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How To Capitalize Titles

There has been an ongoing debate on whether to capitalize if in a headline. The dominant style guides have taken different positions, causing a split and confusion on how to capitalize the subordinating conjunction. However, some guidelines dictate capitalization of the word if.

Let us look at the scenarios that you should capitalize if when it is part of a headline:

  • When the word, if appears at the beginning of a sentence
  • When if is at the final word in the title. However, this title capitalization rule only applies to the AP and New York Times style.
  • If the word is used as a noun in the title
  • Chicago, Wikipedia, and MLA permit the capitalization of the subordinating conjunction.

Title case

Here is a breakdown of the guidelines of capitalization of if in title case.

MLA Handbook

MLA capitalization style, which is used in scholarly articles, permits capitalizing subordinating conjunctions like if. Therefore, irrespective of the position of the word in the heading it should be capitalized. For example:

You Can Leave If the Downpour Stops.

Chicago Manual

The Chicago Manual tries to eliminate confusion by listing the conjunctions that should be in lowercase. According to the guidelines conjunctions like and, but, for, nor, and or should be lowercased in headlines. Therefore, all the conjunctions that are not part of the list are uppercased. That means the word if should be capitalized in titles.

Wikipedia style

Wikipedia style states that subordinate conjunctions are capitalized alongside other major words. Therefore, since if is a subordinate conjunction, it should be capitalized. For example:

Why You Should Stop Smoking If You Care About Your Health

The above title capitalization rules insist on capitalizing if in titles. However, other guides like the New York Times, APA Publication Manual, and AP Style disagrees and insists that ‘if’ should be lowercased in the title.

APA Publication Manual

The rules explicitly state that all significant words and words with four letters and above should be capitalized. The rest of the words in the titles are lowercased. Since conjunctions are not part of the major words, they automatically fall into the category that should be lowercased. That includes the conjunction if. When the seventh edition of the APA Publication Manual took effect, it listed if as part of the words that must be in lowercase.

New York Times Manual

In the New York Times Manual, the word, if is part of a list of words that should appear in lowercase. The only exception is when it appears at the beginning of a title.

AP Style

Their stylebook allows capitalization of all words in a title including conjunctions that have more than three letters. That means coordinating conjunctions like and, but, and or should be in lowercase. Moreover, subordinating conjunctions like if should not be capitalized.

Despite the insistence on writing if in lowercase, it has some exceptions to the rules. For instance, when if is the first word or last word in a title it should be capitalized according to AP and New York Times. However, in the APA Publication Manual, you can only capitalize when it is the first word. Moreover, if should be capitalized when it is used as a noun in a heading.

Sentence case

In sentence case, the guidelines are obvious. You can only capitalize if when it begins a sentence and lowercase in other parts.

The capitalization of if depends on the style guides you subscribe to and the usage of the word. Therefore,  with the guidelines, you possess all the instances to capitalize and lowercase if at your fingertips. However, you do not need to remember all the rules when you can use our title capitalisation tool.

The word be is a verb with various forms, including am, are, were, was, is, and been. Since they are all verbs, they are part of the major words and should be capitalized. Here some examples of titles with forms of be:

What Are the Benefits of Quality Sleep?

Why Running Is Good for Your Health

The Healthcare Aspects That Will Be Online

In the above examples, all the forms of be are capitalized in headlines when using title case. However, in sentence case, you have to stick to capitalizing only the first word, and the rest are lowercased.

Should you lowercase be since it is a short word?

Many people tend to assume that all short words should be in lowercase.  While most capitalization style guides recommend lowercasing words with three or fewer letters, the rule mainly applies to some types of conjunctions, articles, and prepositions like at, on, in, and, but, and or. Besides, be is a verb, which means it is a major word. Therefore, it should be capitalized as per the title capitalization rules.

Are linking verbs capitalized?

Apart from the length of the forms of be, their role as linking verbs is stirring a debate on whether they are significant words that deserve capitalization. While it is true they are not regular verbs; it does not mean they should be in lowercase. Fortunately, capitalization style guides provide clear rules on capitalizing verbs irrespective of the type. Let us look at the title capitalization rules and there take on the capitalization of be.

APA Publication Manual

APA Publication Manual eradicates any doubts by including linking verbs in their list of major words indicating that they should be capitalized.

AP Stylebook

Apart from the rule on capitalization of significant words, it shows in its examples that be, and its forms require capitalization despite their position in a headline

Chicago manual

The Chicago Manual offer explicit guidelines that verbs, nouns, pronouns, adverbs, and adjectives should begin with uppercase in all the headlines. They have gone a step further to provide relevant examples of major words that should be capitalized. Be and its forms are part of the verbs used in the examples.

Wikipedia Manual

The Wikipedia Manual of capitalization eradicates any doubts by explicitly pointing out that every verb that appears in a headline should begin with capital letters. That includes Am, Is, Was, Being, Been, Are, and Were.

MLA Handbook

The Handbook specifies the parts of speech to capitalize, and the list includes verbs. Therefore, be being a verb makes it one of the words that should be capitalized.

New York Times Manual

The New York Times Manual provides capitalization rules for publications in the New York Times. Therefore, from the headlines of the New York Times issue, you can deduce that be should begin with uppercase in all instances. The guidelines also state that you should capitalize all the major words in a title.

If you are uncertain on how to handle be in a title, you can use our title capitalization tool. It ensures you stick to the rules of capitalization.