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Punctuating Titles



Italics or quotation marks?

Grace Fleming

Do I italicize a song title? What about a painting?

Even the most experienced writers have a problem remembering the proper punctuation for certain types of titles. Books are italicized (or underlined) and articles are put in quotation marks. That's about as far as many people can remember.

Following are guidelines for punctuating titles according to Modern Language Association (MLA) standards.

There is a trick to remembering how to treat titles, and it works well enough that you can commit most types of titles to memory.

It's the big and little trick.

Big things and things that can stand on their own, like books, are italicized. Little things that are dependent or that come as part of a group, like chapters, are put into quotation marks.

For example, a CD or album are major (big) works that can be divided into smaller parts, or songs. The song names (small part) are punctuated with quotation marks.

For example:

  • The Sweet Escape, by Gwen Stefani, includes the song "Wind It Up."


Italicize or underline any published collection, like a book of poetry. Put the individual entry, like a poem, in quotation marks. However: a long, epic poem that is often published on its own would be treated like a book. The Odyssey is one example.

Punctuating Titles of Works of Art


Creating a work of art is an enormous task, isn't it? For that reason, you can think of art as a big accomplishment. Okay, that might sound corny, but it will help you remember! Individual works of art like paintings and sculptures are underlined or italicized:

  • Michelangelo's David
  • Mona Lisa
  • The Last Supper
  • The Pieta

Note: A photograph, which is much smaller than a work of art, is placed in quotation marks!

Titles and Names to Italicize


  • A novel
  • A ship
  • A play
  • A film
  • A painting
  • A sculpture or statue
  • A drawing
  • A CD
  • A TV Series
  • A cartoon series
  • An encyclopedia
  • A magazine
  • A newspaper
  • A pamphlet


Titles to Put Into Quotation Marks


  • Poem
  • Short story
  • A skit
  • A commercial
  • An individual episode in a TV series (like "The Soup Nazi" on Seinfeld)
  • A cartoon episode, like "Trouble With Dogs"
  • A chapter
  • An article
  • A newspaper story


More Tips on Punctuating Titles

Some titles are merely capitalized and not given additional punctuation. These include:

  • Religious works, like The Bible or The Koran
  • Buildings
  • Monuments
Related Video
How to Format a High School MLA Report
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