Should "Is" Be Capitalized?

While in school, you were probably taught a range of rules when it comes to English grammar… and then you were told a whole series of exceptions to said rules. English can be a very confusing and frustrating language. Sometimes, the grammatically correct route can result in a terribly awkward-sounding sentence. The same can be said when it comes to capitalization.

As a freelance writer, I am not only mindful of how the words “sound” when I read the text aloud, but also how they appear on the printed page (or on the computer monitor, as the case may be). We all know that we should capitalize people’s names and the first words in sentences, but capitalization can be a little more complicated for blog post titles and other similar scenarios. More specifically, do you know if the word “is” should be capitalized?

Revisiting the Rules

When writing titles for blog posts, articles, and other similar situations, the rules sound like they could not be clearer. The “important” meaning-giving words of the title should be capitalized. These would include the nouns and the verbs, as well as the first word in the title. For example, the word “car” would always be capitalized, because it is a noun. Adverbs (quickly, stupidly, loudly) and adjectives (red, tall, smart) should also be capitalized.

The connecting words that don’t add any direct “meaning” to the title should not be capitalized. This would include conjunctions (and, but, or), articles (a, the, an), and prepositions (over, under, between). That’s the traditional rule. More recently, there has been a push to capitalize conjunctions and propositions that are a little longer (five letters or more). It’s debatable whether or not this is appropriate.

The Technical Response

So, should “is” be capitalized in titles? Technically, the answer is yes. “Is” is a verb and it is a conjugated version of the infinitive “to be.” Just because this is the technically correct way to go, however, does not mean that it has become the standard or has become the more widespread rule of thumb.

You may recall our discussion on less and fewer. The express checkout line at most supermarkets allow for 10 items or “less” when it should really be telling you that they’re open for 10 items or “fewer.” Just because everyone is doing it does not make it correct.

The Issue of Style and Look

I guess it depends on the context and the words that are surrounding it, but I find that capitalizing “is” in titles can sometimes look odd. This could be, in part, due to its very short length. If you were to go through my archive of blog posts, both here and on sites belonging to my clients, you’ll find that I tend to waver a fair bit on this rule. Sometimes, I’ll capitalize “is” and sometimes I won’t.

It’s not that I’m trying to avoid any ambiguity in meaning. Instead, it’s simply because of how it looks. As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, the way that the written word looks on a page can be almost as important as the meaning that it carries and its technical grammatical correctness.

In this way, the answer to whether or not “is” should be capitalized in titles is left quite ambiguous and unclear. It has become a matter of style and it will continue to evolve as our language evolves, just as our relationship with split infinitives have been changing.

What do you think? Do you capitalize “is” in titles?