Grammar Shorts: ‘The Proper Use of Italics and Over-Emphasizing’

“Grammar to a writer is to a mountaineer a good pair of hiking boots or, more precisely, to a deep-sea diver an oxygen tank.” ― A.A. Patawaran

Have you ever read an essay or blog post and noticed that the author went extremely overboard with their use of italics? Recently, I had this experience while I was on one of my coffee breaks perusing blogs that I follow. Totally absorbed in the post, I read on until I came to two fully italicized paragraphs. I thought to myself, “What I’m about to read must be very interesting. What could possibly be so deserving of such emphasis?” My curiosity was at its peak, so I continued. I’m sorry to say but what I read was not worthy of such a meaningful font.

What are some examples of the proper use of italics?

There is a proper way to use italics in our writing no matter which of the following style guides we use: APA, MLA, Chicago Manual of Style, AP, or a simple blog post. I do believe it’s important to add a certain flare or je ne sais quoi to your compositions, but it must be done with care. It’s counter productive to write a piece worth reading only to distract your reader with overused and poorly placed italics.

Italics are used to show emphasis or to denote titles of stand- alone works.

Using italics for emphasis.

Italics are most commonly used to emphasize a single word or phrase. An example of proper use of an italicized word or phrase is shown below.

When referencing words or nouns, the use of italics allows them to stand out in the crowd of written words. It may be fun to use that attractive, slightly fancy slanted-font to stress importance but it’s better in moderation.

More helpful tips for using italics.

Quick question. Is it good practice to italicize and underline a title? If you said ‘no’ then a Two Drops of Ink hip-hip hooray to you! Generally, titles of novels, names of periodicals like newspapers and magazines, and TV shows should all be in italics. It’s interesting that religious works are not in italics nor underlined, this includes any books within the religious mediums. They should only be capitalized. I found this rule kind of interesting. The fiend that I am for information, I found myself emailing the editor Scott and his wife Lori at 10 PM to pick their seasoned literary brains. I diligently searched all day for the information that refused to reveal itself. Needless to say, I was provided with a jewel called “Chicago Manual of Style.”

Titles and the use of italics can get a little tricky. Some experts say it is the writer’s choice whether they choose to italicize book titles. Although, it is a rule to only italicize the punctuation if it is a part of the title. In my opinion, book titles should always be italicized and underlining to the discretion of the writer.

There’s more to italicize… onomatopoeia and foreign words.

Meow, phew, kerplunk! These words are not the sound of me having a breakdown, they are examples of onomatopoeia. Words that sound like sounds used in a sentence should be in italics, as well as the punctuation that follows.  Foreign words that are not ordinarily used in English writing should be in italics but words that we are most familiar with like “bon voyage” should not.

To italicize or not italicize? It’s Whenever in doubt reference the Chicago Manual of Style and if you’re still in doubt… Don’t! As composers of the literary symphony, we all want to create our own style. While creating our own style, it’s important that we respect literary rules. Writing is a fun, creative process to be enjoyed but not at the risk of distracting the reader.

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  1. I never took the time to understand the rules. I have seen these rules when reading, but never realized how important they are in our work. Emphasis on special words like LOVE when you mentioned it really caught my attention. I learned something today. Thank you Lydia,

    • Your welcome John. I am a research addict! If there is something I don’t know or that I am interested in I seek out as much info as possible. That day I could not find what I was looking for until Scott pointed me in the right direction. I always have used italics sparingly. I guess I picked it up in all the reading I do.

      • Like electricity, there are many rules to learn and understand. In time you learn them to become better at your skill. I’m applying the same concept to learn writing. Your research is helping me add value to myself. Hopefully, in the future, I can add value to others through my persistence to become better.

  2. Uh Oh! I just submitted a post with the entire introduction italicized! This was done to distinguish the intro from the actual story. If I’ve done it incorrectly, I think that Scott will be more gentle with my error than the x-nun who taught my first grammar class. Much too often, we were subjected to a ruler across our hands if we made any mistakes. It’s
    a wonder I still wanted to keep writing! Or that I even liked grammar 🙂
    Also, like Michelle, I too have trouble remembering all the rules 🙂
    Thanks for this clear, informative post Lydia.’I needed it.

    • I enjoyed a great little chuckle at the beginning of your comment. Each one teach one!!! That is what I love about this community of writers. Scott and Marilyn are the best editors. They edit with care!!! Thanks for your comment and I’m glad I can help.

  3. Thanks, Lydia. I knew most of the basic ones. Short and sweet helps to retain the information you provided. Working at an ad agency exposed me to the Chicago Manual of Style. But, I did not know about the rule for religious texts. Apparently, we didn’t do much religious advertising! I learn something everyday, or at least hope to!

    • I had no idea about the Chicago Manual of Style. Thanks to Scott, I have this valuable tool bookmarked. That manual took the simple rules that we knew and revealed so much more. I love to learn as well but I get more enjoyment when I share my knowledge with others.

  4. Hi, Lydia. This is an excellent post. Grammar rules, read from the manual, as Michelle writes about, often seem long and tedious. Your post simplifies italics and exclamation marks in an educating, but interesting way. Your examples were on target and I think your title is wonderful. She thinks in capitals will fun through my brain for days.

    Great job!

    • Thanks, Marilyn. My vice is the extra exclamation marks in comical comments. I should tone that down! (I’m sweating. I want to add the extra two exclamation marks. LOL!)

  5. Lydia,
    Thanks for the grammar posts. I learn so much from them. You would think as a writer and a teacher I would know the grammar rules, but sadly, that is not true. I think it is because there are so many of them! It helps me to read a short explanation like this rather that looking through style manuals. Shhh….don’t tell Scott. 😉

    • LOL! I like the short explanations as well but when I’m hungry for information, I need the buffet. You’re right there are so many rules. Too many to store in our head for a lifetime.

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