Parentheses occur only occasionally in titles and headlines, but capitalizing such titles can be quite puzzling. Let’s take for example the song title (here written in lower case) “(sittin’ on) the dock of the bay.” When using title case, should you capitalize “on” since it’s the last word of the parenthetical phrase? And should you capitalize “the” although strictly speaking it is not the first word of the title? Most style guides do not address capitalizing words in parenthesis, but we can still conclude how to handle such titles by looking at the individual cases logically.
Words in Parentheses at the Beginning of a Title
When words in parentheses (round brackets) occur at the beginning of a title, then they virtually always provide an extension to the main title. In “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay,” for example, “The Dock of the Bay” is the principal title, and “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” can be seen as an extended version of the title. But “Sittin’ on” cannot stand on its own. It is just a fragment, not a complete title. Therefore the rule to capitalize the last word of a title does not apply here, and the preposition “in” must be lowercased.
“The Dock of the Bay” on the other hand can stand on its own and is a complete title. Consequently, its first word must be capitalized.
Here are a few more examples to illustrate this logic:
(There’s a) Fire in the Night
(I've Got a Gal in) Kalamazoo
(You’re the) Devil in Disguise
(How Does It Feel to Be) On Top of the World
(Don’t Fear) The Reaper
(I’d Be) A Legend in My Time
Words in Parentheses in the Middle of a Title
Words in parentheses in the middle of a title are typically used for the same reason: They provide additional information that could also be omitted. In these cases, the parentheses have no impact on the capitalization, which means the title should be capitalized as if the parentheses weren’t there:
The Power (and Joy) of Being Prepared
Your Parents’ Financial Advice Is (Kind of) Wrong
Life on (and off) the Road
Words in Parentheses at the End of a Title
Finally, words in parentheses can occur at the end of a title. We have to distinguish two cases here:
The first case is one we’ve already seen: The words in parentheses represent an extension to the title and cannot stand on their own. Therefore, the first word of the parenthetical phrase must be lowercased if it is an article, (short) preposition, or conjunction:
I Like You (a Lot)
It Never Rains (in Southern California)
My Whole World Ended (the Moment You Left Me)
However, there is also a second case: Sometimes, the words in parentheses represent a subtitle or alternative title. In that case, the first word must be capitalized:
I Love You (A Dedication to My Fans)
Money (In God We Trust)
Egypt (The Chains Are On)
Letters and Syllables in Parentheses
So far, we looked at cases where the parenthetical phrase consists of one or more words. However, parentheses are also sometimes used for syllables or single letters: (dis)honesty, (un)certainty, (r)evolution. How should such a word be capitalized? Not even the Wikipedia Manual of Style, the only style guide that explicitly addresses parenthetical phrases in titles, covers this case. In my option, capitalizing and not capitalizing the word after the closing parenthesis are both valid options:
Financial (In)stability and Industrial Growth
Financial (In)Stability and Industrial Growth
Tip: To have your titles capitalized automatically, check out the Title Case Converter.
Photo: Saher Suthriwala (edited)