Italics and Underlining Study Guide

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Updated on Sep 23, 2011

Italics and Underlining

Grammar is a piano I play by ear.

All I know about grammar is its power.

JOAN DIDION (1934—   )


Italics and underlines are useful forms of punctuation for emphasis and setting certain groups of words apart from others. In this lesson, you will learn why and how these features help your writing.

Italicizing and Underlining are interchangeable in use. Before typewriters and computers, writing was done by hand, so italicizing words was difficult, if not impossible. Therefore, underlining was used to emphasize words.Technology now allows us to use one or the other as we please.

Grammar and usage dictates when we should use italics and underlining and when we shouldn't. Here are key areas you will find them in writing.

Rule 1: Italicize or underline the titles of long written works, such as books, magazines, movies, TV shows, newspapers, plays, musicals, and albums or CDs.

Gary Paulsen's novel Hatchet Gary Paulsen's novel Hatchet
The New York Times The New York Times
Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet
the Broadway hit A Chorus Line the Broadway hit A Chorus Line


Be consistent! Don't italicize one title and underline the next one. Pick one style and then stick to it.

Exception: Do not underline or italicize the titles of holy books, such as the Bible, the Tanakh, or the Koran. The names of chapters or books within these works are also not underlined or italicized: I Corinthians, Genesis, Yusuf.


Use quotation marks around the titles of stories, songs, short poems, articles, and other smaller-sized works.

Aesop's fable "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" (short story)

Francis Scott Key's "The Star Spangled Banner" (song)

Shel Silverstein's "Sick" (short poem)

"Making Recycling Really Pay" (article)

Rule 2: Italicize or underline foreign words.

Madame Kondoleon greeted the class by saying bonjour!

Madame Kondoleon greeted the class by saying bonjour!

Senora Reyes shared the platano with her class.

Senora Reyes shared the platano with her class.

Note, however, that many foreign words have become part of the English language,and need not be italicized; for example, hacienda, kibitz, and taco.(When in doubt, check your dictionary.)

Rule 3: Italicize or underline words you want to emphasize.

When we speak, our tone of voice can emphasize words and imply meaning.

When we write, we can use italics or underlines to do the same thing.


Can you tell the difference in the meanings of these four sentences?


Jane was overjoyed. [Okay, Jane was overjoyed.]
Jane was overjoyed. [It wasn't anyone; it was Jane who was overjoyed.]
Jane was overjoyed. [Jane's no longer overjoyed.]
Jane was overjoyed [Jane wasn't just happy, she was overjoyed.]

Rule 4: Italicize onomatopoeia (sound words).

Brrrr! It's freezing out here. Let's get inside where it's warm.

Clink! Clank! Carefully trying to make it from the dining room to the kitchen with the stack of dishes, Olivia tripped on the bump in the rug and the mountain of dirty dishes fell—crash!—to the floor.

An exercise for this concept can be found at Italics and Underlining Practice Exercise

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