Wednesday, May 06, 2009

WNW: Quotes Marks and Italics

Last week's Word Nerd Wednesday talked about using single quotes and double quotes in dialogue. What it didn't go into was when to use quotation marks and  italics in titles.

That's today's topic, a section pulled from There, Their, They're. (For today, let's forget the no-tears guide part; I'm about to cry over all the delays I've had trying to get the book here. Soon, I promise! Soon!)

Quotation Marks versus Italics
First and foremost, never, ever use quote marks or italics when a title is actually acting as a title.

In other words, don’t italicize or put quote marks around your title on your own title page. The title is being a title, not being referred to, so it doesn’t need to be set apart.

Have you ever seen a title on an actual book italicized?

Ever seen a magazine article title with quotes around it at the top of the piece?

Didn’t think so.

On the other hand, when you’re referring to your own work, then your title is not behaving as a title. That's when you need to either italicize or quote mark it, such as in a cover letter or query:

Enclosed is “Please Publish Me,” a fantasy short story of 4,000 words.

Rule of Thumb: Italics and Quotes
Use QUOTE MARKS for things that are SHORT.
Use ITALICS for things that are LONG and/or can be broken into shorter pieces.

Another editor once suggested to me a way to remember this by going back to the days of typewriters, when they used the underline key to represent italics.

A long line reminded her of a bookshelf, or something big that a shelf could hold up.

Quote marks looked like nails or hooks, something that would hold up something little.

Okay, so what constitutes short and long?

Quote marks go around short works.
Poems: “Prometheus,” by Lord Byron
Songs: “The Star Spangled Banner,” by Francis Scott Key
Magazine Articles: “Learning from Lincoln’s Wisdom,” by William Kristol
Short Stories: “A Rose for Emily,” by William Faulkner

Short also means pieces of a bigger work.
Episodes of a TV show: "The Trouble with Tribbles" in Star Trek
Chapters within a book: "The Boy Who Lived: in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Italics set apart larger works.
Novels: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling
Magazines: Time
Television Shows: Star Trek
Movies: Shrek
Ships: The Monitor

Hint: If something can be broken down further, the main title is italicized, and the smaller pieces get quotation marks.

The magazine or newsletter will be in italics, while the articles inside it will be in quotation marks. The TV show will be italicized, while the individual episodes will be quote marks.

I have no clue why ships are in italics. That’s just the rule.

Names: Do You Italicize or Add Quotes to Them?
Which do you use for names? Neither. Basic names (versus titles) get neither italics nor quotation marks. They get plain caps.

For example, all of the following are just names: a brand of soda or jeans, a big mansion (think Tara in Gone with the Wind), and a store.

Just like you wouldn’t italicize or put quotation marks around Hermione’s or Luke Skywalker’s names, you don’t add quote marks or italics to names of places or objects.

Caps are enough for plain old names like Coke, Wrangler, and Macey’s.

(I hope to have good news about the book next WNW!)


Kristina P. said...

I'm so glad you did this, because I often use quote marks for titles, but I saw a lot of people using italics, so I thought maybe I was doing it wrong. Glad to know you can use both.

CountessLaurie said...

I cannot wait for this book! Thanks Annette!!

Lara Neves said...

I'm always getting this wrong. Thanks for the clarification.

I also can't wait for the book!

Jillybean said...

Please tell me that all these rules don't apply to blog posts.

Because if they do, I'm in "really big trouble"
(I probably give you a headache and an eye twitch every time you read one of my posts) (For this I apologize)

Brittany Marie said...

Thanks! I love unnecessary quotation marks- especially if they are in frosting.

We will "miss" you, Megan!


Sherrie Shepherd Piano Music said...

Good to know. I'm always used italics as a way to emphasize a word or phrase.
Is that ok?

Annette Lyon said...

Sherrie, I'd use italics for emphasis. Quote marks in that sense tend to imply that the words in them don't really mean what they usually do.

Like if I were to call a dessert a "cake," that would imply that it's a shady kind of dessert, but we're calling it a cake even though it might look awful.

Check out the blog of unnecessary quotation marks for really funny examples.

Heatherlyn said...

I'm interested in parenthesis. What if the thought inside the parenthesis ends in a question, then would you put the question mark inside the parenthesis but the period outside with the rest of the sentence? Can you have a parenthesis inside of a parenthesis? How would that work?

Cynthia said...

I am so excited for your book. You've read my blog, you know I NEED punctuation help. I'm ADD and all the niggling details of complex punctuation totally disinterested me as a kid- so I didn't learn them well. Now I'll have a second chance to pick up that skill.

So, can we submit questions about punctuation? Perhaps you could do a post that answers questions submitted by the punctuationally challenged folks like me?

Annette Lyon said...

Cynthia--Bring on the questions! I keep a running list of questions either left in comments or e-mailed to me directly.

Melanie Jacobson said...

It made my nerd heart flutter to see a reference to "The Trouble With Tribbles." That does me good.

Oh, and here's a question. I know articles aren't capitalized within a title, but what about prepositions? Does it depend on the length? That one messes me up a bit.

Anonymous said...

I am grateful for this lesson. Will try to rememeber it all for future use. I am always wanting to improve my writing or lack of writing skills.

Jo said...

Look at you! All quotifying and italizing and helping the rest of us to do it correctly. Well done!

Chas Hathaway said...

If you ever want a good laugh, google the blog called, "The Blog of Unnecessary Quotation Marks."
It's an entire blog of pictures of places (mostly business signs) where people used quotation marks where they shouldn't be. It's really funny.

- Chas

wendy said...

You should be an english professor ---as well as an author. I know I make a ton of gramatical errors (and spelling) on my posts. Not to mention puncuation. I like using -----
I don't know why?? Just separates things out for me.

Tristi Pinkston said...

I wish there was a link to preorder your book! I was going to pay for mine at the conference and then spaced it. They are gonna make lots of copies, right?? Or is it POD?

That Girl said...

This is one of those things that got lost since my too-many-years-since-college. (Not really. It's kinda sad that I forgot already.)

Thanks for the refresher!


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