How to Capitalise Headlines

Amelia Zimmerman
Apr 21, 2020 · 4 min read

If you’re writing a headline or a title, you’ll want to think about how you’re going to capitalise it. There are two styles for capitalising headlines: headline style, and sentence style. I’ll explain headline style in this post and sentence style in the next; you can choose which one you use. Of course, if you’re following a style guide, you should follow those recommendations. As always, whichever you pick, the most important thing is to stick to it!

Headline style

In headline style, you should capitalise the following words of your headline, title or subtitle:

  • The first and last words

You should also capitalise all other words, with the exception of:

  • Prepositions (more on these later)

After that, things get a little complicated.

Prepositions

Prepositions are words that demonstrate the physical or temporal relationship between two things. Here’s a list of common prepositions:

There’s some debate on capitalising prepositions in headlines. The Chicago Manual of Style says all prepositions in headlines should stay in lowercase, but other style guides believe you should capitalise four-letter or longer prepositions, while still others believe the rule should apply only to prepositions of five letters or more.

Once again, if you’re not following a style guide or your style guide doesn’t provide particular guidance around capitalisation prepositions, you should pick a rule and stick to it.

Sometimes prepositions are attached to a verb. This is called a phrasal verb. Examples of phrasal verbs include carry on, back out, break up and get around. If you have a preposition in your headline that is part of a phrasal verb, it’s considered a verb, and therefore should be capitalised.

On a final note, remember that prepositions can at times act as adverbs, adjectives and nouns, and if that’s the case in your headline, they’ll need to be capitalised.

Hyphenation

And this is where it gets even trickier. There is some serious debate around headline capitalisation and hyphenated words.

The major contenders are the Chicago Manual of Style and the WIT style guide (Waterford Institute of Technology).

Chicago recommends treating each hyphenated word like you would any other word in a headline: capitalising everything except articles (Under-the-counter), prepositions (An Up-to-Date List), coordinate conjunctions (A Down-and-Out Town), and words that come after a prefix (e.g. Anti-establishment, E-mail).

WIT has a few additional recommendations: only the first word in spelled-out numbers should be capitalised (Eighty-nine Days, Thirty-first birthday), and similarly, only the first word in permanent compounds (words that are always hyphenated no matter the context) should be capitalised (Great-grandfather, Runner-up, Daughter-in-law, So-called).

And if you’re wondering about slashes between words, don’t worry. Capitalisation doesn’t change if there’s a slash next to your words. For example, if it’s “Photographer/Filmmaker”, you’d keep both capitalised, or if it’s “and/or”, you’d keep both uncapitalised. If only one word should be capitalised, that’s fine too.

A few things to remember

Always remember to capitalise the verb is — it’s so tiny, but it’s a real verb!

Be careful of the word as — it can function as a preposition, conjunction, adverb or pronoun. The Chicago Manual of Style recommends always leaving it lowercase, but if you don’t like that advice, you should only keep it lowercase if it’s acting as a preposition.

And that’s all you need to know on headline style. In the next post, we’ll explore sentence style, and you can see which you prefer.

Write to Edit

Write better, edit less.

Amelia Zimmerman

Written by

Science, history and how things work — 💡 Get a little bit smarter every week 👉 http://insideoutnewsletter.substack.com

Write to Edit

Write better, edit less. Writing tips, style advice and grammar guidance.

Amelia Zimmerman

Written by

Science, history and how things work — 💡 Get a little bit smarter every week 👉 http://insideoutnewsletter.substack.com

Write to Edit

Write better, edit less. Writing tips, style advice and grammar guidance.

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