Bite-sized Tips No. 24: Quotation Marks or Italics

During my translation work I often come across words that the author has put in italics, quotations marks, or in italics within quotation marks. And often the way they use them throughout the text is inconsistent.

As translators, we have to take a step back from the usage in the original document and remember the rules of our own brand of English. Mirroring the source is not an option. And we also have to smooth out all the inconsistencies.

Whether you put words, terms, titles, etc., into italics, quotations or in roman type will depend on the style manual you have been told to follow. And if you haven’t been given any specific instructions, it’ll depend on whether you use a British, American, Canadian, Australian, etc., guide for your work. You’ll find a long list of style guides (over 40) towards the bottom of my ‘Useful Links’ page.

I base my work on the New Oxford Style Manual, specifically New Hart’s Rules for this entry in the Bite-sized Tips series. And for the purposes of comparison, I have also highlighted some differences between the New Oxford and The Chicago Manual of Style.

One major difference is the type of quotation marks used. The New Oxford prefers single quotation marks and Chicago double. All my examples use the former, so please bear that in mind if you prefer US style.

Although this is quite a complicated area, basically any freestanding publication, i.e. it isn’t part of a larger whole, is written in italics.

And something that isn’t freestanding, i.e. it is part of a larger whole, is written in normal roman type within single (New Oxford) or double (Chicago) quotation marks. For example: a ‘Title of an item within a publication’.

Table One gives some examples of the above-mentioned major difference between the use of italics and quotation marks and also when normal roman type is used instead.

Italics ‘Quotation marks’ Normal roman type
Albums of music ‘Individual song’
Anthologies ‘Title of an individual poem’
Arcade games
Audio books
Books ‘Chapter in a book’

‘Title of a short story in a book’

The Bible

The Torah

The Koran

Other religious texts

Subdivisions of religious texts

  Title of book series and editions (main words capitalised)
Blog titles (New Oxford and Chicago)* ‘Blog posts’ Blog titles (New Oxford only)*
  Broadcast networks
CDs ‘Individual song’
Collected works
Collections of essays ‘Title of an essay in a book’
Collections of songs ‘Individual song’
Comic strips
Console games
Digital resources
Editions of texts ‘Individual text in a larger edition’
Electronic games
Exhibition catalogues
Exhibitions of art World fairs and other large-scale exhibitions
Journals ‘Article in a journal’

‘Journal column’

If the subject of an article is paraphrased (i.e. He read an article on the economy in Spain. Instead of: He read an article called ‘The Economy in Spain’.)
Magazines ‘Article in a magazine’

‘Magazine column’

See above
Newspapers ‘Article in a newspaper’

‘Newspaper column’

See above
Novels ‘Chapter in a novel’
Periodicals ‘Feature in a periodical’

‘Periodical column’

See above and

do not italicise name of periodical if it forms part of the name of a building, organisation, award, etc.

Photograph titles
Plays (if published separately) divisions of plays, e.g. act 1, scene 3
Podcasts ‘Podcast episode/item’
Poems (if published separately) ‘Title of an individual poem in a collection’ divisions of poems, e.g. canto 5, stanza 4
Long poems (if divided into book-length books or cantos) ‘Short poem’
  Radio channel
Radio series ‘Individual episode in a radio series’
Reports ‘internal reports’
Sales catalogues (if separately published)
Sculptures Sculpture regarded as a monument (e.g. the Statue of Liberty)
Statues See above
  Television channels
Television series ‘Individual episode in a TV series’
Tone poems
  ‘Unpublished works’**
Video blogs
Video games
Websites if have a print version ‘Web page’ (i.e. a page within a website) Website titles
Works of art

 *According to the New Oxford, blog titles can be set in italics or in roman, as you prefer.

**Unpublished works may include dissertations, theses, conference papers, manuscripts in collections, unpublished transcripts of speeches and internal reports. This does not mean that all titles of dissertations, theses, papers, etc., are put in quotation marks since they are italicised if they have been published.

Titles of works that have not yet been published, or are not published in the end, or are planned but never actually written are set in quotation marks. Here Chicago differs slightly to the New Oxford as the former states that the titles of unpublished books under contract can be italicised, but forthcoming, in press or an equivalent term must be stated at the end of title.

Table Two looks at further uses of italics and quotation marks and when neither is used.

Italics ‘Quotation marks’ Normal roman type
emphasis (but don’t overuse)
when author/editor wants to add own emphasis to a quotation – this must be followed immediately by [my italics] in square brackets or (my italics) in parentheses at the end of the quotation or in associated footnote*
  ‘use quotation marks to show you do not share the view mentioned as they help to distance you from what you are saying (but only use first time you mention this)’
highlights word, phrase or character that is being discussed ‘highlighting a word, phrase or character that is being discussed’
technical terms and words that are introduced, defined or given a special meaning are italicised when first mentioned ‘highlighting a technical term (but only use first time you mention this)’
  ‘highlighting a colloquialism in a formal text’
  ‘for meaning of “so-called”, almost as an apology for using the expression (but only use first time you mention this)’
recently coined terms and words that are introduced, defined or given a special meaning are italicised when first mentioned ‘newly coined words and phrases that are still unfamiliar (but only use first time you mention this)’
words and phrases still regarded as foreign** – foreign names for places and structures

-if word or term appears in an italicised title, reverse the italics and write it in roman type

stage directions in plays
names of ships (but do not put HMS or USS in italics) if ship name appears in an italicised title, reverse the italics and write it in roman type (Chicago)
names of aircraft/planes  (New Oxford) names of aircraft/planes (Chicago)
names of vehicles (New Oxford) names of vehicles (Chicago)
names of trains (New Oxford) names of trains (Chicago)
  names of houses (even foreign names)
names of public buildings (even foreign names)
names of parties in legal cases
names of legal cases
biological nomenclature (binomial system)
marking parts of speech in dictionaries
highlighting example sentences in dictionaries
introducing cross-references (for example see and see under)
giving other directions to the reader (for example overleaf and opposite)

*Instead of [my italics] you can also use [author’s italics] or [italics added].

**Deciding whether to italicise a foreign word or phrase can prove tricky. You can check in style guides, such as the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers & Editors and also in the New Oxford Spelling Dictionary. Then make sure your use is consistent throughout the text or series of documents you are translating.

If there is any overlap in the tables above (for example, you can use either italics or quotation marks to highlight words or phrases), you can choose which you prefer to use. Again, whatever you decide to do, be consistent.

According to Chicago, titles of a work within a title should remain in italics and be put in quotation marks. For example: A Critical Look at Shakespeare’s “King Lear”. According to New Oxford, however, you can choose between quotation marks (A Critical Look at Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’) or reversing the font (A Critical Look at Shakespeare’s King Lear). You just need to be consistent in your usage.

I have tried to be as accurate as possible in this post, but if you notice any errors or if anything has changed in the interim, please let me know.

Bite-sized Tips No. 23: Spellings – Part 18 – Disagreements with the Dragon

4 thoughts on “Bite-sized Tips No. 24: Quotation Marks or Italics

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s