Title Capitalization Blog

Is Be Capitalized in a Title?

Should you capitalize the words be and is in a title or headline? What about am? Is was capitalized in a title? These questions are all related, because all of these words are forms of to be. Since to be is a verb, and verbs are invariably capitalized in title case, the answer to these questions is “yes”: be and all its forms (am, are, is, was, were, been, being) are capitalized in title case.
Here are a couple of examples:
I Am Legend
Diamonds Are Forever
This Is the End
How the West Was Won
While You Were Sleeping
There Will Be Blood
Never Been Kissed
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
These are all movie titles, but of course the same rules apply to any other title or headline—if you are using title case:
How Dangerous Is It to Be a Police Officer?

But Shouldn’t Short Words Be Lowercased?

Many of the words that are lowercased in title case are quite short; for example, a, at, by, in, of, on, or, and to. Some people seem to conclude from this that all short words are lowercased in title case. However, that is a false analogy. Only certain word classes are lowercased in title case, while others, including verbs, are always capitalized (see Title Capitalization Rules for more information).

But Aren’t Linking Verbs an Exception?

I have heard the argument that to be and its forms should not be capitalized, since they are not regular verbs but linking verbs (also called copulative verbs or copula). However, this perspective is not shared by any style guide I am familiar with. Let’s review the styles guides supported by the Title Case Converter:
The 2019 AP Stylebook lists two examples (“A Star Is Born” and “This Is Us”) that show that the word is should be capitalized in titles. In addition, it was confirmed in the Ask the Editor section of the AP Stylebook website that be is capitalized in titles as well.
The APA Publication Manual explicitly states “verbs (including linking verbs) […] are considered major words.”
According to the Chicago Manual of Style rules for headline-style capitalization, all major words, including verbs, should be capitalized. Several of the provided examples demonstrate that this also holds true for linking verbs, for example, “A Little Learning Is a Dangerous Thing.”
The MLA Handbook specifically mentions is: “capitalize the following parts of speech: […] Verbs (e.g., […] is, as in What Is Literature?)”
The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage says “capitalize all nouns, pronouns and verbs,” and each issue of the New York Times contains headlines that show that the words be, is, etc., are capitalized. For example, “Radiation Is Said to Be Released in Russian Military Accident.”
The Wikipedia Manual of Style explicitly states that “[e]very verb, including forms of to be (Be, Am, Is, Are, Being, Was, Were, Been)” should be capitalized.

Final Note

Check out the Title Case Converter, which automatically capitalizes your titles—and, of course, handles be correctly.
Photo: Tim Mossholder (edited)