Is If Capitalized in a Title?
Should you capitalize the word if in a title or headline? The major style guides are split into two camps in this regard; those who say if should be capitalized, and those who say it shouldn’t be. The relevant rules can be summarized as follows:
Capitalize the word if in the following cases:
- It is the first word of the title.
- You are using Chicago, MLA, or Wikipedia style title case
- You are using AP or New York Times style title case and it is the last word of the title
- You are using title case and it is used as a noun
Lowercase if if none of these cases applies.
Let’s discuss the rules in detail.
Chicago, MLA, Wikipedia
The Chicago Manual of Style states (section 8.157, rule 1) “capitalize […] some conjunctions—but see rule 4.” The conjunctions that should be lowercased according to rule 4 are and, but, for, nor, and or. This means that all other conjunctions, including if, are capitalized.
The MLA Handbook mentions if explicitly: “capitalize the following parts of speech: […] Subordinating conjunctions (e.g., […] if […] as in One If by Land)”
The Wikipedia Manual of Style states that “every […] subordinating conjunction” is capitalized and mentions if as an example.
Thus, if is always capitalized in these three styles:
I Couldn’t Leave You If I Tried
Love Me If You Dare
AP, APA, New York Times
The AP Stylebook says, “Capitalize all words in a title except […] conjunctions of three of fewer letters.” To find out whether that only refers to coordinating conjunctions (and, or, but, …) or to subordinating conjunctions such as if as well, I submitted a question to the AP Stylebook editors. The answer was clear: the term “conjunctions” includes subordinating conjunctions, so if must be lowercased.
The 6th edition of the APA Publication Manual states “Conjunctions […] are not considered major words.” To make sure that “conjunction” also refers to subordinating conjunctions, I asked @APA_Style on Twitter whether if should be capitalized in a title. Their reply clarified that all short conjunctions, including if, are lowercased in APA style.
Great question. No, don't capitalize "if" in title case (because it is a short conjunction).— APA Style (@APA_Style) July 30, 2019
A few months later, the APA published the 7th edition of their manual, which explicitly lists if among the conjunctions that should be lowercased.
The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage features a table of words that are lowercased in titles, and if is explicitly mentioned here.
Consequently, the conjunction if must be lowercased in AP, APA, and New York Times style:
Catch Me if You Can
See if I Care
However, there are three special cases in which if must be capitalized after all in these styles: 1) If is capitalized if it occurs as the first word of a title:
If I Could Turn Back Time
2) If is capitalized in AP and New York Times style (but not in APA style) if it occurs as the last word of a title:
3) If must also be capitalized in the rare case when it is used as a noun, and not as a conjunction:
A Big If and a Bigger No
For the sake of completeness, let’s briefly discuss sentence case, although there are no big surprises here. In sentence case, if is capitalized if it is the first word of the title and lowercased elsewhere.
If we ever meet again
Damned if you do
With the help of this article, you should be able to determine whether if should be capitalized in your title. Alternatively, you can simply use the Title Case Converter, which will apply these rules automatically.
Photo: Allie Smith