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).

All major words in a title are capitalized. The same format is used in Works Cited list and in the text itself.

Place in quotation marksItalicize

When you use the Scribbr MLA Citation Generator, the correct formatting and capitalization is automatically applied to titles.

Scribbr MLA Citation Generator

Capitalization in MLA titles

In all titles and subtitles, capitalize the first and last word, as well as any other principal words.

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 not to capitalize

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

Use the same punctuation as appears in the source title. If there is a subtitle, separate it from the main title with 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:

When Will This Cruel War Be Over? The Civil War Diary of Emma Simpson, Gordonsville, Virginia, 1864

Here's why students love Scribbr's proofreading services

Discover proofreading & editing

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 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 the entire title“The Garden Party” “The Garden Party” & Other Stories
Longer works within longer worksRemove the italicization from the inner titleRichard II and Henry VShakespeare’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. 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)
  • 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, include that title in quotation marks, directly before the descriptive term, when referencing the source in the Works Cited list.

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

Follow these 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; 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 rules
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, 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 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 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
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.

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?

Yes. MLA style uses title case, which means that all principal words (nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and some conjunctions) are capitalized.

This applies to titles of sources as well as the title in the heading of your paper. Use MLA capitalization style even when the original source title uses different capitalization.

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. 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.

The title of a part of a book – such as a chapter, short story or poem in a collection – is not italicized, but instead placed in quotation marks.

When should I cite a chapter instead of the whole book?

In APA, MLA and Chicago Style, when the book’s chapters are written by different authors, you should cite the specific chapter you are referring to.

Single-author books should be cited as a whole, even if you only quote or paraphrase from one chapter.

Do you italicize article titles 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?

The MLA Handbook is currently in its 8th edition, published in 2016.

This quick guide to MLA style explains the latest guidelines for citing sources and formatting papers according to MLA.

Is this article helpful?
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!).

Comment or ask a question.