The Grammarphobia Blog

Ups and downs in titles

Q: Are prepositions ever capitalized in titles when they are other than the first word? Thank you for your attention.

A: There are two styles for capitalizing words in the titles of books, stories, articles, poems, and other works.

The more common is headline style; the less common is sentence style (used in reference lists and on the copyright pages of books with the Library of Congress cataloging data).

We use sentence style for the titles of our blog posts. (We find it informal and conversational.) In a sentence-style title, only the first word and any proper names are capitalized.

Most people, however, deal only with headline-style capitalization when writing titles.

We won’t get into all the ups and downs of headline style, since you asked only about prepositions, but in general all major words are capitalized.

The Chicago Manual of Style (15th ed.) recommends that in headline style, a preposition is lowercased no matter what its length, unless … 

(1) the preposition is the first or last word (as in From Here to Eternity or Everywhere but Up);

(2) the preposition is stressed (A River Runs Through It);

(3) the preposition is used adverbially or adjectivally (Look Up in Wonder or Use the Down Escalator); or

(4) the preposition is used as a conjunction (as in Look Before You Leap).

Some of those examples are ours and some are the Chicago Manual’s.

We should mention that actual newspaper headlines don’t necessarily follow the headline-style capitalization recommended by the Chicago Manual. Capitalization of headlines in newspapers varies from paper to paper.

In cap-and-lowercase headlines in the New York Times, for example, all words of four letters or more are capitalized. So are the words “No,” “Nor,” “Not,” “Off,” “Out,” “So,” and “Up,” as well as any small prepositions used as modifiers.

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