MLA titles: Formatting and capitalization rules
In MLA style, source titles appear either in italics or in quotation marks:
- Italicize the title of a self-contained whole (e.g. a book, film, journal, or website).
- Use quotation marks around the title if it is part of a larger work (e.g. a chapter of a book, an article in a journal, or a page on a website).
|Place in quotation marks||Italicize|
When you use the Scribbr MLA Citation Generator, the correct formatting and capitalization are automatically applied to titles.
Capitalization in MLA titles
In all titles and subtitles, capitalize the first and last words, as well as any other principal words.
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 not to capitalize
|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
Use the same punctuation as appears in the source title. However, if there is a subtitle, separate it from the main title with a colon and a space, even if different (or no) punctuation is used in the source.
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:
Titles within titles
Sometimes a title contains another title—for example, the title of an article about a novel might contain that novel’s title.
For titles within titles, in general, maintain the same formatting as you would if the title stood on its own.
|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 the entire title||“The Garden Party” → “The Garden Party” & Other Stories|
|Longer works within longer works||Remove the italicization from the inner title||Richard II and Henry V → Shakespeare’s History Plays: Richard II to Henry V, the Making of a King|
Exceptions to MLA title formatting
Titles and names that fall into the following categories are not italicized or enclosed in quotation marks:
- Scripture (e.g. the Bible, the Koran, the Gospel)
- Laws, acts and related documents (e.g. the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Paris Agreement)
- Musical compositions identified by form, number and key (e.g. Beethoven’s Symphony no. 5 in C minor, op. 67)
- 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 or in the Works Cited list, but not when mentioned in the text itself.
Example of descriptive term capitalization
In her preface to the work, added in a later edition, Brontë 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, include that title in quotation marks instead of the generic section name when referencing the source in the Works Cited list or an in-text citation.
Sources with no title
For sources with no title, a brief description of the source acts as the title.
Example of a source reference with no title
Follow these rules for capitalization:
- Capitalize the first word
- Capitalize proper nouns
- Ignore other MLA rules for capitalization
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; email messages; and untitled poems.
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
|Tweet or other short untitled message||
||@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.|
||Shelley, Percy Bysshe. “O! there are spirits of the air.” The Major Works, edited by Zachary Leader and Michael O’Neill, Oxford UP, 2003, pp. 89–90.|
If you need to mention the name of a work in the text itself, state the full title, but omit the 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 parentheses, 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, make sure you keep the formatting consistent. Even if the abbreviation consists only of letters, as in the MV example, it must be italicized or placed within quotation marks in the same way as it would be when written in full.
Abbreviating very long titles in the Works Cited list
Titles should normally be given in full in the Works Cited list, but if any of your sources has a particularly long title (often the case with older works), you can use an ellipsis to shorten it here. This is only necessary with extremely long titles such as the example below.
Titles in foreign languages
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).
You don’t need to include a translation in your reference list or in the text if you expect your readers to be familiar with the original language. For example, you wouldn’t translate the title of a French novel you were writing about in the context of a French degree.
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.
Frequently asked questions about MLA titles
- Are titles capitalized in MLA?
- How do you write a book title in MLA?
In MLA style, book titles appear in italics, with all major words capitalized. If there is a subtitle, separate it from the main title with a colon and a space (even if no colon appears in the source). For example:Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance
The format is the same in the Works Cited list and in the text itself. However, when you mention the book title in the text, you don’t have to include the subtitle.
- When should I cite a chapter instead of the whole book?
When a book’s chapters are written by different authors, you should cite the specific chapter you are referring to.
When all the chapters are written by the same author (or group of authors), you should usually cite the entire book, but some styles include exceptions to this.
- In APA Style, single-author books should always be cited as a whole, even if you only quote or paraphrase from one chapter.
- In MLA Style, if a single-author book is a collection of stand-alone works (e.g. short stories), you should cite the individual work.
- In Chicago Style, you may choose to cite a single chapter of a single-author book if you feel it is more appropriate than citing the whole book.
- Are article titles italicized in MLA?
The title of an article is not italicized in MLA style, but placed in quotation marks. This applies to articles from journals, newspapers, websites, or any other publication. Use italics for the title of the source where the article was published. For example:“A Complete Guide to MLA Citation” is published on the Scribbr website.
Use the same formatting in the Works Cited entry and when referring to the article in the text itself.
- What is the most recent edition of the MLA Handbook?