The capitalization of songs, as you might suspect, should be done similarly to the capitalization of other titles. To punctuate, the song titles are generally written with a double quote ("Title Here") around them. Any punctuation that is part of the title, such as commas, exclamation points or question marks, should also go inside the quotation marks. Discover what you need to know to properly apply the rules of song title capitalization.
Song titles usually follow other common title capitalization rules. In English, the first letter of certain words should be capitalized when writing the name of a song.
The first word and last word in the song’s title should always be capitalized. This is true even for words that would not be capitalized if they were located elsewhere in the song title.
In most situations, conjunctions (and, but, or) and articles (a, an, the) should not be capitalized in song titles (or any other titles). This is true unless they are covered under the first rule, which would mean that they have to be capitalized due to being the first or last word in the title.
When a song title includes a preposition, you have to consider how many letters are in the word when deciding whether or not the word should be capitalized. With prepositions, words that are four or fewer letters (in, out, by, for, from) should not be capitalized. Prepositions that are five or more letters (across, among, beyond) should be capitalized.
With the exception of articles, conjunctions and short prepositions, words that represent all other parts of speech should be capitalized when used in song titles. This includes verbs, nouns, pronouns, adverbs, adjectives, and interjections.
It is a common misconception that short verbs with only two or three letters (is, am, are, be) should not be capitalized. However, this is not the case. All verbs should be capitalized when used in song titles. This includes even the shortest helping verbs.
When a song title includes a phrasal verb, which is a group of words that functions together as a verb, all of the words in the phrase should be capitalized. This is true regardless of word length or part of speech. There are many examples of phrasal verbs.
Review a few examples of phrasal verbs likely to be used in song titles, where they should always be capitalized:
- Beat Up
- Call On
- Come Back
- Do Over
- Fill In
- Find Out
- Hang Up
- Leave Out
- Put Off
- Talk Over
- Try Out
- Use Up
The best way to wrap your head around these capitalization rules for song titles is to see them in practice. Here are several real-world examples from over the ages. The songs on this list follow conventional capitalization rules.
- "Fly Me to the Moon" by Frank Sinatra
- "Total Eclipse of the Heart" by Bonnie Tyler
- "This Is America" by Childish Gambino
- "Call Out My Name" by The Weeknd
- "Look What You Made Me Do" by Taylor Swift
- "Come as You Are" by Nirvana
- "Light It Up" by Major Lazer
- "All About That Bass" by Meghan Trainor
- "Live Like You Were Dying" by Tim McGraw
- "Letters from Home" by John Michael Montgomery
- "Take On Me" by a-ha
Even though song titles are similar to other types of titles, there are special cases for capitalizing song titles. Artists even sometimes make up their own rules. It's important to capitalize song titles in a manner that is consistent with their official name, as designated by the songwriter or artist who is performing the song.
Musicians sometimes deliberately capitalize song titles in a way that isn't consistent with conventional capitalization rules. For example, the official name of "HUMBLE" by Kendrick Lamar has no lowercase letters.
- For Lamar's song, you can apply the brand capitalization rules to present the song using its official name in text. (The song "HUMBLE" by Kendrick Lamar was a huge hit in 2017.)
- Alternately, you could adjust the capitalization and make an in-text notation. (The song "Humble" (stylized as "HUMBLE.") by Kendrick Lamar was a huge hit in 2017.)
Opting for all capital letters in a song title is not the only way a song title might deviate from formal capitalization or language usage rules, such as abbreviating words in a nonstandard way. In such cases, you would proceed the same as with a title that is written in all lowercase or all capital letters. For example, Ariana Grande's song "thank u, next" is deliberately written in all lowercase letters and the letter "u" is used as a substitute for the word "you."
- You could write: Ariana Grande's song "thank u, next" is my daughter's favorite.
- Alternately, you could write: Ariana Grande's song "Thank U, Next" (stylized as "thank u, next") is my daughter's favorite. (Here, U is capitalized because it stands for a pronoun (you), which would be capitalized if spelled out.
There are a few commonly confused punctuation issues associated with song titles that are important to consider.
Deciding between italics vs. quote marks is a common source of confusion when including song titles in text.
- Song titles should be in quote marks when written. (All major style guides agree.)
- Album titles should be italicized when written, according to most major style guides. (AP style requires quotes for albums as well as songs.)
To help remember this, remember that italics are for complete works (like an album or an anthology of short stories) while quote marks are used for segments from those works (like individual songs or individual short stories).
While song titles should be enclosed in quote marks within the body of an essay, story or other written text, there is an exception for headings and titles. For headings and titles, the quotation marks should be replaced with single quote marks.
- title or section heading: Reflections on Lynyrd Skynard's 'Sweet Home Alabama'
- in a sentence: When I hear the opening notes of "Sweet Home Alabama," I'm instantly transported to the white sand beaches of Gulf Shores.
The capitalization of songs should be done properly when writing titles in essays or articles. Foreign language song titles should follow the capitalization rules of that language. Now that you know the rules of song title capitalization, maybe you'll write about them even more! Use this list of descriptive words for music for inspiration!