Capitalization and Capital Letters in Headings
Thread poster: Jande

Jande  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:50
Danish to English
+ ...
Nov 3, 2006

I was working on a translation and there are a small number of differences between capitalization in the two languages and I was trying to get it right, but then after googling I don't know what is right anymore.

My impression was that in English headings were to be capitalized. That is a capital at the beginning of each word, except for small words. e.g. The Man in the Moon

If a heading becomes a shorened sentance containing a verb then that goes e.g. The Man walks on the Moon

However it could go e.g. The man walks on the moon

Googling I came up with two perspectives

One is that only the first letter of the heading should be capitalized and the rest should be small e.g. The man in the moon

The other is that headings must be capitalised e.g. The Man in the Moon

Both perspectives agree that there should be no full stop because there are no full sentances in a heading.

Other style guides suggest headings in capital letters e.g. THE MAN IN THE MOON, however this does not generally apply and there is no doubt in these cases about what to do in the translation.

Do you normally capitalize headings in English translations?
Should they be left as in the source text even though there are differences between the languages?

That is in the source language they generally don't capitalize words even pronouns, so I capitalize in that case, but with headings the line is fuzzier.

Does anyone have an opinion about this?


Sonia Dorais
Local time: 08:50
French to English
+ ...
The Canadian Style Guide Rules Nov 3, 2006

Here are some of the rules on capitalisation from the Canadian Style Guide. However, I cannot confirm the rules for other English-speaking countries.

Neverthless, these are the rules I follow. I hope you find them useful.

11.16 Reports -- Headings

Headings (or heads) are used to introduce a change of subject in a report or other document and to indicate a hierarchy of topics. They are designed to guide readers and enable them to find the pages where a particular topic is discussed. The size and appearance of a heading should match its importance, and the same type of heading should be used consistently throughout a document to indicate subdivisions with the same degree of subordination. Headings that are of equal importance should have parallel grammatical structures.

You can set off the heading by various means depending, among other things, on how many levels of heading there are. These means include capitalization (full or initial letter only), underlining, centring, spacing, type size and the use of italic or boldface type. The specific means chosen to indicate the gradation of headings matter less than consistency in using them. The system adopted should be as simple as the nature of the text will allow.

Unless a heading is centred or full capitalization is used, only the first word and proper nouns are normally capitalized. In centred headings, capitalize the first letter of each word except the following (unless they are the initial word):

short conjunctions (fewer than four letters)
short prepositions (fewer than four letters)
Do not footnote a heading.

4.33 Lists

Point-form lists make it easier for the reader to understand how the elements are related. Grammar and syntax determine the internal capitalization and punctuation of the initial letters of items in lists. It is more important for lists to be logically understandable and syntactically consistent than to look alike.

If the lead-in to a list is syntactically related to the points that follow, as in this list,

do not capitalize the first words of items within the list, and
except for the bullets or dashes, punctuate as if the entire sentence was not in point form.
Items in lists are sometimes capitalized. This list illustrates one possible set of conditions:

It is made up of complete sentences, which do not depend on the lead-in sentence fragment and which end with a period.
It contains points that are more easily grasped separately than together.
Incomplete sentences or single words entered as points in lists are normally lower-cased:

Four issues are related to the economics of healthy housing:
—viability for the construction industry
Note that there is no period at the end of the list.

4.37 The definite article

Capitalize the when it is part of a corporate name:

The Globe and Mail
The Pas
The Canadian Red Cross Society
Do not capitalize the when it is used adjectivally:

The Minister answered the Globe and Mail reporter.
The French definite article should be retained if it is part of a corporate name, and the should not precede it. If the French article is not part of the official title, replace it with the:

an article in Le Devoir


a representative of the Office des professions du Québec

4.29 Publications and works of art

In English titles of books, articles, periodicals, newspapers, plays, operas and long musical compositions and recordings, poems, paintings, sculptures and motion pictures, capitalize all words except articles, conjunctions of fewer than four letters, and prepositions of fewer than four letters. These exceptions are also capitalized when they immediately follow a period, colon or dash within a title and when they are the first or last word in a title:

book Virginia Woolf: A Biography
book Under the Volcano
book To Kill a Mockingbird
book How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
painting Rain in the North Country
film Goin' Down the Road
opera The Magic Flute

Words that are normally prepositions are capitalized when they help form another part of speech:

Getting By While Getting On
Guide to On-Reserve Housing
In short titles, capitalize words that would be capitalized in full titles:

Appleton's General Guide to the United States and Canada, Illustrated
With Railway Maps, Plans of Cities, and Table of Railway and
Steamboat Fares, for the Year 1891 (full title)

Appleton's Guide for 1891 (short form)

I read about it in the News.
Even if some words appear in all capital letters on the title page, capitalize only initial letters, except in specialized bibliographies that must reflect the original typography.

Titles of ancient manuscripts are capitalized, even if the titles were assigned in modern times:

the Dead Sea Scrolls
Codex Alexandrinus
See the Appendix for capitalization of titles in French.

In titles containing hyphenated compounds, always capitalize the first element. Capitalize the second element if it is a proper noun or proper adjective or if it is as important as the first element:

A History of Eighteenth-Century Literature
Anti-Americanism in Latin America

4.01 Introduction

Capital letters have three basic uses, of which nearly all others may be regarded as particular cases: (1) to give emphasis, as in official titles and initial words; (2) to distinguish proper nouns and adjectives from common ones; and (3) to highlight words in headings and captions.

In English the first letter of certain words is capitalized to give emphasis and to clarify sentence structure and meaning for the reader. This chapter gives rules to define which words require capitals, but editorial practice varies considerably on this subject, depending on the desired degree of formality, the intended readership and the organization's house style.

In order to ensure consistency in your own style, follow the rules below, which apply to most general types of writing, and consult the Gage Canadian Dictionary, which gives the upper-case use of many words. Capitalization in specialized documents should be based on professional style guides.


Local time: 08:50
Spanish to English
Correct style is determined by the end recipient Nov 3, 2006

There are no "standard" rules for title capitalization. Different publications have different standards. The US and Great Britain have different practices. Also different fields have different standards. Whether you should be following AP style, Chicago Manual of Style, to name the more general stylebooks in the US, or a very specific one like the APA (American Psychological Association), if the article is for publication in an American Psychology journal, for example, is something that your client should find out.

This is really a case where the end-user is the best source of information here.


Patricia Rosas  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:50
Spanish to English
+ ...
The Chicago Manual of Style Rules for US academic publishing... Nov 3, 2006

Sonia-Catherine's contribution is terrific. If you want to see the Chicago Style rules, they can be found at
available on a free trial basis for a while.

While Trab is essentially right (different disciplines, different journals, different objectives, etc.) result in a variety of styles, it is nice to know that one can fall back on widely accepted rules so that one doesn't need to re-invent them over and over!

For titles, Chicago suggests that the first and last words are always capitalized, and for the rest, articles and prepostions are lower-cased; everything else should have an initial capital letter. Unlike the Canadian rule, prepositions (regardless of length) are always lower-cased, unless (in a rare instance), it is stressed (as in "A River Runs Through It).

But subheadings receive a variety of treatment, usually depending on heading level, so there you are more or less on your own.

Good luck!

[Edited at 2006-11-03 19:31]


Jackie Bowman

Local time: 08:50
Spanish to English
+ ...
Depends a bit on your client's standards Nov 3, 2006

And if the readership is used to ‘Oxford’ norms, you need ‘Hart’s Rules’, the OUP standard. I’d be happy to transcribe the relevant stuff for you if you need it.

But previous posters have been excellent on this matter. It depends a lot on what your client expects to see. And it depends a lot on common sense. In this area, nothing is set in stone.

If you need the Brit-Oxford stuff, don’t hesitate to post here or contact me off-list.


Jande  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:50
Danish to English
+ ...
Thanks for your help with capitilization Nov 5, 2006

Thanks for your help.

It seems like an issue of taste rather than a set rule.


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Capitalization and Capital Letters in Headings

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