Is Is Capitalized in Titles?


This is my cat, Buff Buff.  He’s in a box!

Is, with just its two lovely letters, seems to confuse many people as they go about capitalizing chapter titles, article titles, subtitles, and so forth.

Should is be capitalized in titles? Let’s find out.

(Okay, if you’re looking for the quick answer, it’s: yes, you should capitalize is in titles. If you want to discover why it should be capitalized, read on. You can also find a full review of how to write titles here.)

First, let’s review which words get capitalized in titles (according to The Chicago Manual of Style).

  1. First and last words
  2. Nouns
  3. Verbs
  4. Pronouns
  5. Adjectives
  6. Adverbs

Is (like pillage, splatter, and giggle) is a verb. So, even though it’s a teeny tiny verb, it still gets the full capitalization treatment.

Let’s check out this example:

The Cat Is in the Box

The verb in this title is is, so it gets capitalized.

Here’s another:

The Cat Is in the Box, and He Looks Confused

Is and Looks are both verbs in this title. They both get capitalized.

And, when in doubt, you can always cheat. There is a handy dandy online tool named Capitalize My Title that will do the work for you. Simply type in the words of your title, and—voilà—it formats it for you in whichever style you wish.

Erin Servais is the founder of Dot and Dash, LLC, an author-services company focusing on women writers and offering a range of book editing, author coaching, and social media packages.

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Using brand names

Kleenex. Band-Aid. ChapStick. What do these words have in common? They are all trademarked. If you bought a store brand box of thingies to blow your nose into, you’re actually using facial tissues, not Kleenex. Likewise, if you rub something on your lips that doesn’t come in a tube labeled ChapStick, you’re using plain old lip balm.

JetSki, Google, Crock-Pot, Post-it—the list goes on.

What does this mean for your writing? Generally, it is okay to reference brand names in writing. The main point to remember is brand names need to be treated like other proper nouns. This means brand names should be capitalized. (Generic names do not require capitalization.)

Example: I had such a bad cold last week that I sneezed my way through three boxes of Kleenex.

However, be mindful of using brand names correctly. For instance, if you are writing a blog post about your nasty cold, you shouldn’t post a photo of you holding a box of facial tissues labeled “Joe Shmoe’s brand of facial tissues” and then reference the brand name Kleenex in a caption. If your post rockets in popularity, it’s possible the trademark police could come after you because brand names should be used to reference that particular brand only.

Here is a list of trademarks often thought to be generic (should be capitalized):
Bubble Wrap
Hacky Sack
Memory Stick
Scotch Tape

Want to learn more?
Mental Floss has a funny and informative blog post about trademarks at risk of becoming generic. Check it out.

Capitalizing Titles of Works

Some people prefer to capitalize each word of a title. But, if you need to learn the rules of the “up and down” style of titles, here is a guide.

Section 8.157 of The Chicago Manual of Style lays out rules:

  1. Capitalize first and last words
  2. Capitalize nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs
  3. Lowercase articles the, a, and an
  4. Lowercase prepositions (of, in, to, for, with, on, at, over, between, around, etc.)
  5. Lowercase conjunctions and, but, for, or, and nor

Note: These are only the basic rules. However, these are likely the only ones you’ll need.
Preposition list: For a longer list of English prepositions, click here.

Let’s run through some examples. I’ll explain why I capitalized or lowercased each word.

1. Vampires Suck Blood from a Young Woman.

  • I capitalized Vampires and Woman because they are the first and last words. (rule 1)
  • I capitalized Suck because it’s a verb. (rule 2)
  • I capitalized Young because it’s an adjective. (rule 2)
  • I lowercased a because it’s an article. (rule 3)
  • I lowercased from because it’s a preposition. (rule 4)

2. The Mating Habits of Mutants

  • I capitalized The and Mutants because they are the first and last words. (rule 1)
  • I capitalized Mating it’s an adjective. (rule 2)
  • I capitalized Habits because it’s a noun. (rule 2)
  • I lowercased of because it’s a preposition. (rule 4)

3. The Unicorn Who Forgot His Knife

  • I capitalized The and Knife because they are the first and last words. (rule 1)
  • I capitalized Unicorn because it’s a noun. (rule 2)
  • I capitalized Forgot because it’s a verb. (rule 2)
  • I capitalized Who and His because they are pronouns. (rule 2)

4. Four Snakes and Rats Played Nicely Together

  • I capitalized Four and Together because they are the first and last words. (rule 1)
  • I capitalized Snakes and Rats because they’re nouns. (rule 2)
  • I capitalized Played because it’s a verb. (rule 2)
  • I capitalized Nicely because it’s an adverb. (rule 2)
  • I lowercased and because it’s a conjunction. (rule 5)

Test your skills with a quiz. Below you will see titles with every word lowercased. Rewrite each title with the correct words capitalized. The answers are below.

1. young boy caught farting in class
2. crazy cat and the dumb dog
3. swarm of grandmothers brazenly pinch cheeks at noon
4. ten clouds turn pink
5. the curious way the sea monster eats her food in the ocean

Answers: 1. Young Boy Caught Farting in Class 2. Crazy Cat and the Dumb Dog 3. Swarm of Grandmothers Brazenly Pinch Cheeks at Noon 4. Ten Clouds Turn Pink 5. The Curious Way the Sea Monster Eats Her Food in the Ocean

All in the family

Lesson: when to capitalize titles for family members

Today we’re going to talk about moms and dads and aunts and cousins and step-uncles and so on—all the people in your family—and whether to capitalize the first letter in the words we call them (the nice names like “sister” not like “jerkface”).

Let’s take a look at this sentence:

Hey, mom, are the cookies ready yet?

So, should the first M in mom be capitalized? The answer is yes.

Here’s another example:

I asked my mom if the cookies were ready.

Should this M in mom be capitalized? The answer is no.

Here’s the easy-to-understand rule: When you can replace mom (or aunt, sister, grandma, whatever) with the person’s real name and have the sentence still make sense, then you capitalize the first letter. If you can’t replace mom with the person’s real name and have the sentence still make sense, then it is not capitalized.

Let’s look at the sentences again, replacing mom with the name Phyllis.

Hey, Phyllis, are the cookies ready yet?
I asked my Phyllis if the cookies were ready.

Do you see how the second sentence doesn’t make sense when we replace mom with Phyllis?

Tip: Usually you will see someone’s relationship to the person in question in instances when the first letter shouldn’t be capitalized. Examples: her brother, my uncle, his friend’s step-sister.

Let’s look at two more sentences to make sure we understand this. Here, I will capitalize (or not) as is correct.

I don’t think, Dad, that you will ever understand how snakes slither.
My dad won’t ever understand how snakes slither.

Do you think you understand? Test your knowledge with this quiz. Look at the word in parentheses and decide if it should be capitalized. The answers are at the bottom.

  1. Yo, (sister), who gave you that black eye?
  2. I read on the bathroom wall that I should call your (brother) for a good time.
  3. Sometimes I think, (mom), that you are too obsessed with physics.
  4. Her (uncle) picks his nose.
  5. Did you read the blog post about princesses that my (cousin) wrote?
  6. I thought I saw you, (grandma), walk out of martial arts class.

1. Sister 2. brother 3. Mom 4. uncle 5. cousin 6. Grandma