How Do You Add Emphasis With Italics?

If you’re thinking of using italics to emphasize words, keep in mind that the type of writing you do—and what style guide you follow—will determine how you use italics.

Italics are typically used to show emphasis (For example: “I don’t care what he thinks. I do what I want!”) or to indicate titles of stand-alone works (Black Panther, Lost in Translation).

Different style guides have different rules about what to italicize. But here are some good general guidelines—the most important thing is to stay consistent within your work.

How do I use italics for emphasis?

Italics can emphasize a single word or phrase. For example: “Are you going to eat that?” or “I never said I wanted to go. I said I would consider it.”

It’s best to use italics for emphasis sparingly so that they retain their impact. In academic writing, using italics for emphasis is not recommended. But if you’re writing that Great American Novel or funny emails to your friends, go right ahead!

When you’re referring to words as nouns or objects, you should also use italics to help offset it from the rest of the sentence. For example: “The word anxious has a different connotation than the word worried.” (If you’re a dictionary, ahem, this is an important distinction.)

What about italics for titles of works?

Italics are important when writing titles of works. In most cases, you should italicize the titles of complete works, like books: The Great Gatsby, Beloved, and The Catcher in the Rye. You would also italicize the names of feature-length films, like Rocky, Schindler’s List, and Frozen. Music albums, TV shows, and names of newspapers and magazines should also be italicized because they’re singular works.

On the other hand, shorter works (like short stories, poems, individual songs, short films, and individual TV episodes) usually use quotation marks. This shows that they’re parts of larger works. If you can’t remember whether to use italics or quotation marks, try asking yourself if you’d be able to buy the title at the store by itself. If not, then it should probably get quotation marks. For example, you could say: The first essay in David Sedaris’s bestselling book Me Talk Pretty One Day is called “Go Carolina.”

As always, there are some exceptions. Complete religious works aren’t italicized or underlined. For example, the Bible, the Qur’an, and the Torah are all capitalized, but not otherwise signified. In addition, specific books within the religious works (like the Book of Genesis) don’t receive italics, underlining, or quotation marks.

When a punctuation mark is part of the work’s title, you should italicize it. One example is Judy Blume’s book Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. If a punctuation mark after the title isn’t part of the title, it shouldn’t be italicized. For example: “Have you ever read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?” Here, the question mark isn’t italicized because it’s not part of the book’s title. (And we hope the answer is yes!)

How do I italicize ships and aircraft?

The proper names of ships, vessels, and aircraft should be italicized. For example, the Titanic, Apollo 11, and the U.S.S. Hornet are all italicized. Notice that “U.S.S.” isn’t italicized, because it isn’t part of the proper name.

Are foreign words italicized?

Foreign words that haven’t fully been adopted by English tend to be italicized. For example: “Lee waved goodbye to his halmeoni from the bus window.” Foreign words that are commonly used in English, like bon voyage or alma mater, don’t automatically need italics in a sentence. For example, “She wished him bon voyage when she dropped him off at the airport.”

What about sounds?

Onomatopoeic words (or words that sound like sounds) are usually italicized, as well. For example, “The book landed on the floor with a hearty thwack!” In this case, if an exclamation point is used, it should also be italicized.

The exact rules for using italics depend on the specific style guide you’re using. If you’re not following a style guide, these guidelines are a safe bet. Remember, the most important rule is to be consistent.

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