Behind the Stylepunctuationtitles of works
Punctuation with TitlesBy Jennifer Rappaport
In a previous Ask the MLA post, we explained how to incorporate titles ending in question marks or exclamation points into works-cited-list entries. But how do you incorporate such titles into your prose? How do you handle titles ending in other punctuation marks? And what should you do about other matters of punctuation related to titles?
Titles Ending in Question Marks or Exclamation Points in Your Prose
At the MLA, we never insert a period after a title ending in a question mark or exclamation point, but we insert a comma if doing so makes a sentence easier to read—for example, when such a title is one item in a series or when the title is contained in a nonrestrictive clause:
But when possible, we prefer to reword:
Titles That Need to Be Shortened
When we need to shorten a really long title in a works-cited-list entry, we add an ellipsis after the first part of the title up to at least the first noun. If a work has an alternative title, we might include it. If a period is needed, we insert the period before the ellipsis and set the punctuation roman:
If a comma is needed, as it would be when the long title is the title of a container, we insert it after the ellipsis. We set the ellipsis and the comma roman:
In prose, we omit the ellipsis:
Philocophus; or, The Deafe and Dumbe Mans Friend was written by John Bulwer.
Titles Ending in an Ellipsis or Dash
If the ellipsis is part of the title, we add the period or comma after the ellipsis. The ellipsis is set in italics if the title is italicized, but the additional punctuation is set roman:
Reiner, Rob, director. When Harry Met Sally . . . . MGM, 1989.
We follow the same principle if a title ends in a dash:
Dickinson, Emily. “I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—.” The Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by R. W. Franklin, Harvard UP, 1999.
Titles and Subtitles
Section 1.2.1 of the eighth edition of the MLA Handbook says, “Use a colon and a space to separate a title from a subtitle, unless the title ends in a question mark or an exclamation point. Include other punctuation only if it is part of the title or subtitle.”
The handbook provides the following examples:
But sometimes titles are not straightforward. In such cases, we follow some additional rules.
For example, when a title is followed by two subtitles, we use two colons:
For works published in English, when a period separates a title and a subtitle on the title page, we change the period to a colon. When a question mark, exclamation point, or dash separates a title and a subtitle on the title page, we leave the original mark:
But if a title contains a title ending in a question mark or exclamation point, we add a colon:
Here the exclamation point is part of the title Absalom, Absalom!, so a colon is needed to separate the title Moby-Dick and Absalom, Absalom! from the subtitle.
In foreign language publications, we follow the source when punctuating titles.
For an alternative or double title in English beginning with or, we follow the first example given in section 8.165 of The Chicago Manual of Style and punctuate as follows:
But no semicolon is needed for a title in English that ends with a question mark or exclamation point:
For double titles of foreign language publications, we follow the source.
Dates in Titles
Unless a date is part of a title’s syntax, we follow section 8.163 of Chicago and set it off with a comma:
Serial Comma in Titles
Contrary to section 8.163 of Chicago, for English-language titles of books published in the United States, we add the serial comma before the conjunction preceding the final item in a series if the comma is missing. Otherwise, we follow the source. The following book was published by Verso in London, so the serial comma is not added:
The Chicago Manual of Style. 16th ed., U of Chicago P, 2016.
MLA Handbook. 8th ed., Modern Language Association of America, 2016.
Published 29 December 2017
Jennifer Rappaport is managing editor, MLA style resources, at the Modern Language Association. She received a BA in English and French from Vassar College and an MA in comparative literature from New York University, where she taught expository writing. Before coming to the MLA, she worked as an editor at a university press and as a freelance copyeditor and translator for commercial and academic publishers.
In citing film and other media, use the citation form for the format in which you watched the work being cited. For example:
You may include other data that seem pertinent, such as writer of screenplay or writer of work upon which the film is based, depending on the focus of your research.
Citizen Kane. Dir. Orson Welles. Perfs. Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten. RKO Radio Pictures, 1941.
Fahrenheit 9/11. Dir. Michael Moore. Lions Gate Films, 2006.
Kazan, Elia, dir. On the Waterfront. Perfs. Marlon Brando, Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger, Eva Marie Saint. Columbia Pictures Corporation, 1954.
Karloff, Boris, perf. Frankenstein. Dir. James Whale. Perfs. Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Mae Clark. Universal Pictures, 1931.
Gore, Al, perf. An Inconvenient Truth. Dir. Davis Guggenheim. Lawrence Bender Productions, 2006.
Rozsa, Miklos, comp. Spellbound. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. Perfs. Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck. United Artists, 1945.
Breathless (À Bout de Souffle). Dir. Jean-Luc Godard. Perfs. Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg, Liliane David. 1960. DVD. Criterion Collection, 2007.
Frankenstein. Dir. James Whale. Perfs. Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Mae Clark. 1931. DVD. Universal Pictures, 2006.
Metropolis. Dir. Fritz Lang. Perfs. Gustav Fröhlich, Brigitte Helm, Alfred Abel. 1926. DVD. Restored authorized edition; digitally remastered. Kino International Corporation, 2002.
Capote, Truman. "A Christmas Memory." Hallmark Hall of Fame. Dir. Glenn Jordan. Perf. Patty Duke, Piper Laurie, Jeffrey DeMunn. 1997. DVD. Lions Gate, 2000.
Single Performance, Music Videos, and Other Single Work as part of longer DVD, Video, or Film
- or, if emphasizing issuing agency:
- US Office of War Information. "Official War Film W.F. 13." World War II Films. 1943. DVD. Earthstation1.com, 2007.
or, if emphasizing the performers:
Television and Radio
- Include the following elements in the following order.
- Title of episode or segment (if appropriate. In quotes)
- Title of program (italics)
- Title of series (if appropriate. No quotes or underline)
- Producer, Director, Performers, Writer (if known. Inclusion and order depends on emphasis)
- Local Affiliate and the city
- Date of Broadcast
- Title of program (italics)
Order and punctuation: