Grammar: Italics


Page contents:

defining words and demonstrating their uses
titles of books, newspapers, long poems, films, plays, etc.
works of art
names of ships
legal cases
foreign words and expressions
lengthy quotations



      You will do as you’re told!

      No one can be that foolish

      What we can say, however, is…

Words to be emphasised in passages already italicised are typed in whatever script has been chosen for the main text –

      When working with electrical equipment, you must always remember
      that the live wire is coloured 

But the use of italics to create emphasis is rarely necessary. In most cases, the emphasis is evident from the context –

      We warned him again and again, but he simply would not listen.

      (Unnecessary to italicise would.)



      The Met Office announced that it had been the coldest and wettest summer
      since records began.

      (Quotation marks may instead be used in manuscript.)


Defining Words and Demonstrating Their Uses

      The verb to coruscate means ‘to sparkle’.

      (Note that the word to be defined is italicised while the definition appears in quotation marks.) 

      I think unusual would be a more tactful way of describing his behaviour
      than abnormal.


Titles of Books, Newspapers, Long Poems, Films, Plays, etc.

As a general rule, any work that is published or produced under its own title is given italics –

   War and Peace
   The Independent
   The Ancient Mariner
   The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
   The Tempest

But newspapers tend to avoid italics and use only upper-case initials.

Major religious texts are never italicised: the Bible, the Koran, the Talmud.

The titles of minor works, such as chapters, articles, short stories and short poems, which are generally published under other titles, are given
single quotation marks –

      ‘The Killers’ is one of Hemingway’s most popular short stories; For
      Whom the Bell Tolls
is one of his most popular novels.

      His article, ‘Europe: The Way Forward’, appeared in The Economist
      last month.

But again, newspapers tend to use upper-case initials only.


Works of Art

Paintings and sculptures take italics –

      Mona Lisa
      The Thinker

But there is little consistency with musical compositions. Large works of classical music tend to be italicised only in their given names, if they have

      Beethovens Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68

      Wagners Ring Cycle

but –

      Beethovens Sixth Symphony, The Pastoral (or The Pastoral)

      Wagners Das Rheingold (or Das Rheingold)

Musicals and the titles of CDs might or might not be italicised, and song titles might or might not appear in quotation marks.


Names of Ships

      Queen Mary
      Ark Royal


Legal Cases

      The Crown v. Smith (Note that the v. is not italicised.)


Foreign Words and Expressions

Foreign words considered to be fully anglicised are not italicised –


Most others take italics, although some house styles now omit the practice –

      bête noire
      bona fide
      bon appetite
      ceteris paribus
      coup d’état
      déjà vu
      esprit de corps
      fait accompli
      in flagrante delicto
      je ne sais quoi
      obiter dictum

(See also diacritics.)

The Latin expression e.g., i.e., etc. and per are rarely italicised today.


Lengthy quotations

Italics are occasionally used in place of quotation marks for lengthy quotations (forty or more words), but quotations that take up several lines are
often better
 block quoted.





























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