September 18, 2008

Weekly Language Usage Tips: Capitalization in titles, all together and altogether, compared with and to

Posted in all together/altogether, capitalization in titles at 8:32 pm by dlseltzer

Weekly Language Usage Tips

Tip 1: Capitalization in titles

Tip 1 is inspired by the following email I received:

Dear Ms Manners,

I always learned that in a title, all initial letters of a word are capitalized except articles and prepositions (unless the preposition is 5 letters or more — thus capitalize Without but not with).

This sounds outdated (i.e., school-marmish) to me. Do you know what the current rules are? Also, the word “to” serves both as a preposition and as part of an infinitive form. Should it be capitalized when used in an infinitive form. E.g., In the Laboratory of the States: The Progress of Glucksberg’s Invitation to States To Address End-of-Life Choice

A Puzzled Writer

Dear Puzzled,

The Chicago Manual of Style agrees with the way you are taught, except CMOS does not capitalize prepositions regardless of length. (I’ve seen it both ways in various manuals.)

The rules:

Always capitalize the first and the last words.
Capitalize all nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, and subordinate conjunctions (“as”, “because”, “although”).
Lowercase all articles, coordinate conjunctions (“and”, “or”, “nor”), and prepositions regardless of length, when they are other than the first or last word. )
Lowercase the “to” in an infinitive. (NOTE: Puzzled, this rule answers your second question.)


To Improve Health and Health Care
Creative Thinking, Problem Solving and Decision Making

However, remember that the rules were developed when there were not the typographical options we have today. One of the reasons that capitals were used like this in titles was to set the title apart from the rest of the text; however, now we can use the bold, type size, italic functions, and others to set the text apart, and there are more options for displaying titles.

One option that is becoming increasingly common is to capitalize just the first word of the title (and proper nouns, of course) and the first word following a hyphen (if a hyphen is part of the title).


Woe is I: The grammarphobe’s guide to better English in plain English
Taking root in a forest clearing: A resource guide for medical faculty

While I personally like this newer option, either is correct. The key is to be consistent throughout your document.

By the way, the rule of thumb in working with titles in text is to set apart longer works (e.g., books, journal names, plays) by italicizing the title and to set apart shorter works (e.g., journal articles, short stories) by putting quotation marks around the title. This rule still applies.

Never, ever underline a title. Never, ever underline anything in a formal document. Never. Ever. (I would have underlined “anything” to show emphasis, but, well, you know.)

Tip 2: All together and altogether

Back in June, we talked about all right and alright and decided that, contrary to many style books, that alright is an acceptable spelling when the meaning conveyed is “okay” as opposed to “all correct.” Today, I want to address another al/all word that has a different set of issues than all right/alright. All together and altogether are both absolutely correct according to all the style books and language sites. However, and this is a big however, they have very different meanings and cannot be used interchangeably.

All together means together in a single group.

All together, we marched to the administration building to make our protest.

Altogether means completely or entirely.

Altogether, this has been a very nice Autumn.

[ASIDE: The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language also defines ‘altogether’ as a noun meaning the state of nudity, often used with “the” as in the phrase “in the altogether”-I’m not going there.]

One way to make sure you are making the right word choice is to try to imagine the sentence if “all” and “together” are separated by a word or words. If you can, “all together” is the right choice. Another way is to try to use the word “completely” in the sentence; if you can, “altogether” is the word you want to use.

We all marched to the administration building together to make our protest. WORKS, USE ALL TOGETHER.
This has all been together a nice Autumn. DOESN’T WORK. USE ALTOGETHER.
I am completely ready for it to be Spring again. WORKS, USE ALTOGETHER.

RECAP: I was writing the information below as Tip 2 when it started to sound really familiar. I checked the website and found that “compare with and to” was indeed addressed back in May. Still, I decided to leave it as a recap.

Shall I compare thee with a summer’s day? Compare with or compare to

While “compare with” and “compare to” are frequently used interchangeably; they do not mean the same thing and cannot substitute for one another. “Compare to” means to liken. “Compare with” means to examine similarities and differences.


I would compare this book to a wild ride fraught with excitement.
Comparing the results of this study with the results of other research, we find our findings are consistently more positive than other trials.

For our formal, scientific writing, when in doubt, use compare with. We more often are looking at similarities and differences than likening something to something else.

And a final thought (remember I’m up to my eyes in proposals), please stop using “utilize.” Just stop.


  1. derek said,

    Ha! yes, ‘utilize’ is excruciating. Always use ‘use’ instead. I’d put that one up with ‘in order to’, instead of ‘to’ on the WLUT top ten.

  2. nicole said,

    Thank you for restating not to say “utilize”. My friend and I – ever since our AP English class in high school –have always hated the overuse of “utilize”. Our teacher would tell us to write our papers using that word instead of use, but we never agreed with her, and we refused to write it!

  3. dlseltzer said,

    Lisa wrote:

    I am a new third-grade teacher in Virginia. One of the many things I must teach my students is terminology cues in math. For example, “in all” means that one must add. The Virginia Standards of Learning assessments regularly use the term altogether, as in “What is the total amount of money Daniel has altogether?” (You can view these for yourself by accessing the Virginia Department of Education’s website and then going to “released tests.”) From your comments on altogether, it seems that I am correct that this is altogether incorrect. I really don’t want to teach my children the term “altogether” as a cue for addition. Can you verify that this use of altogether is incorrect? It’s really driving me nuts! Thank you, Lisa Morin

  4. dlseltzer said,

    Hi Lisa, I definitely would NOT use altogether as a cue for addition, and I definitely wouldn’t inflict that on your poor third graders. I looked at probably 20- 30 authorities to check this when I first wrote about it, and found only a couple that used altogether the way the Department of Education is using it. For example, there’s The American Heritage Book of English Usage; according to them, a rarely used meaning for altogether is ‘all told’ or ‘in all,’ and if the Department of Education is using it to mean all told or in all, they can be considered correct in the strictest sense. See:

    That being said, I would absolutely not teach it that way since that is a relatively obscure usage that most people wouldn’t even know, and it would result in errors more often than not. Here is the view of The Columbia Guide to Standard American English:

    If you google ‘altogether or all together,’ you will find lots of support that you are altogether correct and the Department is altogether wrong. Looking briefly right now, I found only one other source that buys into the ‘all told’ group. Don’t let them bully you into this archaic usage. We all have to stick together on this one. Good luck.

  5. dlseltzer said,

    Lisa wrote:

    Thanks! Each time I look at one of these problems now, at least I’ll know it’s not right. That’s a huge comfort to me!

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