Some of your were bemoaning the convention of title case — what do I capitalize? Everything? Nothing? Should I just use a font that’s pretty much all capital letters so I don’t even have to worry about it? Gah!

It can be frustrating to figure out which words get to be capitalized (thus, deemed important) and which get to be lower case (thus, shuffled over and soon forgotten) when crafting a title, something some of you have yet to master…but more on that later.

Here’s the deal: there’s virtually no official agreement when it comes to matters of grammar and style. There are different schools of thought, different “camps” that have widely different philosophies of language and linguistic conventions. This isn’t license to dismiss all of them and just do what you want because [whine] it’s haaaaaaard but rather a fact of reality. Get a style guide to follow in those moments of uncertainty. Look it up. Memorize it. Whatever. Regardless of which method you prefer, consistency is key. Also important is what is required of you…you know, form, audience, purpose? If you wind up with a professor who adores Chicago Manual Style, get ready to learn that set of rules. APA with it’s glorious running header is loads of fun and MLA seems to change every few months or so. It’s wise to have a general understanding of these different publication styles and wiser still to understand the motives behind them. What does CMS focus on? APA? MLA? APA cares more about when a work was published while MLS cares more about who published it. There’s more, obviously, but even the basics can help you remember which requires what.

Okay, back to titles. Here’s what we (schoolteachers) usually require of you:

Title case, or up style, is another method. Whether or not you capitalize a word in a title depends on its part of speech. According to most style guides that use title case, the basic rules are as follows:

  • Capitalize the first and last word in a title, regardless of part of speech
  • Capitalize all nouns (baby, country, picture), pronouns (you, she, it), verbs (walk, think, dream), adjectives (sweet, large, perfect), adverbs (immediately, quietly), and subordinating conjunctions (as, because, although)
  • Lowercase “to” as part of an infinitive
  • Lowercase all articles (a, the), prepositions (to, at, in, with), and coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or)

For example:

Why It’s Never Too Late to Learn Grammar (all words capitalized except “to,” a preposition)

This handy explanation hails from Daily Writing Tips.  a blog, offering–you guessed it–daily writing tips. Subscribe. As the sample title indicates, it’s never too late to learn grammar. Go learn it. It’s really quite fascinating.

Or, it’s at least reasonably useful anyway.