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When to Use Quotation Marks for Titles

Updated on December 28, 2022Grammar

Do you know when to use quotation marks for titles? Knowing whether to use italics or quotation marks for titles is one of the most common problems students have, especially when it comes to academic writing where you discuss your sources. Luckily, there are consistent themes that can help you pick the right format for each title, no matter what style guide you’re following. 

Below, we explain exactly when to use quotation marks in titles (and when to use italics instead). We’ll cover the title rules for the three main style guides—APA, MLA, and Chicago—and give you some guidelines for figuring out which kinds of titles use which format. 

How to properly quote a title with quotation marks

Quotation marks (“ ”) are mostly for showing speech or copying passages verbatim from other works, but sometimes they’re used for more than just punctuation. For certain types of works, they’re used to set apart titles. 

The general rule is to use quotation marks for titles of short works such as articles, poems, songs, essays, or short stories. By contrast, use italics for larger works such as books, movies, and the names of periodicals. We provide a complete list below. 

When to use italics or quotation marks for titles

Some types of work italicize titles, and some use quotation marks, but how do you know which is which? Here’s a quick list of what kinds of works use each. 

Works that use quotation marks in titles

  • journal articles
  • newspaper and magazine articles
  • blog and online news articles
  • essay titles
  • poems (except epic poems)
  • short stories
  • songs
  • chapters
  • lectures
  • episode titles of TV shows, podcasts, and other serial works
  • page titles for websites
  • section or part titles within a larger work
  • short-form videos, such as those on YouTube

Works that use italics in titles

  • books
  • volumes 
  • anthologies
  • reports 
  • epic poems (not regular poems)
  • periodical names (magazines, newspapers, and news websites)
  • movies
  • plays
  • radio shows
  • TV shows (not individual episodes)
  • podcasts (not individual episodes)
  • music albums
  • apps
  • video games
  • operas and long musical compositions
  • classic art like paintings and sculptures
  • dissertations
  • legal cases
  • large vehicles such as ships, aircrafts, and spacecrafts

When to use quotation marks for titles for each style guide

While the basics are the same—italics for the titles of long works and quotation marks for the titles of short works—some minor details may vary. Here’s a quick rundown of when to use quotation marks in titles for the APA, MLA, and Chicago styles. 

Quotations marks in titles for APA

The APA format follows the list above: It uses quotation marks for all types of work mentioned. The only particular rule they have about quotation marks in titles is that they are not used in the reference list for articles and chapters.  

In APA, the reference list is the name of the bibliography, like a works cited page. When writing a full citation that mentions an article or book chapter, simply write the title with neither quotation marks nor italics. However, if the same title is written within the text (or in a copyright attribution), use quotation marks. 

Quotations marks in titles for Chicago

In general, Chicago style follows the list above. It does, nevertheless, list a few extra types of works that the other style guides do not. 

Quotation marks for titles:

  • fairy tales and nursery rhymes

Italics for titles: 

  • pamphlets
  • maps
  • serialized cartoons and comic strips

Quotations marks in titles for MLA

The use of quotation marks in titles for MLA format is very straightforward. Simply use the appropriate format for the type of work, as indicated in the large list above. 

When to use single or double quotation marks for titles

There are two types of quotation marks: single quotation marks (‘ ’) and double quotation marks (“ ”). 

In general, American English uses double quotation marks. The only time we use single quotation marks for titles is to replace quotation marks within another pair of quotation marks. 

For example, if you were writing an article about Langston Hughes’s poems—highlighting “Harlem” in particular—the title of your article might be something like this:

“Reflections on ‘Harlem’ and Other Poems” 

Notice how, when we talk about the poem “Harlem” on its own, we use the standard double quotation marks. However, when we mention it within another pair of quotation marks, we use single quotation marks instead. 

This is done simply for the sake of clarity. It would be confusing to use double quotation marks within double quotation marks, so this makes reading a bit easier. Let’s look at another example: 

EPISODE TITLE: “The Winds of Winter” (episode of Game of Thrones)

ESSAY TITLE: “Why ‘The Winds of Winter’ Is the Best Episode of Game of Thrones

Keep in mind that if a title in quotation marks is used within an italicized title, double quotation marks are used. For example, look at how we write the title of a full book that collects Roald Dahl’s short stories: 

“The Landlady” and Other Short Stories

It’s also worth noting that this is only the convention in American English. In British English, single quotes and double quotes are switched! That means titles and speech quotes use single quotation marks most of the time and double quotation marks are used only within single quotes. Keep that in mind if you’re ever reading a British piece of writing

Quotation marks for titles FAQs

Why use quotation marks for titles?

Quotation marks set apart the titles of short works like articles, poems, songs, essays, or short stories. Longer works like books or movies use italics instead. 

When do you use quotation marks for titles?

Use quotation marks for the titles of articles, essays, poems, short stories, songs, chapters, lectures, pages for websites, episodes of serial works (such as TV shows or podcasts), names of sections or parts in larger works, and short-form videos such as those on YouTube. 

When do you use italics?

Use italics for the titles of books, movies, plays, TV shows, podcasts, video games, apps, classic art (like paintings and sculptures), music albums, legal cases, dissertations, anthologies, reports, periodicals (like magazines or newspapers), operas and long musical compositions, and large vehicles (like ships or aircraft).

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