the references in German.

    No worries. That’s what Google translate is for :)

    Now if only I could get someone to post about capitalization in Japanese, Korean, and Chinese I’d be in really good shape.

  7. “Now if only I could get someone to post about capitalization in Japanese, Korean, and Chinese I’d be in really good shape.”

    Hang on, I have it somewhere.. ah, here it is. Aehm it is always lower case or upper case, depending what type of person you are.

    If you think a glass is half empty, it would be lower case and if you think a glass is half full, then it would be upper case instead hehe. Cheers!

  8. Based on your definition of English words in titles which are not capitalized, I believe I’ve compiled a complete list…maybe you’d like to verify?

    Title Capitalization in English
    The following words are not capitalized…
    Articles:
    a
    an
    the
    Conjunctions:
    and
    but
    or
    so
    after
    before
    when
    while
    since
    until
    although
    even if
    because
    both…and
    either…or
    neither…nor
    not only…but also

    Prepositions:
    aboard
    about
    above
    absent
    across
    after
    against
    along
    alongside
    amid
    amidst
    among
    amongst
    around
    as
    aslant
    astride
    at
    atop
    barring
    before
    behind
    below
    beneath
    beside
    besides
    between
    beyond
    but
    by
    despite
    down
    during
    except
    failing
    following
    for
    from
    in
    inside
    into
    like
    merry
    mid
    minus
    near
    next
    notwithstanding
    of
    off
    on
    onto
    opposite
    outside
    over
    past
    plus
    regarding
    round
    save
    since
    than
    through
    throughout
    till
    times
    to
    toward
    towards
    under
    underneath
    unlike
    until
    up
    upon
    via
    with
    within
    without
    Prepositions; Two words:
    according to
    ahead of
    as to
    aside from
    because of
    close to
    due to
    far from
    in to
    inside of
    instead of
    near to
    next to
    on to
    out of
    outside of
    owing to
    prior to
    subsequent to
    Prepositions; Three words:
    as far as
    as well as
    by means of
    in accordance with
    in addition to
    in front of
    in place of
    in spite of
    on account of
    on behalf of
    on top of
    with regard to
    in case of
    Prepositions; Archaic or infrequently used:
    anti
    betwixt
    circa
    cum
    in lieu of
    per
    qua
    sans
    unto
    versus
    vis-à-vis
    Prepositions; Not fully grammaticalized:
    concerning
    considering
    regarding
    Prepositions; Preposition-like modifiers of quantified noun phrases:
    apart from
    but
    except
    plus
    save
    Prepositions; Postpositions:
    ago
    apart
    aside
    away
    hence
    notwithstanding
    on
    through
    withal

  9. Nunajer, Woah! How did you compiled that one? What did you use as sources? Is there any professor or student of linguistic and English language around to double check? :)

  10. I compiled it by looking-up (internet) the parts of speech included on your list, example: using google, “define: adposition” = “It is called a preposition if placed before a noun, and is called a postposition if placed after a noun.” So prepositions. I also looked-up the articles and conjunctions…and compared the various lists I discovered with each other; their matching-up was pretty cut & dry. This then gave me a list by parts-of-speech…which is what I posted.

    On this list, however, there are some overlapping words…words that can be used both as a preposition and as a conjunction; thus, form my self I threw-out the parts-of-speech headers and eliminated the duplicate words. This has given me an alphabetical word list–a list of words not capitalized in English titles (if they are not the first or last word in the title).

    I have a master’s degree in English Language Writing myself and believe my list to be correct…however I also believe that 911 was an inside-job; thus, my list really ought to be double-checked. No, I no longer have access to a professor. In my opinion, the best way to verify my list is to have it check-over by the authors/editors of a respectable English Grammar text-book (though I haven’t looked into this)…or the people at “The Chicago Manual of Style”…or any two/three fastidious high-school or college English Grammar teachers.

    Maybe post it in Wiki and wait for input via the learned within the general public.

    Nunajer

  11. Words like “underneath” should be capitalized as they are greater than four letters in length. So even if it is a preposition, it still may be capitalized.

  12. GREAT list! I am a native English speaker, and I found this site useful for my current college paper. I was not sure if I should capitalize “sans” in my title. Now, I know that I should not do so. Thank you very much!

  13. I was also curious about what words should be capitalized in titles.
    I was searching allmusic.com and found out that “But” is not written in lowercase letters even though it is in the middle of the title.
    allmusic.com is a site which follows the rule of title capitalization… but “But” is capitalized…
    example..
    “No One Knows But You”
    “No One to Blame But Yourself”
    “Down But Not Yet Out”
    even “Yet” is not capitailized
    I’m confused… Is there another specific rule for this?

    You can see that other titles like
    “King of Wishful Thinking”
    “Knock on Wood”
    “Love It or Leave It Alone/Welcome to Jamrock”
    are following the rule correctly..

  14. In addition to Carsten’s useful rules above, I also use a simple rule of capitalizing all words of 4 letter or more, regardless of whether they are prepositions, conjunctions etc., to avoid awkward looking titles. I would always capitalize “which”, for example.

    EG: “The Man From the Moon”, “It Is for Me The Best of All Worlds”