In MLA, source titles must be either italicized or enclosed in quotation marks. There are also specific rules for capitalization and punctuation.
The formatting depends on whether the source forms part of a longer work or not.
|Place in quotation marks||Italicize|
In the Works Cited list, titles should always be complete, with any subtitles included. Do not copy any unusual typography, such as capitalization of all letters in the title.
Capitalization in MLA titles
For English titles or subtitles, capitalize the first and last word, as well as any other principal words. This includes those following hyphens and words in compound terms.
What to capitalize
|Part of speech||Example|
|Nouns||A Wrinkle in Time|
|Pronouns||The Fault in Our Stars|
|Verbs||Man’s Search for Meaning|
|Adjectives||The Diary of a Young Girl|
|Adverbs||The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao|
|Subordinating conjunctions||Black Like Me|
What to leave lower case
|Part of speech||Example|
|Articles (a, an, the)||On the Road|
|Prepositions (against, as, between, of, to)||Out of Africa|
|Coordinating conjunctions (and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet)||Charlie and the Chocolate Factory|
|“To” in infinitives||Born to Run|
Punctuation in MLA titles
The only punctuation in MLA titles should be marks that form part of the title itself or punctuation indicating a subtitle. Subtitles should be separated from titles using a colon and a space.
Example of a work with a subtitle
The exception is when the title ends in a question mark, exclamation point or dash, in which case you keep the original punctuation. For example, When Will This Cruel War Be Over? The Civil War Diary of Emma Simpson, Gordonsville, Virginia, 1864.
If the original title separates the subtitle using a period, change this to a colon.
Titles within titles
For titles within titles, generally, you must maintain the same formatting as you would if that title were standalone.
|Type of title||Format||Example|
|Longer works within shorter works||Italicize the inner work’s title||The Great Gatsby → “The Great Gatsby and the Cacophony of the American Dream”|
|Shorter works within shorter works||Use single quotation marks for the inner title||“The Red Wedding” → “‘The Red Wedding’ at 5: Why Game of Thrones Most Notorious Scene Shocked Us to the Core”|
|Shorter works within longer works||Enclose the inner title in quotation marks, and italicize as with the rest of the title*||“The Garden Party” → “The Garden Party” & Other Stories|
|Longer works within longer works||Remove the italicizing from the inner title||Richard II and Henry V → Shakespeare’s History Plays: Richard II to Henry V, the Making of a King|
*If the part of the title requiring the quotation marks appears at the end of the complete work title and you need to include a period (e.g. in the Works Cited list), place the period before the closing quotation mark.
Titles and names that fall into the following categories are not italicized or enclosed in quotation marks:
- Scripture → e.g. Bible, Koran, Gospel
- Laws, acts and related documents → e.g. Declaration of Independence, The Paris Agreement
- Musical compositions identified by form, number and key → e.g. Beethoven’s Symphony no. 5 in C minor, op. 67
- Literary series → e.g. Canterbury Tales Project, Critical American Studies
- Conferences, seminars, workshops and courses → e.g. MLA Annual Convention
Sections of a work
Words that indicate a particular section of a work are not italicized or placed within quotation marks. They are also not capitalized when mentioned in the text.
Examples of such sections include:
- list of works cited
Introductions, prefaces, forewords and afterwords
Descriptive terms such as “introduction”, “preface”, “foreword” and “afterword” are capitalized if mentioned in an in-text citation, but are lowercase when mentioned in the text itself.
Example of descriptive term capitalization
In her preface to the work, added in a later edition of the publication, Bronte debates the morality of creating characters such as those featured in Wuthering Heights.
If there is a unique title for the introduction, preface, foreword or afterword, then you must include that title in quotation marks, directly before the descriptive term, when referencing the source in the Works Cited list. If you need to use the title in the in-text citation (because the author name is not clear enough or there is no author name), you may shorten it.
Sources with no title
For sources with no title, a description of the source acts as the title.
Example of a general source reference with no title
Follow these rules for capitalization:
- Capitalize the first word
- Capitalize proper nouns
- Ignore other MLA rules for capitalization
The description belongs in place of the title in both the Works Cited list and, if applicable, in-text citations.
There are some exceptions to this general format: descriptions including titles of other works, such as comments on articles or reviews of movies; untitled short messages, like tweets; and emails.
Exceptions to general format for sources with no title
|Comment/review of a work||Sam. Comment on “The Patriot’s Guide to Election Fraud.” The New York Times, 26 Mar. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/03/26/opinion|
|Tweets and other short untitled messages||@realDonaldTrump. “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!” Twitter, 24 Mar. 2019, 1:42 p.m., twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status|
|Labrode, Molly. “Re: National Cleanup Day.” Received by Courtney Gahan, 20 Mar. 2019.|
If you need to mention the name of a work in the text itself, you must state the full title, omitting only any nonessential subtitle.
If you need to refer to the work multiple times, you may shorten the title to something familiar or obvious to the reader. For example, Huckleberry Finn for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. If in doubt, prefer the noun phrase.
If the standalone abbreviation may not be clear, you can introduce it in parenthesis following the standard guidelines for abbreviations. For example, The Merchant of Venice (MV). For Shakespeare and the Bible, there are well-established abbreviations you can use.
When you abbreviate a title, be sure to keep the formatting consistent. Even if the abbreviation consists only of letters, as in the MV example, it must be placed within quotation marks or italicized in the same way as you would if the source title were written in full.
Titles in languages other than English
In the Works Cited list, if you are listing a work with a title in a language other than English, you can add the translated title in square brackets.
Example of a reference with a translated title
If you are using the foreign-language title in the text itself, you can also include the translation in parenthesis. For example, O Alquimista (The Alchemist). This is optional and is recommended only if you think the reader will not understand what the foreign-language title refers to.
Latin script languages
For titles and subtitles in Latin script languages, such as French, German, Italian, Spanish and even Latin itself, capitalize only the first word and follow the normal capitalization rules (according to the language in question) for all others.
Non-Latin script languages
For works in a language that does not use the Latin alphabet, such as Arabic, Chinese, Greek, Hebrew, Japanese or Russian, be consistent with how you mention the source titles and also quotations from within them.
For example, if you choose to write a Russian title in the Cyrillic form, do that throughout the document. If you choose to use the Romanized form, stick with that. Do not alternate between the two.