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Share-It Saturday: Italics or Quotation Marks

Reblogged from The Editor’s Blog

Marking Text—Choosing Between Italics and Quotation Marks

May 12, 2014 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill
last modified March 4, 2017

An error in the use of italics or quotation marks—using one rather than the other or not using either when their use is required—is not likely a problem that will have an agent or publisher turning down your manuscript, especially if your manuscript isn’t bulging with other errors. Yet knowing when to use both italics and quotation marks is useful and important for writers. The cleaner the manuscript, the fewer problems it will be perceived to have. And when rules are followed, the manuscript will have consistency; if you don’t know the rules, it’s likely that you won’t make the same choices consistently throughout a story. And if you self-publish, when you’re the one doing the editing, you’ll definitely want to know how and when to use both italics and quotation marks and know how to choose between them.

To start off, I will point out that there is no need to underline anything in a novel manuscript. Writers used to underline text where they intended italics, but because it’s now so easy to see and find and identify italics, underlining is no longer necessary, not for fiction manuscripts.

Note: Underlining may be required for school or college writing projects or other purposes. I’m strictly addressing fiction manuscripts here.

Without underlining, the choices are italics, quotation marks, and unmarked or plain text.

Let’s start with the last option—plain text—first.


Plain Text

Not all text that seems to require italics or quotation marks actually does. Most words in your manuscript will be roman text—unchanged by italics—and, apart from dialogue, will not be enclosed by quotation marks. Yet sometimes writers are confused about italics and quotation marks, especially when dealing with named entities. A quick rule: Simple names need only be capitalized—no other marks are necessary.

This is one writing question that’s easy to overthink once you begin editing, but a name usually only needs to be capitalized; it typically doesn’t require italics or quotation marks. (There are exceptions, of course.)

Capitalize names of people, places, and things. This means that Bob, Mr. Smith, Grandma Elliott, and Fido are capitalized but not italicized or put in quotation marks. The same is true for Disney World, the Grand Canyon, Edie’s Bistro, and the World Series. When a person’s title is paired with a name—Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Reverend Thomas—both name and title are capitalized. But when a title is not used as a name—the president is young, the pastor can sing—no capitalization is required.

Nouns are typically the words that you’ll capitalize, but not all nouns are capitalized. Capitalize named nouns. So Fido is capitalized, but dog is not; Aunt Margaret (used as a name) is capitalized, but my aunt is not; my aunt Margaret gets a mix of capitalization.

Brand names and trademarks are typically capitalized, but some have unusual capitalizations (iPad, eBay, TaylorMade, adidas). Refer to dictionaries and to company guidelines or Internet sources for correct capitalization and spelling. Note that home pages of websites may feature decorative text; look at pages with corporate details for correct information.

You may make a style decision and capitalize such words according to established rules, and that would be a valid decision. Yet a name is a name, and spelling or capitalizing it the way its creators intended may well be the better choice.

That’s it for most named people or things or places—most are capitalized but do not require italics or quotation marks. A quick rule: Names (of people, places, and things) need to be capitalized, but titles (of things) need both capitalization and either quotation marks or italics.

Items in the following categories need neither italics nor quotation marks (unless italics or quotation marks are an intrinsic part of the title). This is only a very short list, but most named nouns are treated similarly.

car manufacturers General Motors, Volkswagen, Toyota

car brands or divisions: Buick, Chevrolet

car names: Riviera, Touareg, Camry

restaurants: Chili’s, Sally’s Place, Chuck’s Rib House

scriptures and revered religious books: the Bible, Koran, the Book of Common Prayer

books of the Bible: Genesis, Acts, the Gospel according to Matthew

wars and battles: Korean War, Russian Revolution, the Battle of Antietam, the Battle of Hastings

companies: Coca-Cola, Amazon, Barclays, Nokia

product names: Coke, Kleenex, Oreo

shops: Dolly’s Delights, Macy’s, Coffee House

museums, schools and colleges: the High Museum, the Hermitage, Orchard Elementary School, the University of Notre Dame

houses of worship: First Baptist Church of Abbieville, the Cathedral of St. Philip, Temple Sinai, City Center Community Masjid

Note: There is much more to capitalization, yet that topic requires an article (or five) of its own. Look for such an article in the future. The Chicago Manual of Style has an in-depth chapter on capitalization; I recommend you search it for specifics.


Quotation Marks and Italics

Beyond capitalization, some  nouns are also distinguished by italics or quotation marks. Think in terms of titles here, but typically titles of things and not people.

So we’re talking book, movie, song, and TV show titles; titles of newspapers and magazines and titles of articles in those newspapers and magazines; titles of artwork and poems.

One odd category included here is vehicles.  Not brand names of vehicles but names of individual craft: spaceships, airships, ships, and trains.

But which titles get quotation marks and which get italics?

The general rule is that titles of works that are made up of smaller/shorter divisions are italicized, and the smaller divisions are put in quotation marks. This means a book title is italicized, and chapter titles (but not chapter numbers) are in quotation marks. A TV show title is italicized, but episode titles are in quotation marks. An album or CD title is put in italics, but the song titles are in quotation marks.

Note:  This rule for chapter titles in books is not referring to chapter titles of a manuscript itself, which are not put in quotation marks within the manuscript. Use quotation marks in your text if a character or narrator is thinking about or speaking a chapter title, not for your own chapter titles.

Quotation marks and italics are both also used for other purposes in fiction. For example, we typically use italics when we use a word as a word.

My stylist always says rebound when he means rebond.

I counted only half a dozen ums in the chairman’s speech. (Note that the s making um plural is not italicized.)

Since a list is quick and easy to read, let’s simply list categories for both italics and quotation marks.

Barring exceptions, items from the categories should be italicized or put in quotation marks, as indicated, in your stories.


Use Italics For

Titles: Titles of specific types of works are italicized. This is true for both narration and dialogue.


TV shows

radio shows



operas and ballets

long poems

long musical pieces (such as symphonies)




works of art (paintings, sculptures, photographs)




blogs (but not websites in general, which are only capitalized)

Odds and Ends: Titles of cartoons and comic strips (Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes, Pearls Before Swine) are italicized. Exhibitions at small venues (such as a museum) are italicized (BODIES . . . The Exhibition) but fairs and other major exhibitions (the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition) are only capitalized.

ExamplesTo Kill a Mockingbird (book), Citizen Kane (movie), A Prairie Home Companion (radio show), La bohème (opera), Paradise Lost (long poem), Rhapsody in Blue (long musical piece), Washington Post (newspaper), Car and Driver (magazine), Starry Night (painting), The Age of Reason (pamphlet), This American Life (podcast), The Editor’s Blog (blog)

Exception: Generic titles of musical works are not italicized. This includes those named by number (op. 3 or no. 5) or by key (Nocturne in B Major) and those simply named for the musical form (Requiem or Overture). If names and generic titles are combined, italicize only the name, not the generic title.

Exception: Titles of artwork dating from antiquity whose creators are unknown are not italicized. (the Venus de Milo or the Seated Scribe)

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