When to use italics


Italics make words stand out from the rest of the text – the modern equivalent of underlining. But there are rules – there are always rules. Here are some useful tips when to apply italics.

Titles of books, songs, movies, and works of art

Long literary works, such as book titles and names of newspapers and journals are written in italics. This includes reports, dissertations, and theses.

Shorter works – those that appear in books or journals, like poems, shorts stories, and articles are surrounded with quotation marks.

  • Example: Financial Mail published the article “How to invest wisely”.

 Like long literary works, music albums and CDs are in italics, but the songs on the albums get quotation marks.

  • Example: Michael Jackson’s album Thriller is the all-time bestselling album worldwide. Seven singles were released from this album, among them the song “Thriller”.

Movie titles, TV and radio shows, plays, and works of art are also written in italics. But the names of episodes of TV shows are in quotation marks.

  • Example: “Song Beneath the Song” is the 18th episode of the seventh season of the TV drama Grey’s Anatomy.

Foreign words and phrases

Words or phrases in a foreign language, unless they have become part of everyday use, are written in italics.

  • Examples: inter alia, vice versa, déjà vu, à la carte.
  • Not in italics: spaghetti, chef, kindergarten, boerewors, etc.

For emphasis and contrast

Please note, never use underlining for emphasis. And if you use italics, use them sparingly.

  • Example – emphasis: She arrived three hours late for dinner.
  • Example – contrast: I usually go to gym twice a week. But last week I went five times.

Citing English words

Example: Many people don’t know when to write they’re, their, or there.

Names of vehicles

Ships, trains, aircraft, spacecraft, etc: Titanic, Orient Express, Challenger.
But don’t italicise brand names of vehicles, ie Ford Explorer, Audi X3, Airbus A330.

Legal cases

Smith v Jones

Don’t use italics

  • For titles of sacred works, such as the Bible, the Torah, the Qur’an.
  • For public documents, like the Bill of Rights, the Constitution.
  • For text between quotation marks.

©Andrea Paulsen