Titles of works: italics or quotation marks

Today we’re going to talk about titles of works (movies, books, articles, and more) and whether they should be in italics or quotation marks. You’ll learn the rules in The Chicago Manual of Style, which is the style guide people who edit books use. The Associated Press Stylebook, which is the style guide newspapers use, has a different set of rules. If you want to learn those rules, you can find a quick guide here.

Books, newspapers, and magazines
Titles of books, newspapers, and magazines should be italicized.

I heard that the book A History of Princess Crowns is fascinating.
The astronaut had a subscription to the newspaper Mars Daily.
Marsha likes the magazine Cats Monthly because it has cute photos.

Articles and chapters
Titles of articles in newspapers or magazines and chapter titles in books should be in quotation marks.

Did you read the article “Fun with Flesh-eating Bacteria” in the magazine?
My favorite chapter in the book was “Germs are gross.”

Movies, television shows, radio programs, and plays
Titles of movies, television shows, radio programs, and plays should be italicized.

The gardener’s favorite movie is the documentary Plants Are Awesome.
The scientist watches the television show World’s Weirdest Germs every Tuesday night.
Sally’s mom loved listening to the radio show Stuff Old People Like.
The little girl’s favorite play was Cute, Fuzzy Animals in the Forest.

Poems and songs
Titles of poems and songs should be in quotation marks.

In high school, Sally wrote a poem called “Johnny Is Cute.”
She also wrote a song called “I Think I’m in Love with Johnny.”

Test your skills with this quiz. Look at the titles in bold and choose whether they should be italicized or in quotation marks. The answers are at the bottom.

1. The most popular article in today’s City Tribune is Boy Rescues Cat from Tree.
2. Francis worked all week on his song That Jerk Stole my Heart.
3. Lacy was sad because she missed Sassy Girls’ Island on television last night.
4. Did you get to the chapter Workouts for the Lazy Man in the book The Lazy Man’s Guide to Life?
5. I tried not to fall asleep during the play The Calm and the Quiet because it was really boring.
6. Steve had to read the poem The Cat Eats Rats for school.
7. After Frank heard the movie review for Car Crashes and Blood on the radio show Watch these Movies, he couldn’t wait to see it.

1. italics, quotation marks 2. quotation marks 3. italics 4. quotation marks, italics 5. italics 6. quotation marks 7. italics, italics

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

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Word Nerd Wednesday

Welcome back to this week’s Word Nerd Wednesday.  Here are some of the best language-related stories I found on the interwebs:

What do alligators, cannibals, and potatoes have in common? They are all Spanish words the English language adopted. A lot of these are eyebrow raisers. Here’s the list at vocabulary.com.

Ever wonder if you are pronouncing Ayn Rand or Vladimir Nabokov’s name correctly? Here’s a pronunciation guide for tricky authors’ names from buzzfeed.com.

Does the sound of chomping and slurping drive you into a rage? If so, you may have misophonia. Here’s more about this strange phobia from nytimes.com.

If you like to tinker, and you love eBook readers, you just might like this guide to making your eBook reader solar powered. From Life Hacker.

I hope you had a nice Labor Day weekend. Unless, of course, you have ergasiomania, which is “a restless desire, amounting at times to an insane impulsion, to be continually at work.” Learn more words about laboring at Wordnik.

Attention page designers: Tired of that “lorem ipsum” holder text? Check out this collection of new and awesome dummy text at Nieman Lab.

Here’s an example of “hipster speak”:

DIY sustainable irony, +1 four loko scenester hoodie raw denim homo williamsburg banksy banh mi before they sold out twee. Put a bird on it thundercats Austin, trust fund carles ethical iphone you probably haven’t heard of them hoodie raw denim. Carles gluten-free you probably haven’t heard of them PBR. Iphone next level put a bird on it high life homo food truck viral. Craft beer thundercats mcsweeney’s brunch terry richardson keytar. American apparel dreamcatcher cardigan, irony homo mlkshk marfa. You probably haven’t heard of them seitan viral freegan, trust fund farm-to-table pitchfork twee irony terry richardson food truck readymade squid next level mixtape.

And “Yorkshire Slang”:

God’s own county tell this summat for nowt risus tha daft apeth nisi ah’ll box thi ears mardy bum wacken thi sen up breadcake erat. Ee by gum god’s own county ey up shurrup mi porta where’s tha bin. Tristique massa michael palin ah’ll box thi ears habitant morbi tristique senectus t’foot o’ our stairs shurrup aye shurrup nah then soft lad ac turpis a pint ‘o mild cras eleifend mauris nec quam sagittis dahn t’coil oil th’art nesh, thee accumsan will ‘e ‘eckerslike libero ut breadcake gerritetten ey up commodo breadcake shu’ thi gob dahn t’coil oil dahn t’coil oil gi’ o’er face like a slapped arse hendrerit, nunc neque gerritetten dolor, vitae bobbar where there’s muck there’s brass mi eget breadcake how much. Lectus nunc, ‘sup wi’ ‘im. A ey up nec, ah’ll gi’ thi summat to rooer abaht mardy bum nobbut a lad tell this summat for nowt ah’ll gi’ thee a thick ear nobbut a lad faucibus et by ‘eck ut, that’s champion ah’ll learn thi nisl. T’ ey up risus, tha knows bloomin’ ‘eck amet michael palin face like a slapped arse tha daft apeth in mi. Will ‘e ‘eckerslike nay lad ‘sup wi’ ‘im. Ee by gum nah then placerat gerritetten ey up aye aliquam cack-handed enim id purus blandit where there’s muck there’s brass et where’s tha bin. Leo.

And now “journo ipsum”:

rubber cement we will make them pay David Foster Wallace startups plagiarism kitchen table of the future link economy right-sizing linking awesome cancel my subscription Instagram, CPM layoffs filters WaPo gamification future of context What Would Google Do Flipboard paywall. TBD Politics & Socks page meme we need a Nate Silver curmudgeon hot news doctrine in the slot, Bill Keller we will make them pay What Would Google Do algorithms Neil Postman reality-based, Demand Media bringing a tote bag to a knife fight NPR discuss newsonomics.

Word Nerd Wednesday

an xkcd comic

Here’s a roundup of my favorite language-related stories, brought to you by the pipes of the Internet.

Ben Zimmer meditates on The Beatles’ use of pronouns in The New York Times.

Really? Bubble Wrap is a trademark? Here are twenty-four other words you might not know are trademarked, all in one nifty post from Mental Floss.

Kinda freaky for the younglings, but . . . David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” in children’s book form.

Fun quiz! Guess the books by their covers at Sporcle.

How Shakespearean are you? This neat page lets you cut and paste a passage of modern-day English and compares it with all words Shakespeare used in his plays to give you a percentage of your passage’s words that you could find in, say, Othello. From the OxfordWords blog. And they say the English language is dumbed down.

Word Nerd Wednesday

Happy hump day. Here’s part two of Grammar Party’s Word Nerd Wednesday series, where I lovingly compile and share some of the most interesting language-related tidbits floating around the interwebs.

Tattoos inspired by books at tattoolit: http://tattoolit.com/

Does using pronouns in your writing improve your health? The complete interview from PBS NewsHour: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/2011/08/the-secret-language-code.html

An endangered word list from the Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/aug/21/endangered-words-collins-dictionary

Using maps to show where “Imma” and “Gonna” are being tweeted. From For the Love of Linguistics: http://languagelyceum.wordpress.com/2011/08/23/putting-ima-on-the-map/

Make your own book weight with this tutorial from Life Hacker:

A post about words with no letters from Sentence First: http://stancarey.wordpress.com/2011/08/23/do-you-%E2%99%A5-words-with-no-letters/

Backlash against grammar sticklers from You Don’t Say: http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/2011/08/you_are_not_the_drum_major.html 

A personal view of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary’s one hundredth anniversary from Language Log (seriously heartwarming): http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=3373

A word quiz celebrating the Concise Oxford English Dictionary’s anniversary from the OED blog: http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2011/08/concise-quiz/

Simply Dashing Part One: The Em Dash

Welcome to part one of a three-part series about horizontal fun in the punctuation department: the em dash, the en dash, and the hyphen. Through this series, you’ll learn the difference between these marks and when to use which one.

Let’s take these marks from longest to shortest. That means we are going to discuss the em dash first.

Em dash basics
The em dash received its name from typesetting. It is the width of a letter m, hence the name em dash.

The em dash is used to show :

  • emphasis
  • interruption
  • sudden breaks in thought
  • lists
  • quote attribution


When used to show emphasis, interruption, sudden breaks in thought, and lists, em dashes may replace commas, semicolons, or colons. Because dashes are meant to be used sparingly, they have a greater impact than commas, semicolons, and colons—and they can really pump up the volume on your sentence.

Em dash used for emphasis
Think about when you’re telling a story or a lecture or explaining rules to someone, and you have come to the place where you want to make a main point. You pause, right? You pause to alert the listener that something important is coming. When translated to text, this is where you would use an em dash for emphasis. The main point is one example of when you would want to use emphasis. You could also use emphasis to show danger or excitement and for gobs of other reasons.

Here are some examples:

Class, there is a squiggly line on the board—this is very important—don’t ever divide the horseshoe by the squiggly line.

Don’t ever divide the horseshoe by the squiggly line—especially you in the back row.

One time I divided the horseshoe by the squiggly line—and the building blew up.

Em dash used for interruption
If you read fiction, you’ll probably recognize this use of the em dash from dialogue. It looks something like this:

“I want you to know that I—,” Sarah began to say.

Or this:

“I want you to know that I—”

“What?” Cal interrupted. “You love me?”

Em dash used for sudden breaks in thought
If you’re like me, then you usually have a hundred thoughts going through your head at any given moment. (Unless you’re eating cookies. Then you just concentrate on how delicious those cookies are.) The em dash is also used to illustrate when another thought jumps into a sentence.

Here are some examples:

Those cookies—oh boy, were they delicious—came from Marsha’s bakery.

Those cookies—the ones with the raisins in them—were a gift from Sam.

Sam—he’s such a good guy—buys me cookies every Tuesday.

Em dash used for lists
The em dash does a good job of setting off lists when using commas or a mix of commas and semicolons would make your sentence look too clunky.

Here are some examples:

Three people—Sam, Sarah, and Cal—went to math class together.

They learned that some mathematical characters—the horseshoe and the squiggly line—can be dangerous.

After math class, they did two things—studied for their test and ate cookies.

Em dash used for quote attribution
When listing the author of a quote, you’ll sometimes see an em dash before the author’s name, like this:

Live long and prosper.

If I were human, I believe the correct response would be “Go to hell.”

How to make an em dash
In most cases, Microsoft Word automatically makes an em dash for you when you type two hyphens. Simply type the first word, then (without hitting the space bar) type two hyphens, and then (without hitting the space bar) type the second word. When you finally hit the space bar after typing the second word, the two hyphens turn into an em dash.

However, there are circumstances, such as when using the em dash for quote attribution, when this won’t work. In these cases, use the steps below.

  1. In Microsoft Word, go to the Insert tab.
  2. Click Symbol from the drop down box.
  3. Click Special Characters.
  4. Click Em Dash.
  5. Click Insert.

Spaces around em dash?
The answer about whether to put spaces around em dashes depends on which style guide you use. The Chicago Manual of Style says not to put spaces. But, the Associated Press Stylebook says to put spaces.

If you are writing something that requires the authority of a particular style guide, then check that guide for the answer. If you are writing something for work, inquire whether your company has a house style guide, and check there first to see if it has a ruling on the spaces issue.

Be sure to check back for parts two and three of this series to learn how to use en dashes and hyphens. As always, you can also follow me on Twitter at @GrammarParty.

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