Capitalisation of titles e.g the or The United Nations

Cense

Member
English - Antipodean
Which are correct?
the United Nations
The United Nations

the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The Universal Declaration Of Human Rights

Should one take the easy way out and capitalise every word in the title, or decide to capitalise only the main parts of speech and exclude articles (a, the), prepositions (of, to, at, in, with) and coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or) or some variation thereof? Style guides will obviously vary so they are not much assistance...Perhaps in the end it is simply up to the writer's own preference as long as they are consistent?
 
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  • Thomas1

    Senior Member
    polszczyzna warszawska
    In the examples you quote much depends on the position of these phrases in a sentence. For example:
    The United Nations is an organisation of 191 states.
    191 states make up the United Nations.

    You usually don't capitalise prepositions or articles in names or titles (this also depends on the position of a phrase in a sentence):
    The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was ratified in 1948 by the United Nations General Assembly.
    The United Nations General Assembly ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    No, don't go mad on them. I think all reputable style guides would say to lower-case words like 'of' and 'and'.

    In general, you don't need to capitalize the preceding 'the' either. The simplest advice these days is to look at an organization's website to see if it's one of those that consistently uses capital 'The' in the middle of running text: there are journals like The Times and The Economist, companies like The Carlyle Group and The Home Depot, the country of The Gambia, and the city of The Hague. If it's not one of those few that clearly take 'The', use 'the'.
     

    Cense

    Member
    English - Antipodean
    entangledbank, you are right on re The Times and The Hague heh heh. I have to add that whenever I read a title where the preceding the is in lower case, visually, for me, the title only starts at the point of capitalisation. To me the capitals sort of function like pseudo quotation marks, so I am never quite certain if the actual title includes the or not.
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    You need to draw a clear distinction between names and titles. "The Times" and "The Hague" are names (of a newspaper and a city). Sometimes articles like these are part of a name (in which case they should usually be capitalized), and sometimes they're not, in which case they shouldn't unless some other rule tells you they should be, such as that they come at the beginning of a sentence or of a title.

    Titles are something else. They are like pseudo-names, or headlines, of books, articles, chapters, paragraphs, etc. Here different rules apply. The first word of a title, like that of sentence, is always capitalized. In English it is customary to capitalize all main words in titles (generally nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs), but not articles, prepositions, conjunctions etc, unless they are capitalized by some other rule (such as being part of a name).
     

    RM1(SS)

    Senior Member
    English - US (Midwest)
    In English it is customary to capitalize all main words in titles (generally nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs), but not articles, prepositions, conjunctions etc, unless they are capitalized by some other rule (such as being part of a name).
    As I was taught in grade school, way back in the last century,* we capitalize the first word, the last word, and "every important word" in the title - unimportant words being articles and one-syllable prepositions.


    * Don't get to use that last phrase often. :D
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    As I was taught in grade school, we capitalize the first word, the last word, and "every important word" in the title - unimportant words being articles and one-syllable prepositions.
    I suspect the part about the last word was added as a joke, or as a learning aid to make the rule more memorable. I wouldn't capitalize the last word unless it's "important", but chances are it always is.
     

    Cense

    Member
    English - Antipodean
    You need to draw a clear distinction between names and titles. "The Times" and "The Hague" are names (of a newspaper and a city). Sometimes articles like these are part of a name (in which case they should usually be capitalized), and sometimes they're not, in which case they shouldn't unless some other rule tells you they should be, such as that they come at the beginning of a sentence or of a title.

    Titles are something else. They are like pseudo-names, or headlines, of books, articles, chapters, paragraphs, etc. Here different rules apply. The first word of a title, like that of sentence, is always capitalized. In English it is customary to capitalize all main words in titles (generally nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs), but not articles, prepositions, conjunctions etc, unless they are capitalized by some other rule (such as being part of a name).
    Although aren't titles the actual names of declarations, articles, etc.? I think you mean the headline, or chapter heading, rather than the title i.e. the partial capitalisation draws more attention to the headlines or chapter headings than the rest of the article but not as much as the title (name) itself.

    Also what about the case of the A.C.T. which in this case is an initialisation (abbreviation) of the Australian Capital Territory. I can also refer to it as the capital territory of Australia, although, if I do, I am not using its officially recognised name and so I do not have to capitalise the, capital or territory, at least as far as I am aware. Now I just referred to the A.C.T. and did not capitalise the preceeding the, however, as there is only ever one A.C.T. does it not mean that the definite article the forms part of its name i.e. that I should always use a preceeding the whenever I mention the A.C.T and as a result should really have written The A.C.T. instead just like The Hague?
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    Although aren't titles the actual names of declarations, articles, etc.? I think you mean the headline, or chapter heading, rather than the title i.e. the partial capitalisation draws more attention to the headlines or chapter headings than the rest of the article but not as much as the title (name) itself.
    We seem to have a slight nomenclature issue. What you call title, I call name. What you call headline or heading, I sometimes also call title. Often name and title are the same, but we don't tend to give names to chapters or articles, we give then headings or titles (which in this context are the same to me). In the case of a book or film or play or story, the distinction tends to vanish: Are "My Fair Lady" and "The Bible" names or titles or both?
    however, as there is only ever one A.C.T. does it not mean that the definite article the forms part of its name i.e. that I should always use a preceeding the whenever I mention the A.C.T and as a result should really have written The A.C.T. instead just like The Hague?
    No, I don't think it does mean that. There is only one British Broadcasting Corporation, but it's still just the BBC, not The BBC. There is only one (current) pope, and we refer to him as the Pope, not The Pope.
     

    Cense

    Member
    English - Antipodean
    We seem to have a slight nomenclature issue. What you call title, I call name. What you call headline or heading, I sometimes also call title.
    I would use title by default to refer to the highest level title in the piece of writing i.e. the name of the declaration, manuscript or article, and would have to qualify title further if I wanted to refer to chapters e.g. chapter title.

    Often name and title are the same, but we don't tend to give names to chapters or articles, we give then headings or titles (which in this context are the same to me).
    Yep for me name is usually only applied to the highest level heading/title, whereas heading tends only to be used to refer to the names given to the chapters or parts of a text. Although when referring to human names title by default is used to refer to the header/introduction to the name e.g. Mr, Miss, Dr, etc.

    In the case of a book or film or play or story, the distinction tends to vanish: Are "My Fair Lady" and "The Bible" names or titles or both?
    To me, in such a circumstance, I would view name and title as synonyms.


    No, I don't think it does mean that. There is only one British Broadcasting Corporation, but it's still just the BBC, not The BBC. There is only one (current) pope, and we refer to him as the Pope, not The Pope.
    Although would it be a mistake to call it The B.B.C. just like The Times?

    I believe I made an error before when I mentioned the capital territory of Australia, it should have been either The or the Capital Territory of Australia as it is a valid alternative name just like nicknames which are always capitalised; at this time I am leaning more towards The rather than the. So at the moment I think The Declaration Of Human Rights is correct.
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    I think The BBC would be a mistake, and The Declaration of Human Rights would also be a mistake. Capitalizing "Of" in said declaration is also not recommended.
     

    Cense

    Member
    English - Antipodean
    I think The BBC would be a mistake, and The Declaration of Human Rights would also be a mistake. Capitalizing "Of" in said declaration is also not recommended.
    Can I ask what your reasons are - is it merely common usage or something else?

    To me the use of partial capitalisation indicates a heading rather than the name of the document e.g. a chapter heading, unlike full capitalisation which indicates that it is the name of the document.
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    My reasons are mostly intuitive, backed up by my exposure to such phenomena. I see no reason why the name of a document should use full capitalization. The name of a document should be identical to its title or heading, and use the same rules as for headings.

    An ngram search confirms that "Declaration Of Human Rights" is extremely rare compared to "Declaration of Human Rights".
    Also, "the Declaration of Human Rights" is on average at least ten times as popular as "The Declaration of Human Rights", approximately the same being true of "the BBC" and "The BBC"; I ascribe the fact that the "The" versions are not more rare to the likelihood of those instances employing the phrase at the beginning of a sentence or heading.
     

    Cense

    Member
    English - Antipodean
    My reasons are mostly intuitive, backed up by my exposure to such phenomena. I see no reason why the name of a document should use full capitalization. The name of a document should be identical to its title or heading, and use the same rules as for headings.
    Although you wouldn't call yourself mr Edinburgher would you? However, you might use a partially capitalised epithet e.g. Mr Edinburgher - From the Capital of Scotland.

    An ngram search confirms that "Declaration Of Human Rights" is extremely rare compared to "Declaration of Human Rights".
    Also, "the Declaration of Human Rights" is on average at least ten times as popular as "The Declaration of Human Rights", approximately the same being true of "the BBC" and "The BBC"; I ascribe the fact that the "The" versions are not more rare to the likelihood of those instances employing the phrase at the beginning of a sentence or heading.
    Also have a look at the Hague versus The Hague to see that these things can change over time.
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    Although you wouldn't call yourself mr Edinburgher would you?
    Of course not, because "Mr" always uses a capital M.
    However, you might use a partially capitalised epithet e.g. Mr Edinburgher - From the Capital of Scotland.
    Perhaps in an epitaph. In an epithet, I'd be more likely to leave 'from' and 'capital' without capitals. I'd certainly not capitalize 'the' or 'of'.
    Also have a look at the Hague versus The Hague to see that these things can change over time.
    Sure, but I think that's an untypical special case.
     

    Cense

    Member
    English - Antipodean
    Of course not, because "Mr" always uses a capital M.
    So why not capitalise the first word of the names of cities and documents e.g. The Capital Territory Of Australia and The Universal Declaration Of Human Rights?

    Perhaps in an epitaph. In an epithet, I'd be more likely to leave 'from' and 'capital' without capitals. I'd certainly not capitalize 'the' or 'of'.
    Ha ha, yes, I suppose you could do it that way too and no one would complain.

    Sure, but I think that's an untypical special case.
    At the moment you are 100% correct, however, what if it catches on and The Times and The Hague become the most common way of capitalising the names of various things?
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    So why not capitalise the first word of the names of cities and documents e.g. The Capital Territory Of Australia and The Universal Declaration Of Human Rights?
    The word "So" in your question does not make sense. "Mr" is always capitalized because it is a special case, not because it is the "first word of a name". In fact, it isn't the first word of a name, it is a title prefixed to a name. If someone were to say "My name is Mr John Smith", that would be incorrect; his name is just "John Smith", "Mr" isn't part of it.

    We don't capitalize "the" in "the Capital Territory" (other than at the beginning of a heading or sentence) for several reasons. One of them is that the word "the" is not actually part of the name. The formal name is just "Australian Capital Territory", and the informal name is just "Capital Territory".

    If you look at the Wikipedia article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Declaration_of_Human_Rights and text-search it for all occurrences of "Universal", you will see that again "the" is only capitalized at the start of sentences or headings: "The" is not part of the name. Notice also that "of" is not capitalized there either.

    OK, if you don't trust Wikipedia, check out the UN's own website: http://www.un.org/rights/50/decla.htm
    Fiftieth Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
    EDIT: Oh, I forgot to add:
    what if it catches on and The Times and The Hague become the most common way of capitalising the names of various things?
    To paraphrase a well-known saying, I'll jump off that bridge when I come to it. ;)
     
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