When you italicize a word or a phrase, it gets noticed. However, italics (typeface that slants to the right) are a bit understated and do not attract the same attention as say, bold or underline. When to use italics? There are certain style rules to remember. However, italics are popularly used to call attention to certain words in a block of text. When you think about it if all the words looked the same, reading would be a rather boring affair. One thing to remember for any typeface is not to go overboard. If every other word is italics, it loses its effect and becomes less 'special.'
What to Italicize
Like so many rules in the English language, rules for italicization vary. Often italics and underline can be used interchangeably. There are some style guides that prefer the use of underlining over the use of italics (and vice versa).
Here are, though, some rules of what to italicize. However, do keep in mind that for some of these categories below underlining is also possible.
- Emphasis: When you want to emphasize a certain word or phrase in a sentence. (She was the only girl in the class who got 100% on the exam.)
- Titles of Works: (Please note that we can also underline the following)
- Books: (Elements of Style, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Jane Eyre)
- Magazines: (Time magazine, Newsweek, Cosmpolitan)
- Newspapers: (USA Today, Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle)
- Plays: (Romeo & Juliet, Waiting for Godot, Uncle Vanya)
- Movies: (Batman, Casablanca, Twilight)
- Works of Art: (Monet’s Waterlilies, Van Gogh’s Starry Starry Night, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa)
- TV/radio programs: (American Idol, BBC’s Woman’s Hour, The Simpsons)
- CD/Album: (Michael Jackson’s Thriller album, Parachutes by Cold Play)
- Foreign Words/Technical Terms/Unfamiliar Words: When we are writing a text in one particular language (i.e. English) and want to introduce a foreign word or phrase, we tend to italicize the foreign words. (The word for cat in Spanish is gato.)
- Names of Trains, Ships, Aircraft, and Spacecraft: (NASA’s Challenger, QE2)
When to Underline
As we have discussed italics and underline can both be used for titles of major works. There are certain style guides that require underlining for titles, such as the MLA.
I have never seen the movie Titanic.
We have to read two plays by Shakespeare: Hamlet and Macbeth.
Also, sometimes italics can be difficult to read, so some recommend underlining to really emphasize certain words and phrases.
Some Things to Remember
- We do not italicize parts of larger works. For example, chapters in a book, poems, sections of newspapers, songs in a CD. Instead we use quotation marks (We heard the song "Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson on the radio three times last night).
- We also do not italicize religious books (for example, the Bible, Koran, the Torah)
- Italicize (or underline) punctuation marks that are a part of a tile (?, !)- Getting the Job You Want Now! Getting the Job You Want Now!
- Do not use italics and underline at the same time (It only cost five dollars.)
- To get some practice using italics and underlining take Empire State College's quiz
- ESC Online Writing Center has a good overview of italics and underlining
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When to Italicize
By YourDictionaryWhen you italicize a word or a phrase, it gets noticed. However, italics (typeface that slants to the right) are a bit understated and do not attract the same attention as say, bold or underline. When to use italics? There are certain style rules to remember. However, italics are popularly used to call attention to certain words in a block of text. When you think about it if all the words looked the same, reading would be a rather boring affair. One thing to remember for any typeface is not to go overboard. If every other word is italics, it loses its effect and becomes less 'special.'
We use italics (characters set in type that slants to the right) and underlining to distinguish certain words from others within the text. These typographical devices mean the same thing; therefore, it would be unusual to use both within the same text and it would certainly be unwise to italicize an underlined word. As word-processors and printers become more sophisticated and their published products more professional looking, italics are accepted by more and more instructors. Still, some instructors insist on underlines (probably because they went to school when italics were either technically difficult or practically unreadable). It is still a good idea to ask your instructor before using italics. (The APA Publication Manual continues to insist on underlining.) In this section, we will use italics only, but they should be considered interchangeable with underlined text.
These rules and suggestions do not apply to newspaper writing, which has its own set of regulations in this matter.
Italics do not include punctuation marks (end marks or parentheses, for instance) next to the words being italicized unless those punctuation marks are meant to be considered as part of what is being italicized: "Have you read Stephen King's Pet Semetary? (The question mark is not italicize here.) Also, do not italicize the apostrophe-s which creates the possessive of a title: "What is the Courant 's position on this issue?" You'll have to watch your word-processor on this, as most word-processors will try to italicize the entire word that you double-click on.
Generally, we italicize the titles of things that can stand by themselves. Thus we differentiate between the titles of novels and journals, say, and the titles of poems, short stories, articles, and episodes (for television shows). The titles of these shorter pieces would be surrounded with double quotation marks.
In writing the titles of newspapers, do not italicize the word the, even when it is part of the title (the New York Times), and do not italicize the name of the city in which the newspaper is published unless that name is part of the title: the Hartford Courant, but the London Times.
Other titles that we would italicize include the following:
- Journals and Magazines:Time, U.S. News and World Report, Crazyhorse, Georgia Review
- Plays:Waiting for Godot, Long Day's Journey Into Night
- Long Musical Pieces: Puccini's Madama Butterfly, Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite (but "Waltz of the Flowers"), Schubert's Winterreise (but "Ave Maria"). For musical pieces named by type, number and key Mozart's Divertimento in D major, Barber's Cello Sonata Op. 6 we use neither italics nor quotation marks.
- Cinema:Slingblade, Shine, The Invisible Man
- Television and Radio Programs:Dateline, Seinfeld, Fresh Air, Car Talk
- Artworks: the Venus de Milo, Whistler's The Artist's Mother
- Famous Speeches: Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, Washington's Second Inaugural Address (when that is the actual title of the speech)
- Long Poems (that are extensive enough to appear in a book by themselves): Longfellow's Evangeline, Milton's Paradise Lost, Whitman's Leaves of Grass
- Pamphlets:New Developments in AIDS Research
We do not italicize the titles of long sacred works: the Bible, the Koran. Nor do we italicize the titles of books of the Bible: Genesis, Revelation, 1 Corinthians.
When an exclamation mark or question mark is part of a title, make sure that that mark is italicized along with the title,
- My favorite book is Where Have All the Flowers Gone?
- I love Dr. Seuss's Oh, the Places You'll Go!
(Do not add an additional period to end such sentences.) If the end mark is not part of the title, but is added to indicate a question or exclamation, do not italicize that mark.
- Did you enjoy Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain?
Names of Vehicles
- Orient Express
- U.S.S. Eisenhower (Don't italicize the U.S.S.)
- H.M.S. Pinafore (Don't italicize the H.M.S. when you're talking about the ship. If you're talking about the light opera, then it's part of the title, H.M.S. Pinafore.)
We don't italicize names of vehicles that are brand names: Ford Explorer, Corvette, Nissan Pathfinder, Boeing 747.
Foreign Words or Phrases
- If a word or phrase has become so widely used and understood that it has become part of the English language such as the French "bon voyage" or the abbreviation for the latin et cetera, "etc." we would not italicize it. Often this becomes a matter of private judgment and context. For instance, whether you italicize the Italian sotto voce depends largely on your audience and your subject matter.
Words as Words
- The word basically is often unnecessary and should be removed.
- There were four and's and one therefore in that last sentence. (Notice that the apostrophe-s, used to create the plural of the word-as-word and, is not italicized. See the section on Plurals for additional help.)
- She defines ambiguity in a positive way, as the ability of a word to mean more than one thing at the same time.
Note: It is important not to overdo the use of italics to emphasize words. After a while, it loses its effect and the language starts to sound like something out of a comic book.
- I really don't care what you think! (Notice that just about any word in that sentence could have been italicized, depending on how the person said the sentence.)
- These rules do not apply to newspaper writing.
Words as Reproduced Sounds
- Grrr! went the bear. (But you would say "the bear growled" because growled reports the nature of the sound but doesn't try to reproduce it. Thus the bees buzz but go bzzzz and dogs bark woof!)
- His head hit the stairs, kathunk!
Frequently, mimetically produced sounds are also accompanied by exclamation marks.