FR: Capitalization rules in titles

Discussion in 'French and English Grammar / Grammaire française et anglaise' started by buttermuffin18, Apr 4, 2007.

  1. buttermuffin18 Member

    USA English
    If I am writing a French essay and I am writing the title on the top of the essay, what are the rules for Capitalizing words in the title. I think it is pretty close to english but I need to know because this has been bugging me. The first letter of the first word is obviously capitalized. Then what are the others that must be capitalized?

    Moderator note: multiple threads merged to create this one
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 13, 2009
  2. jann

    jann co-mod'

    English - USA
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2009
  3. jdcopp Member

    Boston, Ma
    The IMDb list the title of an 1961 French film as "Une aussi longue abscence". The Allocine site lists the title as "Une Aussi longue abscence" but notes that the films original title was "Une aussi longue abscence" Can anyone explain the vagaries in capitalization here?

    Thank you.
  4. SwissPete

    SwissPete Senior Member

    94044 USA
    Français (CH), AE (California)
    That does not make sense :eek: . I, too, would welcome an explanation...
  5. Aupick

    Aupick Senior Member

    Strasbourg, France
    UK, English
    Usually with film and book titles, etc, only the first word is capitalised, unless that first word is a definite article in which case the following noun, and any adjectives that come between them, can also be capitalized.

    Dialogue avec mon jardinier
    Le Scaphandre et le papillon
    La Double Vie de Véronique

    That's the theory (supported by Grevisse), but in practice capitalisation can be pretty random. It's probably just not a high priority.
  6. DOM78

    DOM78 Senior Member

    Plaisir, near Versailles
    France ; français
    Anyway, it should be : "Une aussi longue absence" with only one "c"....
  7. ElColorRojo Member

    Madrid, España
    USA, English
    What are the rules for capitalizing titles in French? My example:

    "Pourquoi J'ai Choisi l'Université Franciscaine"

    Should the "L'" be capitalized? Should the U of université be capitalized? What are the basic rules and how do they differ from the English rules?

    Merci beaucoup pour votre aide!

    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 13, 2009
  8. jann

    jann co-mod'

    English - USA
    Hello Rebekah, :)

    The only letter that should be capitalized in your French title is the very first one.

    We have collected a set of useful links about French capitalization (punctuation, typography, etc) here in our Resources subforum. Specifically, there is this site that discusses capitalization in the titles of works.

    Please refer to those sites. We can't outline a complete list of the rules for you here... although we can certainly help you with specific example situations if you are having trouble applying those rules. :)

    Last edited: Mar 13, 2009
  9. fll5njt Member

    UK, English
    When you refer to a film title in a french essay […] do you use capital letters?
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 26, 2014
  10. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland

    We typically capitalize only the first word of the title — unless that word is le, la or les, in which case the first noun takes a capital as well as all the adjectives and adverbs preceeding it. […]
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2014
  11. echidna Senior Member

    Lyon, France
    US English
    Dear language lovers,

    I am writing a paper in which I discuss a book called L'Oiseau by Jules Michelet. One of the chapters is called "L'Œuf." When I refer to these two titles, what is the rule on capitalization?

    L'Oiseau / L'Œuf


    L'oiseau / L'œuf.

    Or something else?

    Also, does anyone know what punctuation is appropriate? In English I would use italics for the book title, and quotation marks for the chapter (as I did above). Is that correct?

    Thanks a whole lot!
  12. CodeAndBunny Senior Member

    English - US
    I'm almost certain that a title in French would capitalize both, the article and the noun following it. Even Le Monde capitalizes both on its website...and I always see both capitalized here in France.
  13. echidna Senior Member

    Lyon, France
    US English
    That's very helpful, thanks CodeAndBunny!

    Does anyone have a clue about italics & quotation marks for book titles & chapters?
  14. CodeAndBunny Senior Member

    English - US
    This may help...I found it on the this website in the French language section:
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2008
  15. echidna Senior Member

    Lyon, France
    US English
    Wow, that is some helpful info! How nice of you to provide it!

    Do you happen to know whether book titles go in italics, whereas chapter titles go in quotation marks (guillemets), as is the case in English?

    Thanks a ton.
  16. CodeAndBunny Senior Member

    English - US
    Hm, I'm looking at a French book that I have here and the chapter titles are all capitalized using method A above. Other than that, I don't really know how that would be done, especially within a paper such as the one you're writing. :(
  17. echidna Senior Member

    Lyon, France
    US English
    Oh well. I appreciate your help VERY much! Perhaps I'll make a separate post about the italics and so on. Have a great day!
  18. OdileJA Senior Member

    Ghana, West Africa
    France, French
    Je viens de recevoir la version "corrigée" d'une traduction que j'avais faite et pour tous les titres, le correcteur a rajouté des majuscules à tous les mots, comme cela se fait en anglais. J'ai l'impression qu'il a tort et que cela ne se fait pas en français.

    Qu'en pensez-vous ? J'aimerais avoir d'autres opinions avant de lui écrire pour lui dire qu'il a tort !

  19. Quaeitur

    Quaeitur Mod'elle

    Lille, France
    Cela ne se fait pas en français. Malheureusement, on le voit de plus en plus souvent...
  20. the expat Member

    Namur, BE
    Je pense que tu as raison. Cela ne se fait qu'en anglais.
  21. Fred_C

    Fred_C Senior Member

    Je n'y connais rien, mais se pourrait-il que la règle qui interdit les majuscules aux titres ne soit pas une règle d'orthographe, mais une norme typographique industrielle?

    Dans ce cas, il serait faux de considérer que cela ne se fait pas en français, mais plus juste de dire que cela ne se fait pas en France.

    Pour d'autres pays francophones, les règles typographiques pourraient changer...
    (En Afrique, par exemple...)
  22. OdileJA Senior Member

    Ghana, West Africa
    France, French
    merci pour vos réponses. En fait, la personne qui a fait ces corrections et américaine, ce n'est donc pas une question de différence entre les pays francophones. En tous cas, merci d'avoir confirmé ce que je pensais.
  23. pyan

    pyan Senior Member

    Vendée, France
    English, UK, London
    This short (about 2 minutes) TV programme , "Merci Professeur" discusses the subject. This series is usually sensitive to variations in French. Bernard Cerquiglini, "éminent linguiste et spécialiste reconnu de la langue française", agrees with what you write, OdileJA.
  24. OdileJA Senior Member

    Ghana, West Africa
    France, French
    thanks to all of you.
  25. scartol New Member

    English - US
    I am writing a rédaction and need help capitalizing the title. I know that in general the first word is the only word which should be capitalized (aside from proper nouns) — unless the first word is an article, but what about after a colon? My proposed title is:
    Les Ordinateurs et l'humanité: Une guerre pour Zion?
    (Obviously I'll be referencing The Matrix.) Is the "une" capitalized after the colon, or not? Does "un/une" work like "le/la/les" with regard to capitalization (ie, do I capitalize the "guerre" as well)?

    Merci en avance pour votre assistance!
  26. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    The answer is fairly simple: don't capitalize words following a colon, semicolon or comma.

    Les Ordinateurs et l'Humanité: une guerre pour Sion ?

    On the other hand, when there is a symmetry in the title (the title is made of two parts separated by et or ou), both parts are capitalized.

    - Quoting titles requires italics in French.
    - Zion is spelled “Sion” in French.
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2009
  27. radiodurans Senior Member

    So this has been bothering me this week reading about Albert Camus . . . in citing the book title of his work should it be "L'étranger" or "L'Étranger" ?

    I've seen both, but "L'Étranger" seems to be more prevalent in non-French speaking countries, such as the US, and does seem to fit the rules better as outlined here:çais

    However, I would say the most of the documents from French-speaking countries seem to favor "L'étranger" and indeed the original 1942 edition I found has it spelt this way on the title page. Is there a right or wrong way here? Personally, I think "L'étranger" looks better, though "L'Étranger" seems to fit the rule of: "Si le titre commence par un article défini (le, la, les) et qu'il ne constitue pas une phrase verbale, alors le premier substantif prend une majuscule".
  28. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    In French, we usually capitalize only the first word of the title. However, when the first word is the definite article (le, la, les), we also capitalize the following noun. Therefore, you have to write L'Étranger (in italics!).

    See also this thread on the French Only forum → Majuscules dans les titres.
  29. radiodurans Senior Member

    Yes, I know there is this rule . . . but the observational evidence is to the contrary on the covers of the books whether the the é is capitalized or not.

    Please watch the first 24 seconds of the news clip below for example . . . the cover of very first book has it L'étranger then there is a motage of book covers . . . Doing a count, I see one in French with the title written L'Étranger, one as L'ETRANGER (so it doesn´t count), but 3 or 4 written as L'étranger.

    For this reason, I am wondering if there is a different rule for l' or if this indeed isn't a very strong rule.
  30. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    Both L'étranger and L'ETRANGER are wrong and the only correct way to write it is L'Étranger.

    It is not surprising that many incorrect "spellings" can be found, especially on the Internet, because most people are just ignorant of proper typography…
  31. pointvirgule

    pointvirgule Senior Member

    Mtl, QC
    Does that include Gallimard, publisher of the Folio collection? (Look at the book covers.)

    It's safe to say that this so-called rule is not ironclad. It's more of a tradition that an rule, really. And modern usage goes either way.
  32. radiodurans Senior Member

    Maître Capello --> thanks :).

    Yes the video contains shots of a variety of different printed covers, mostly Gallimard the original publisher, as "L'étranger". The original 1942 was spelled this way too. Honestly, "L'Étranger" typographically looks uglier to me than "L'étanger", even if I know someone wrote down a rule about capitalization after the first definite article. And it looks like the majority of French typesetters agree with me in this case. I think, as Capello says, it is perhaps not so much a rule but a suggestion, even if one. Again, I've found that University documents outside of France (eg. people who learn things taught as the rules of French) almost always follow "the rule" in the case of this title. However, actual usage among native French speakers, even among native typesetters and publishers, tends to mostly support writing "L'étranger". It's like there is an unwritten exception to the rule that when the title starts "one letter followed be an apostrophe" as in L'étranger, J'ai, etc. the letter following the apostrophe should be lowercase.

    I'm going to write Gallimard to see if they have their own set of in-house rules, I'll post if I get a response from them.

    Ah ha! I think I've found it, the "rule" isn't really a "rule" at all . . . it is a guideline. I have just noticed the following:

    Moderator note: citation shortened and link to the source added (rule 4)
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 8, 2010
  33. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    Be careful! Don't mix up the title on the book cover with the mention of such a title in a text! As a matter of fact, there is no strict rule for the typography of the title on the book cover. The rule I mentioned earlier is only valid when quoting such a title… By the way, it definitely is a set rule, not just a recommendation (although some publishers seem to disregard it).
  34. radiodurans Senior Member

    It isn't just the cover, the title page keeps it lowercase too after the L' in the Gallimard for example.
  35. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    Well, the title page logically uses the same typographical convention as the one found on the cover… :rolleyes: Again, I was only talking about the quotation of a title in another document.

    So, in short, the title of a book on the cover and on the front page may be L'étranger, l'étranger, L'Etranger, L'Étranger, L'ÉTRANGER—either in roman or in italics—, but when quoting that title, you should always write L'Étranger
  36. radiodurans Senior Member

    Well, it is interesting the theory that it is only acceptable for the title page / cover, but I sent Gallimard the rule and asked why in some cases it was followed, other times not, and this is what they wrote:


    En résumé : nous considérons cette règle comme ancienne et un peu... arbitraire.
    Nous préférons utiliser des capitales quand cela s'avère absolument nécessaire (soit que l'auteur le souhaite ou l'ait souhaité, soit que le sens du titre en dépende, etc.).


    So I think this has more to do with the statement I found previously, rather than the placement in the book: les conventions d'usage des majuscules pour les titres d'œuvres restent mal établies.
  37. pointvirgule

    pointvirgule Senior Member

    Mtl, QC
  38. susanna76 Senior Member


    If I'm writing a poem in English and using in it the words "Parlez-mois de vous" both in the title and the body of the poem, how do I style the title? Do I have to capitalize "Moi" and "Vous"? (The title being "Parlez-Moi de Vous")

    Merci :)
  39. Nicomon

    Nicomon Senior Member

    Français, Québec ♀
    Hi susanna,

    It wouldn't be right to capitalize Moi and Vous. You could eventually bold the title, but capitalize only the P.

    Parlez-moi de vous
  40. susanna76 Senior Member

    Thank you, Nicomon! That's what I thought, but I wanted a second opinion.

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