EGGads! Capital Headline Mistakes | WebReference

EGGads! Capital Headline Mistakes

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EGGads! Capital Headline Mistakes

By Meryl Evans ( )

Titles. What is the problem? Editors and writers all over struggle with capitalization and style issues when writing headlines or titles. Me included. Dear EGGers, I shall help us all better understand which words we need to capitalize in a title.

Let's start with the orange book, CMS (Chicago Manual of Style). It states in 7.127, "In regular title capitalization, also known as headline style, the first and last words and all nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, and subordinating conjunctions (if, because, as, that, etc.) are capitalized."

Of course, the orange book was last published in 1993 prior to the Internet's boom. I did a little research beyond the CMS for some sage advice on writing online headlines and found Garbl (Garbl is an acronym for Gary B. Larson, webmaster for the Garbl Editorial Style Manual). He explains, "Capitalize only proper nouns and the first word in headlines. To improve readability, avoid capitalizing all the letters in more than one or two words in headlines and headings. Punctuate headlines like sentences." Guess what? There are exceptions. See them for yourself at Some people believe that using sentence case, especially for online articles is easier on the eyes.

Others think they should be written differently to stand out. Don't worry, EGGers, I will explain.

Most of the capitalization problems in titles are with words that are three letters or less. Rule of thumb is that when a word is greater than three letters, and it is NOT a preposition or a conjunction, then capitalize it. For programmers who can't understand, let me rephrase:

Var X = "word"
Var Y = "letters"
If (Y > 3 && X != "preposition" && X != "conjunction") {
   X = "Capital Word";
Else {
   X = "Read on";

Always capitalize the first and last word in the title regardless of what part of speech it may be. Of course, if you have some creative reason for not capitalizing it, by all means do it. The point is not to kill the creativity, but to help you write darn good gramma when the occasion calls for it. Yes, this is covered in CMS. See rules 7.126, 7.127, and 7.128. The URL is:

Is It "Is" or "is" and "It" or "it?"

Even I have been guilty of getting confused with diminutive words and whether or not they should be given capitalization honors. "Is" and "it" are major troublemakers in my writing life and I never have a reference at hand when I need to know what to do with "it."

Now, I've got it in my thick skull that they should always be capitalized in a title! Technically, "it" is a pronoun and "is" is a verb and these have should have the big "I." Along the same lines of "is," "be" and "are" are verbs and should also be capitalized.

To cover my butt for grammar nitpickers, "it" can also be a noun. But it doesn't matter because nouns are capitalized. However, it is best to avoid the flat verb "is" when writing headlines and use action verbs.

In conclusion, YES, capitalize 'is' and 'it' in all instances. Example:

Marvelous Meryl Is at It Again!

Wondering about "at?" Read more at:

Stop Propositioning the Prepositions

Don't prop up the preps by capitalizing them. They're not capitalized unless they are the first or last word of the title. Such words include: about, above, across, after, against, along, among, around, at, before, behind, below, beneath, beside, between, beyond, but, by, despite, down, during, except, for, from, in, inside, into, like, near, of, off, on, onto, out, outside, over, past, since, through, throughout, to, toward, under, underneath, until, up, upon, with, within, and without.

If you hate words like noun, preposition, adjective, adverbs, conjunctions, and so on, then you're not alone. Who wants to remember back to grade school when we had to diagram sentences (Eek!) and remember prepositions, intransitive verbs, conjunctions, and all that rubbish?

Here is a developer-style definition of preposition:

A preposition is a word that links something to another sentence to indicate the temporal, spatial or logical relationship of its object to the rest of the sentence.

Example: Did you put the code into the application?

That list I just gave you? Well, "in" is not always lower case. Excuse me; I am going to take off for a minute to avoid that shoe you're about to throw at me.

I'm a Basket Case - Whazzup with "In?"

Mr. In is very unusual and likes to screw things up for everyone including Meryl "Two-Syllables-and-Not-One-and-sounds-like-Cheryl." In some cases, his I is big and in others it's small.

Big I - preposition, refer to previous paragraph. Little i - adverb

Dagnabbit, Meryl, you just said "adverb." OK, easy way to remember, adverbs typically have "ly" at the end of the word. Hey, I just used an adverb to define the meaning of an adverb. What do you mean which word? "Typically!" There are "ly" words that are adjectives and not adverbs. But, let's not get into that and drive us crazy.

But then, how can "in" be an adverb when "inly" is not a word? Good question, Meryl. Adverbs answer the questions of "how," "when," "where," and "how much."


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Revised: March 23, 2001
Created: March 23, 2001