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19.5 Marking Words with Italics

Learning Objectives

  1. Know when to use italics versus quotation marks in titles of works.
  2. Review other circumstances when italics are appropriate.
  3. Understand how to use italics in moderation for emphasis.

Traditionally, underlining was used as a means of emphasis in handwritten text. Since the advent of the personal computer, italics have replaced underlining. If you are creating text by hand or by some other means where italics are not available, use underlining instead of italics.

Italicize Titles of Published Texts, Lengthy Works, and Legal Cases

As a rule, you should italicize the titles of published works, but you should not italicize parts of published works, such as a poem within a book, or unpublished works. Some exceptions that should be italicized include lengthy works, such as a very long poem within a book, and legal cases. Some exceptions that should not be italicized include titles of published short stories and titles of television shows. Works that are not italicized are typically placed in quotation marks. Some other exceptions that should not be italicized include long religious works, such as the Bible and the Koran, and easily recognizable texts, such as the US Constitution.

Italicize Titles of Books, Magazines, and Newpapers

  • The Runaway Jury
  • People
  • The New York Times

Italicize Titles of Long Poems, Plays, and Television Series (but Not Individual Television Shows)

  • The Odyssey
  • Billy Elliot the Musical
  • The Mentalist

Italicize Names of Spacecraft, Aircraft, and Ships

  • Apollo 13
  • Boeing 777
  • the Niña, Pinta, and Santa María

Italicize Foreign Words Used in English Sentences

  • We would like to develop a very positive esprit de corps within the company.
  • His actions over the past month have made him persona non grata within my group of friends.

Italicize Words, Letters, and Numbers That Are Called Out or Emphasized

  • She is, by the very definition, irascible.
  • Make a list of words that begin with hu.
  • The numbers 36, 84, and 300 are all divisible by 6.

Italicize Scientific Names

  • Homo sapiens are members of the Animalia kingdom.

Do Not Overitalicize

You might be tempted to use italics to emphasize a key phrase, word, or idea even though it doesn’t fall into any these categories. Fight off the temptation since an overuse of italics is distracting for readers.

Key Takeaways

  • Italics have replaced underlining, thanks to word processing.
  • Know the rules for what should and should not be italicized.
  • Do not overitalicize by italicizing assorted words just to make them stand out.


  1. Write sentences demonstrating your choice of five of the guidelines given in Section 19.5 "Marking Words with Italics" for using italics.
  2. In a textbook, find as many examples of the different italicizing guidelines as possible. Copy the pages and identify each guideline you find.
  3. Complete these sentences:

    1. If you use the word “magnum opus” in a sentence, you should italicize it because…
    2. Read this sentence: The word city has a soft c. The two italics rules used in this sentence are…
    3. Read this sentence: A Canis familiaris is a dog. The problems with this sentence are…