MLA titles

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 marksItalicize
  • Books
  • Websites
  • News publications
  • Scholarly journals
  • TV shows
  • Magazines
  • Albums
  • Films
  • Plays
  • YouTube channel

For sources with no title, a description of the source functions as the title in the Works Cited list reference.

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 speechExample
NounsA Wrinkle in Time
PronounsThe Fault in Our Stars
VerbsMan’s Search for Meaning
AdjectivesThe Diary of a Young Girl
AdverbsThe Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Subordinating conjunctionsBlack Like Me

What to leave lower case

Part of speechExample
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 infinitivesBorn 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
Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance

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.

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Titles within titles

For titles within titles, generally, you must maintain the same formatting as you would if that title were standalone.

Type of titleFormatExample
Longer works within shorter worksItalicize the inner work’s titleThe Great Gatsby → “The Great Gatsby and the Cacophony of the American Dream”
Shorter works within shorter worksUse 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 worksEnclose 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 worksRemove the italicizing from the inner titleRichard II and Henry VShakespeare’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.

Exceptions

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:

  • preface
  • introduction
  • list of works cited
  • appendix
  • scene
  • stanza
  • chapter
  • bibliography
  • act
  • index

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-text citation:
(Bronte. Preface)

In text:
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
Mackintosh, Charles Rennie. Chair of stained oak. 1897-1900, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Follow these 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

Source typeRulesExample
Comment/review of a work
  • Follow the standard formatting for a source with a container
  • Add any descriptive information in the title section
  • Follow standard MLA rules for capitalization
Sam. Comment on “The Patriot’s Guide to Election Fraud.” The New York Times, 26 Mar. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/03/26/opinion/mccready-north-carolina-fraud.html.
Tweets and other short untitled messages
  • Include the full, unchanged text instead of a title
  • Enclose the text in quotation marks
  • Use the twitter handle or equivalent as the author name
@realDonaldTrump. “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!” Twitter, 24 Mar. 2019, 1:42 p.m., twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1109918388133023744
Email
  • The email subject acts as the title and the sender is the author
  • Include “Re:” at the start of the email title
  • Enclose the title in quotation marks
  • Follow standard MLA capitalization guidelines
Labrode, Molly. “Re: National Cleanup Day.” Received by Courtney Gahan, 20 Mar. 2019.

Abbreviating titles

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
Coelho, Paulo. O Alquimista [The Alchemist]. Benvirá Publishing, 1988.

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.

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Courtney Gahan

Courtney has a Bachelor in Communication and a Master in Editing and Publishing. She has worked as a freelance writer and editor since 2013, and joined the Scribbr team as an editor in June 2017. She loves helping students and academics all over the world improve their writing (and learning about their research while doing so!).

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