Pro Tip Tuesday #13: Italics and punctuation

When writing an italicized title, word, or phrase, some authors are in the habit of not hitting Ctrl+I again until the beginning of the next non-italicized word, even if there’s punctuation in between that doesn’t “belong to” the italicized term. This follows what the Chicago Manual (6.4) calls “a more traditional system . . . once preferred by Chicago and still preferred by some as more aesthetically pleasing,” but the current standard is that punctuation after an italicized term should not be italicized unless it’s part of the term itself. CMOS 6.2 gives the following examples (with my commentary in parentheses); I’ve highlighted non-italicized punctuation in pink and italicized punctuation in yellow.

  • For light amusement he turns to the Principia Mathematica! (The exclamation point isn’t italicized because it isn’t part of the title, though that would be fun.)
  • How can they be sure that the temperature was in fact rising? (The question mark isn’t italicized.)
  • The letters a, b, and c are often invoked as being fundamental. (In lists of italicized terms, do not italicize the commas between items—people often miss this!)
  • There are two primary audiences for The Chicago Manual of Style: perfectionists and humorists. (The colon after the title is part of the surrounding sentence, so it isn’t italicized.)
  • The Beatles’ Help! was released long before the heyday of the music video. (In this case, the exclamation point is part of the title, so it is italicized.)
  • After reading Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty, she was inspired to write a program that generates poetry from prose. (This title contains a colon and a comma, which are italicized, but the comma that follows the title isn’t.)

Especially when I’m editing citations and bibliographies, one of the first things I do is run Paul Beverley’s “PunctuationItalicOff” macro, which un-italicizes all punctuation that isn’t followed by italic text.