How Do You Use Italics?

italics
The letters in this sign are in italics. It's customary to italicize foreign words (such as the French word chocolaterie) when they appear in an English text. (ROBERT WEBER/Getty Images)

Italics is a style of typeface in which letters slant to the right: This sentence is printed in italics. Verb: italicize. In handwriting, the equivalent of italics is underlining.

As shown below, italics are most commonly used for the titles of works that stand by themselves, such as the names of books, films, and video games. Another customary use of italics is to give emphasis to key words and phrases in a sentence.

Although it's important to use italics appropriately in formal, academic writing, italic type is not always available in less formal communications, such as in emails and text messages

Etymology

From the Latin, "Italy"

Guidelines for Using Italics

As a general rule, italicize the titles of complete works:

  • albums and CDs: 1989 by Taylor Swift
  • books: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • magazines and journals (print and online): Sports Illustrated, Slate, and Journal of Linguistics
  • newspapers: The New York Times
  • movies: The Martian
  • plays: A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
  • software programs: Microsoft PowerPoint 
  • television programs: Doctor Who
  • video games: Grand Theft Auto V
  • works of art: Nighthawks by Edward Hopper

The titles of comparatively short works--songs, poems, short stories, essays, and episodes of TV programs--should be enclosed in quotation marks.

As a general rule, italicize the names of aircraft, ships, and trains; foreign words used in an English sentence; and words and letters discussed as words and letters:

  • "These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise."
  • From 1925 to 1953, a passenger train named the Orange Blossom Special brought vacationers to sunny Florida from New York.
  • "There is no danger that Titanic will sink. The boat is unsinkable and nothing but inconvenience will be suffered by the passengers."
  • "Come kiss me, and say goodbye like a man. No, not good-bye, au revoir."
  • "Every word she writes is a lie, including and and the."

As a general rule, use italics to emphasize words and phrases--but don't overwork this device:

"Then I started reading this timetable I had in my pocket. Just to stop lying. Once I get started, I can go on for hours if I feel like it. No kidding. Hours."

Observations

  • "Italics rarely fail to insult the reader's intelligence. More often than not they tell us to emphasize a word or phrase that we would emphasize automatically in any natural reading of the sentence."
  • "Think of italics as butterflies that might swoop across the page, allow them to flit about, land here and there, softly; gently; don't treat them as a blanket that must spread itself across the entire page. The butterfly approach will bring a dash of color; the blanket approach will darken everything."
  • "Underlining is to . . . handwritten papers what italics are to more formal publishing. . . . Today the only widespread use of underlined text is to denote clickable links in Web documents. (The newspaper convention, which I use as a newspaperman and which was also a response to a technical inability to use italics, is quotation marks for book, movie, and other titles.)"

    Pronunciation

    ih-TAL-iks

    Sources

    Title sequence of the original Star Trek TV series

    Phillip Franklin, Vice President of White Star Line

    William Graham, "Chats With Jane Clermont," 1893

    Mary McCarthy on Lillian Hellman

    J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, 1951

    Paul Robinson, "The Philosophy of Punctuation." Opera, Sex, and Other Vital Matters. University of Chicago Press, 2002

    William Noble, Noble's Book of Writing Blunders (and How to Avoid Them). Writer's Digest Books, 2006

    (Bill Walsh, The Elephants of Style. McGraw-Hill, 2004

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    Your Citation
    Nordquist, Richard. "How Do You Use Italics?" ThoughtCo, Jan. 16, 2018, thoughtco.com/what-are-iterative-verb-1691200. Nordquist, Richard. (2018, January 16). How Do You Use Italics? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-are-iterative-verb-1691200 Nordquist, Richard. "How Do You Use Italics?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-are-iterative-verb-1691200 (accessed January 19, 2018).