Learn how and when to use Italics to draw attention to a particular part of a text

Italic fonts from Draughtsman's Alphabets by Hermann Esser (1845–1908) /

A slanting font style called italics is used when writers wish to emphasize, or give special significance to, a word or words. When writers prepare a document on a word processor, italic type is used to distinguish titles, words used as words, and foreign words from hyperlinks, which are usually underlined.

In digital documents, italicized words appear in place of words that would be underlined in handwritten or typed papers. As with any alteration to the appearance of text, italics should be used properly and sparingly. One should not use quotation marks or other punctuation marks to distinguish words when italics are appropriate.

What should italics be used for?

  • emphasis
    • word(s) meant to receive more attention than the surrounding words
    • word(s) being given special significance
  • entertainment titles
    • movies, radio and television broadcasts
    • DVDs, CDs, video games, audio and videocassettes, record albums
  • foreign words
    • non-English words appearing in English sentences
    • scientific names in Latin
  • letters and numbers
    • individual letters standing alone
    • numbers used as terms
  • modes of transportation
    • aircraft, spacecraft, watercraft names
    • ship and train names
  • titles of independent works
    • books, journals, newspapers, magazines
    • plays, book-length poems, pamphlets, comic strips
  • words used as terms
    • words being defined
    • words used to refer to themselves
  • works of art
    • opera, dance performance, long musical composition names
    • painting, drawing, sculpture names
  • worldwide Web titles
    • Internet site names
    • online database names

Avoid misuse of italics

  • Do not use italics to enclose titles and names of short works, such as chapters, articles, manuscripts, essays, short stories and poems, songs, speeches, and Web pages; use quotation marks instead.
  • Do not use italics for foreign words that have been anglicized.
  • Do not use italics for the names of major religious works or their subsections.
  • Do not overuse italics—if used too often or used inappropriately, italic type will lose its effect.

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