Capitals in Headings and Titles
by Cherie Tucker
The first and last words of a title or a headline are capitalized. You know that. So is the first word after a dash or a colon. In between falls the shadow.
The articles, a, an, and the, are the easy ones. Unless they appear as the first word in your title, they are not capitalized. So it would be “The Three Bears” but “The Princess and the Pea.”
Short prepositions like in and on are not capitalized in titles—unless they are the first words—but longer prepositions with more than four letters, such as behind or over, are: “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” but “All Through the Night.” (A preposition is a word that shows the relationship between nouns and pronouns. You can be in the house, on your phone, behind the barn, or over the moon. These words show the relationship of you to the house, phone, barn, and moon.) Of course, there are some exceptions. It is English after all. If you have a combination of short and long prepositions, capitalize all of them: Candidate Votes For and Against Bill.
Finally, there is the adverb. These words tell the why, when, where, how, and to what extent something is done and sometimes appear to be prepositions. The part of speech designation depends on how the words function in sentences. If they are used to answer the why, when, where, how questions, they are capitalized. If they show relationships between nouns, they are not.
Power Shut Off in Tacoma. Adverb (tells to what extent the power was shut)
Pitcher off His Game, Coach Says. Preposition (shows the relationship of the pitcher to his game)
The other group that is not capitalized consists of the short conjunctions (think FANBOYS, for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so), unless they begin or end the title, of course.
One more consideration: If your title or headline begins with a proper noun that starts with a lowercase letter, such as iPod, the first rule is try to change your headline or title so that word appears later, as you would with a sentence that starts with a numeral. If you can’t, then you must capitalize that first letter: IPod. In instances like these, do try to rearrange things so you can retain the actual spelling. The iPodians will thank you.
Cherie Tucker, owner of GrammarWorks, has taught writing basics to professionals since 1987, presenting at the PNWA conference. She currently teaches Practical Grammar for Editors at the University of Washington’s Editing Certification program and edits as well. GrammarWorks@msn.com