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When to Use Italics, With Examples

Updated on December 30, 2022StudentsWriting Tips

Italic font, or italics, is a style of typeface in which the text appears slanted, like this. While italics are mainly used to draw attention to certain words or passages, the font also plays an important role in differentiating the titles and names of things—such as novels, movies, and even spaceships—from other text. 

There is a lot of confusion about which types of titles use italics and which use quotation marks. So below, we explain everything you need to know about italics, including when to use them and when not to. 

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What are italics?

In typography, italics are a typeface, along with bold, underline, and the standard roman. The original intent of the design was to recreate calligraphy and handwriting in print, although today it’s simply slanted text. The original designers, Aldus Manutius and Ludovico Arrighi, were both from Italy, which the style is named after. 

What is the purpose of italic font? 

In writing, italics are used to set apart certain words, like the bold and underline typefaces. However, italics have taken on a more serious role in academic writing as a way to distinguish the titles and names of certain works, such as books and plays, from other types of works, such as articles and poems (which use quotation marks instead). 

Italics are especially important for the works cited page, where they indicate certain types of sources. Often, we italicize the titles of content collections, including periodicals and websites, while the shorter works within, such as articles, instead use quotation marks. 

Are movie titles in quotes or italics?

Movie titles, along with play and TV show titles, are written in italics. In general, the titles of longer works are italicized, while those of shorter works use quotations. So the name of a TV show is written in italics, but the title of a TV episode is written in quotes. 

Are poem titles in quotes or italics? 

Most poem titles are written in quotes. While we use italics for the titles of epic poems, which are book-length poetry, the titles of short poems always use quotation marks. 

When to use italics?

1 Long written works 

Italics are used for the titles of longer written works, including books, volumes, dissertations, reports, and epic poems. 

Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time talks about astrophysics in a way anyone can understand. 

Swann’s Way, the first volume of Marcel Proust’s masterpiece, In Search of Lost Time, includes the famous anecdote about the madeleine. 

Much of classic literature consists of epic poems like Gilgamesh or The Iliad

There is some debate about whether to underline or italicize book titles, but both are generally accepted. Since most writing nowadays is typed, italicizing is more prominent than underlining. 

2 News websites, magazines, and newspapers

The names of periodicals—specifically news websites, magazines, and newspapers—are italicized. However, individual articles use quotation marks for their titles. Websites that do not feature news articles, including social media platforms, use neither italics nor quotes in their titles. 

Ironically, New Yorkers don’t often read The New York Times or The New Yorker

I got a link to HuffPost from LinkedIn. 

3 Movies, plays, and TV 

The titles of movies, stage plays, and TV shows are italicized. However, the names of individual TV show episodes use quotes. 

Most fans agree the best episode of Rick and Morty is “Pickle Rick.” 

The Lion King is an animated film loosely based on Shakespeare’s play Hamlet.

4 Podcasts and radio shows

The titles of podcasts and radio shows are italicized, while their individual episode titles use quotes. 

In the radio show This American Life, the episode “Break-Up” features the musician Phil Collins. 

5 Music albums, operas, and long musical compositions

The names of music albums and longer musical compositions are italicized, while individual song names use quotes. 

The first song on Taylor Swift’s self-titled album, Taylor Swift, is “Tim McGraw.” 

Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute often overshadows his lesser-known works, such as the Lodron Concerto. 

6  Apps and video games

Apps and video games are considered long, published works, so their titles are italicized. Board games, card games, and other such games are not italicized. 

I was up all night playing Fortnight

She preferred TikTok because it made her laugh more than Instagram

However, if you’re referring to the corporation or company—and not the name of the app itself—use neither italics nor quotation marks. I heard on Twitter that Elon Musk was stepping down as the head of Twitter.

7 Works of art

The titles of classic art works, such as paintings and sculptures, use italics. 

Michelangelo created two of the Renaissance’s most important works: the fresco The Last Judgement and the sculpture David

8 Legal cases

The italic font is also used to set apart the names of legal cases. 

The case of Marbury v. Madison gave the court the ability to strike down laws on the grounds that they are unconstitutional.

9 Names of vehicles

The names of large vehicles—including ships, aircraft, spacecraft, and trains—are italicized. The names of smaller vehicles—such as cars, trucks, and bikes—are not. 

The Titanic has been the obsession of marine researchers since it sank. 

The Apollo 11 mission involved two spacecraft, the Eagle and the Columbia

10 Foreign words

In English writing, words from other languages are often italicized so the reader doesn’t confuse them for English words. 

It was nearly 8 p.m. by the time we arrived, but I say, mieux vaut tard que jamais! 

However, English tends to “borrow” words—known as loan words—from other languages. So if a foreign phrase is common in English, you do not need to italicize it. 

Karaoke is my raison d’être. 

11  Scientific names

The scientific names for organisms, known formally as binomial nomenclature, are written in italic font. These names use the genus and species names of the creature. 

Felis catus is commonly known as the house cat. 

12  Discussing words and letters

If you want to discuss a word itself, you can put it in italics. This tells the reader you’re talking about the term and not using the word as intended. 

The modern word internet is unrelated to the word internetted, popular in the 1800s. 

Italics also work well if you’re introducing a new word in text and want to explain it. 

Droplets on a glass are a sign of condensation, when vapor in the air turns into water. 

Also use italics to discuss letters of the alphabet. 

In the alphabet song, why are l, m, n, and o sung so quickly? 

13  Unspoken thoughts in creative writing

In creative writing, italics often show a character’s thoughts or inner monologue, while quotation marks show what is spoken out loud. 

“Remain strong, everyone,” said the head cheerleader from the top of the pyramid. Easy for you to say, thought the cheerleaders at the bottom. 

14 Emphasis

Lastly, italics are used to show emphasis in a sentence. You can italicize a word, phrase, or passage to make it stand out. This is often used to add deeper meaning to a word or phrase, such as an insinuation or a double entendre. 

“I hope you don’t have another accident,” he said with a sly grin. 

The school does not allow swimming after 10 p.m. 

For emphasis, italics are preferable to quotation marks around a single word. When quotes around a word or phrase are used for emphasis, it suggests disbelief or invalidity. 

When should italics not be used?

1 Short written works 

While we use italics for the titles of long writing, short writing uses quotation marks. This includes the titles of articles, short stories, most poems, and chapters. 

The line “What happens to a dream deferred?” comes from Langston Hughes’s poem “Harlem.” 

2 Locations, landmarks, and other geographic names

The names of geographic locations—including cities, states, and countries—use neither italics nor quotes, although they are capitalized. 

The Grand Canyon was carved by the Colorado River. 

3 Religious texts 

While the names of religious texts are capitalized, they are neither italicized nor placed in quotes. 

Texts such as the Koran and the Torah are full of wisdom from the ages. 

4 With bold or underline

Try to avoid using italics with other stylized typefaces, such as bold and underline. Since all three are designed to make words stand out, only one at a time is necessary. 

[INCORRECT:] The Great Gatsby or The Great Gatsby

[CORRECT:] The Great Gatsby

With online writing, however, it’s acceptable to underline italicized text if it’s hyperlinked. 

Italics FAQs

What are italics?

Italics are a typeface where printed text looks slanted. 

When should italics be used?

Use italics for the names of legal cases, some vehicles, and certain titles in art and writing. The italic font is also used to emphasize particular words or phrases, including foreign words and scientific names.  

When should italics not be used?

Italics should not be used for the titles of short works, such as poems, articles, short stories, or song names—all of which use quotation marks instead. The names of geographic locations and religious texts use neither italics nor quotes, but they’re still capitalized. 

What are some italics examples?

The Catcher in the Rye was listed as one of Time’s greatest novels of all time!

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