MLA Titles | How to Format & Capitalize Source Titles

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 the Works Cited list and in the text itself.

Place in quotation marks Italicize

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

Generate accurate MLA citations with Scribbr

Capitalization in MLA titles

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

What to capitalize

Part of speech Example
Nouns A Wrinkle in Time
Pronouns The Fault in Our Stars
Verbs Man’s Search for Meaning
Adjectives The Diary of a Young Girl
Adverbs The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Subordinating conjunctions Black Like Me

What not to capitalize

Part of speech Example
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 infinitives Born to Run

Punctuation in MLA titles

Use the same punctuation as appears in the source title. However, if there is a subtitle, separate it from the main title with a colon and a space, even if different (or no) punctuation is used in the source.

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

Receive feedback on language, structure and formatting

Professional editors proofread and edit your paper by focusing on:

  • Academic style
  • Vague sentences
  • Grammar
  • Style consistency

See an example

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 title Format Example
Longer works within shorter works Italicize the inner work’s title The Great Gatsby → “The Great Gatsby and the Cacophony of the American Dream”
Shorter works within shorter works Use 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 works Enclose the inner title in quotation marks, and italicize the entire title “The Garden Party” “The Garden Party” & Other Stories
Longer works within longer works Remove the italicization from the inner title Richard 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. the Bible, the Koran, the Gospel)
  • Laws, acts and related documents (e.g. the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, 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 MLA in-text citation or in the Works Cited list, but not when mentioned in the text itself.

Example of descriptive term capitalization

In-text citation:
(Brontë, Preface)

In text:
In her preface to the work, added in a later edition, Brontë 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 instead of the generic section name when referencing the source in the Works Cited list or an in-text citation.

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; email messages; and untitled poems.

Exceptions to general format for sources with no title

Source type Rules Example
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,
Tweet or other short untitled message
  • 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.,
  • 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.
Untitled poem
  • List the first line of the poem as the title
  • Enclose it in quotation marks
  • Keep the capitalization the same as it appears in the source
Shelley, Percy Bysshe. “O! there are spirits of the air.” The Major Works, edited by Zachary Leader and Michael O’Neill, Oxford UP, 2003, pp. 89–90.

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 parentheses, 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, make sure you keep the formatting consistent. Even if the abbreviation consists only of letters, as in the MV example, it must be italicized or placed within quotation marks in the same way as it would be when written in full.

Abbreviating very long titles in the Works Cited list

Titles should normally be given in full in the Works Cited list, but if any of your sources has a particularly long title (often the case with older works), you can use an ellipsis to shorten it here. This is only necessary with extremely long titles such as the example below.

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner: Written by Himself: With a Detail of Curious Traditionary Facts, and Other Evidence, by the Editor.
→ The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner . . . .

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).

You don’t need to include a translation in your reference list or in the text if you expect your readers to be familiar with the original language. For example, you wouldn’t translate the title of a  French novel you were writing about in the context of a French degree.

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 of, and subheadings in, 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 (even if no colon appears in the source). 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, or a 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?

When a book’s chapters are written by different authors, you should cite the specific chapter you are referring to.

When all the chapters are written by the same author (or group of authors), you should usually cite the entire book, but some styles include exceptions to this.

  • In APA Style, single-author books should always be cited as a whole, even if you only quote or paraphrase from one chapter.
  • In MLA Style, if a single-author book is a collection of stand-alone works (e.g. short stories), you should cite the individual work.
  • In Chicago Style, you may choose to cite a single chapter of a single-author book if you feel it is more appropriate than citing the whole book.
Are article titles italicized 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 9th edition, published in 2021.

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

Sources in this article

We strongly encourage students to use sources in their work. You can cite our article (APA Style) or take a deep dive into the articles below.

This Scribbr article

Gahan, C. (August 18, 2022). MLA Titles | How to Format & Capitalize Source Titles. Scribbr. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from

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!).