How to Use Italics

Posted: February 25th, 2014, 10:13 am   By: erin.hempfling

“May I take this opportunity of emphasizing that there is no cannibalism in the British Navy, absolutely none. And when I say none, I mean there is a certain amount, more than I personally admit.”—Vice Admiral Sir John Cunningham of the Flying Circus Royal Navy

This week, we look at how to use italics.

Depending on the style guide, various guidelines exist for using italics. We’ll focus on some of the more common rules that occur across multiple style guides. When creating content for, follow these general prescriptions—and make sure to consult your editor if you have more questions.

Use italics for the following purposes:

  1. Indicating emphasis (but be careful not to overuse them in this manner)

    Example: Living in your ex-girlfriend’s attic? Now that’s how you stalk someone!
  2. Foreign words or phrases that are likely to be unfamiliar to your reader

    Example: I hate people who use the phrase vis-à-vis more than Dina Lohan should hate herself.
  3. Scientific names

    Example: Although Jerry Sandusky and Baltimore Ravens broadcaster Gerry Sandusky are technically unrelated, they share an incriminating genetic connection as homo sapiens.
  4. When referring to a word as a word, rather than using it functionally; do the same when talking about letters of the alphabet in a similar manner

    Example: Cookie Monster explains, “R is for role model. Well . . . maybe it’s for something else.”
  5. Names of legal cases

    Example: In the case of the People vs. Amanda Bynes, the grand jury neglected to bring additional charges against the defendant for appearing in this awful piece of detritus.
  6. Titles of many different kinds of works: newspapers, magazines, books, television series, films, radio programs, short stories, plays, and long poems.

    Example: The women of The Talk shouldn’t be ashamed to go without makeup. They should be ashamed of their show.