Punctuation Movie Titles Essays On Friendship

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Punctuation with Titles

By Jennifer Rappaport

In a previous Ask the MLA post, we explained how to incorporate titles ending in question marks or exclamation points into works-cited-list entries. But how do you incorporate such titles into your prose? How do you handle titles ending in other punctuation marks? And what should you do about other matters of punctuation related to titles?

Titles Ending in Question Marks or Exclamation Points in Your Prose

At the MLA, we never insert a period after a title ending in a question mark or exclamation point, but we insert a comma if doing so makes a sentence easier to read—for example, when such a title is one item in a series or when the title is contained in a nonrestrictive clause:

But when possible, we prefer to reword:

Titles That Need to Be Shortened 

When we need to shorten a really long title in a works-cited-list entry, we add an ellipsis after the first part of the title up to at least the first noun. If a work has an alternative title, we might include it. If a period is needed, we insert the period before the ellipsis and set the punctuation roman:

If a comma is needed, as it would be when the long title is the title of a container, we insert it after the ellipsis. We set the ellipsis and the comma roman:

In prose, we omit the ellipsis:

Philocophus; or, The Deafe and Dumbe Mans Friend was written by John Bulwer.

Titles Ending in an Ellipsis or Dash

If the ellipsis is part of the title, we add the period or comma after the ellipsis. The ellipsis is set in italics if the title is italicized, but the additional punctuation is set roman:

Work Cited

Reiner, Rob, director. When Harry Met Sally . . . . MGM, 1989.

We follow the same principle if a title ends in a dash:

Work Cited

Dickinson, Emily. “I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—.” The Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by R. W. Franklin, Harvard UP, 1999.

Titles and Subtitles

Section 1.2.1 of the eighth edition of the MLA Handbook says, “Use a colon and a space to separate a title from a subtitle, unless the title ends in a question mark or an exclamation point. Include other punctuation only if it is part of the title or subtitle.”

The handbook provides the following examples:

But sometimes titles are not straightforward. In such cases, we follow some additional rules.

For example, when a title is followed by two subtitles, we use two colons:

For works published in English, when a period separates a title and a subtitle on the title page, we change the period to a colon. When a question mark, exclamation point, or dash separates a title and a subtitle on the title page, we leave the original mark:

But if a title contains a title ending in a question mark or exclamation point, we add a colon:

Here the exclamation point is part of the title Absalom, Absalom!, so a colon is needed to separate the title Moby-Dick and Absalom, Absalom! from the subtitle.

In foreign language publications, we follow the source when punctuating titles.

Double Titles

For an alternative or double title in English beginning with or, we follow the first example given in section 8.165 of The Chicago Manual of Style and punctuate as follows:

But no semicolon is needed for a title in English that ends with a question mark or exclamation point:

For double titles of foreign language publications, we follow the source.

Dates in Titles

Unless a date is part of a title’s syntax, we follow section 8.163 of Chicago and set it off with a comma:

Serial Comma in Titles

Contrary to section 8.163 of Chicago, for English-language titles of books published in the United States, we add the serial comma before the conjunction preceding the final item in a series if the comma is missing. Otherwise, we follow the source. The following book was published by Verso in London, so the serial comma is not added:

Works Cited

The Chicago Manual of Style. 16th ed., U of Chicago P, 2016.

MLA Handbook. 8th ed., Modern Language Association of America, 2016.

Published 29 December 2017

Jennifer Rappaport is managing editor, MLA style resources, at the Modern Language Association. She received a BA in English and French from Vassar College and an MA in comparative literature from New York University, where she taught expository writing. Before coming to the MLA, she worked as an editor at a university press and as a freelance copyeditor and translator for commercial and academic publishers.

Simply put: no.

APA's Publication Manual (2010) indicates that, in the body of your paper, you should use italics for the titles of:

  • books
  • periodicals (journals, magazines, newspapers)
  • films
  • videos
  • TV shows
  • Microfilm publications

Beyond APA's specific examples, know that certain types of titles are almost always written in italics. 

Use italics in a word-processed document for the types of titles you'd underline if you were writing by hand.  A general rule of thumb is that within the text of a paper, italicize the title of complete works but put quotation marks around titles of parts within a complete work. 

The table below isn't comprehensive, but it's a good starting point

Titles in ItalicsTitles Placed in "Quotation Marks"
Title of a periodical (magazine, journal, newspaper)              Title of article in a periodical
Title of a book   Title of a chapter in a book
Title of a movie or playName of an act or scene in a movie or a play
Title of a television or radio series   Title of an episode within a tv or radio series
Title of a musical album or CDTitle of a song
Title of a long poemTitle of a short poem
Names of operas or long musical composition
Names of paintings and sculptures

Title of a short story

On an APA-style reference page, the rules for titles are a little different.  In short, a title you would italicize within the body of a paper will also be italicized on a reference page.  However, a title you'd place in quotation marks within the body of the paper (such as the title of an article within a journal) will be written in normal lettering and will not be in quotation marks.

Here are some examples:

Smith (2001) research is fully described in the Journal of Higher Education.

Smith's (2001) article "College Admissions See Increase" was published in the Journal of Higher Education after his pivotal study on the admissions process.

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