When you italicize a word or a phrase, it gets noticed. However, italics (typeface that slants to the right) are a bit understated and do not attract the same attention as say, bold or underline. When to use italics? There are certain style rules to remember. However, italics are popularly used to call attention to certain words in a block of text. When you think about it if all the words looked the same, reading would be a rather boring affair. One thing to remember for any typeface is not to go overboard. If every other word is italics, it loses its effect and becomes less 'special.'
What to Italicize
Like so many rules in the English language, rules for italicization vary. Often italics and underline can be used interchangeably. There are some style guides that prefer the use of underlining over the use of italics (and vice versa).
Here are, though, some rules of what to italicize. However, do keep in mind that for some of these categories below underlining is also possible.
- Emphasis: When you want to emphasize a certain word or phrase in a sentence. (She was the only girl in the class who got 100% on the exam.)
- Titles of Works: (Please note that we can also underline the following)
- Books: (Elements of Style, Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows, Jane Eyre)
- Magazines: (Time magazine, Newsweek, Cosmpolitan)
- Newspapers: (USA Today, Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle)
- Plays: (Romeo & Juliet, Waiting for Godot, Uncle Vanya)
- Movies: (Batman, Casablanca, Twilight)
- Works of Art: (Monet’s Waterlilies, Van Gogh’s Starry Starry Night, Micheangelo’s Mona Lisa)
- TV/radio programs: (American Idol, BBC’s Woman’s Hour, The Simpsons)
- CD/Album: (Michael Jackson’s Thriller album, Parachutes by Cold Play)
- Foreign Words/Technical Terms/Unfamiliar Words: When we are writing a text in one particular language (i.e. English) and want to introduce a foreign word or phrase, we tend to italicize the foreign words. (The word for cat in Spanish is gato.)
- Names of Trains, Ships, Aircraft, and Spacecraft: (NASA’s Challenger, QE2)
When to Underline
As we have discussed italics and underline can both be used for titles of major works. There are certain style guides that require underlining for titles, such as the MLA.
I have never seen the movie Titanic.
We have to read two plays by Shakespeare: Hamlet and Macbeth.
Also, sometimes italics can be difficult to read, so some recommend underlining to really emphasize certain words and phrases.
Some Things to Remember
- We do not italicize parts of larger works. For example, chapters in a book, poems, sections of newspapers, songs in a CD. Instead we use quotation marks (We heard the song "Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson on the radio three times last night).
- We also do not italicize religious books (for example, the Bible, Koran, the Torah)
- Italicize (or underline) punctuation marks that are a part of a tile (?, !)- Getting the Job You Want Now! Getting the Job You Want Now!
- Do not use italics and underline at the same time (It only cost five dollars.)