Categories: Language Lab

Italics and Underlining in English

One of the problems, when we learn English online, is the confusion that surrounds the type of punctuation and formatting used when referring to written works such as books, articles, and poems. The same questions also arise when referring to movie, song, and television show titles.

It should be pointed out that there are no hard and fast grammar rules for formatting or punctuating these items; they are a matter of style. Technically a writer can use any formatting they wish, but adhering to a particular style helps ensure readers fully understand what the writer intended.

Some of the confusion arises due to the fact that different publications, institutions, and schools often use different style guides. The major style guides, Chicago Manual of Style, the AMA Manual of Style, and the AP Style Guide generally follow the same rules, but minor variations occur. The variations and idiosyncrasies occur more often in the lesser used or more specialized style guides.

Another source of confusion to some writers derives from their reading experience. Thousands of articles, papers, and publications exist where underlining is used to emphasis text and to indicate book titles and other works. While there is nothing inherently incorrect with using underlines in a paper or article, underlining is considered an obsolete method of formatting and should generally be avoided.

This change in formatting is another example of how the web, the rise of word processors, and other technological advances have changed styles and standards for both formal and informal writings.

In this article we will give you the formatting and punctuation guidelines for a number of specific types of works.

Do You Italicize Book Titles?

Books are considered as complete bodies of work. When writing about a book the title is italicized. It should be noted that italics is used only when the title is used in a text, meaning surrounded by other words. The italics are used to make the title stand apart from the other text.

Italics are not used for title pages and other places where the title stands alone.

The book title rule basically applies to any big or standalone work, such as a newspaper or magazine. Websites are typically considered a standalone work and the web address is italicized.

Do You Italicize Movie Titles?

Movies are considered to be large standalone pieces. They are therefore subject to the same rules as book titles and are italicized when referred to in an article.

Do You Italicize TV Shows?

Television shows present an interesting set of rules. Whether to italicize depends on whether you are referring to the series or an episode.

The series title is italicized; the episode is in quotation marks.

Here’s an example:

My favourite Big Bang Theory episode is “The Proton Regeneration”. 

Do You Italicize Article Titles?

Article titles are treated much like an episode of a television show. When discussing the article it is placed in quotation marks. The title of the publication, or website, where the article is found is written in italics.

Do You Italicize Song Titles?

Song titles are treated like articles and television shows. In most cases the song tiles is placed in quotation marks. The album the song comes from is placed in italics.

Do You Italicize Poem Titles?

The titles of poems are generally placed in quotation marks. However, like many aspects of written English there are some exceptions. If you are referring to an epic poem, such as The Iliad, Beowulf, or Paradise Lost, the title is italicized.

Do You Italicize Company Names?

Company names are treated the same as an individual’s name and are not italicized nor placed in quotation marks. Company names are always capitalized.

Underlining Titles

Often writers will ask it you underline books titles, underline movie titles, underline show titles, underline article titles, or underline song titles.

In general, the answer to this is always “no.”

There is nothing wrong with using underlines, but this as we mentioned earlier this is considered an obsolete, outdated formatting tool and should be avoided.

Using underlines in academic papers often counts against the writer’s overall grade since this formatting convention is no longer in the style guide.

General Guidelines

There is little doubt that if you send just a small amount of time looking at various publications you will soon find articles that treat titles of books, movies, songs and other works differently. It is important to note that those writers are not making grammar mistakes but are adhering to a particular style.

If you are in doubt about how to handle titles of works it is always a good idea to ask what style is used.

In all honesty, the main area where differences in formatting can create a problem is in academic work. Fortunately, most colleges and universities are very good at explaining the style they want students to follow.

In general, here are the main rules for formatting and underlining:

 – Large, complete, standalone works such as books, movies, publications, websites, epic poems, operas, and television shows are italicized.

– Shorter works such as specific episodes of a television series, song titles, poems, short stories, magazine articles, and newspaper articles are surrounded by quotation marks.

While you will still occasionally see book, movie, newspaper and television shows underlined, this is considered an obsolete formatting option and should generally be avoided.

Article related: The Oxford Comma

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Published by Chris Miller

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