6 Italics

6.01 Introduction

Because italic (sloping) type contrasts with roman (vertical) type, a writer can require words or passages to be typeset in italics in order to call special attention to them, to give them special meaning, or to distinguish them from the rest of his or her text.

Use italics sparingly, or they lose their effectiveness.

When an entire passage is printed in italics, the punctuation (including parentheses) and any numbers (including footnote references) will also be in italics. If just a word or phrase is in italics, only the punctuation proper to it is printed in that typeface.

Note that when the main body of a text is printed in italics, roman type is used for emphasis and for the other purposes described in this chapter.

6.02 Emphasis

Italics can serve to indicate emphasis in the following cases:

  • when the writer uses an unexpected word:

    What differences might we expect to see in human behaviour if honesty were shown to be the worst policy?

  • when two words are contrasted:

    I did not say we would go: I said we might go.

  • when the writer wishes to stress a word that would not normally be stressed in the sentence:

    Why was he chosen to chair the committee?

6.03 French and foreign words and phrases

Write these in italics if they are not considered to have been assimilated into English. A non-English pronunciation often indicates that a word or phrase has not been assimilated. Many such terms occur in legal, political and musical contexts:

  • allegro non troppo
  • caveat emptor
  • laissez-passer
  • mutatis mutandis
  • raison d’état
  • res ipsa loquitur

When French or foreign words or phrases are considered to have been assimilated into English, italics are not used:

  • ad hoc
  • aide-de-camp
  • autobahn
  • per capita
  • strudel
  • tsunami

Most dictionaries do not indicate which words or phrases are to be italicized. Among those that do are The Concise Oxford Dictionary, The Random House Dictionary and the Collins dictionaries, but they are not always unanimous. Consult the Concise Oxford but also exercise your own judgment, with due regard for the type of text and intended readership. When in doubt, use roman type.

If an unfamiliar French or foreign term or phrase is used repeatedly in a text, it should be italicized at the first occurrence and accompanied by an explanation. Subsequently, it may be set in roman type.

6.04 Latin terms and abbreviations

Although there is a growing tendency to print Latin reference terms and phrases in roman type (especially when abbreviated), many are still italicized:

  • idem
  • infra
  • passim
  • sic
  • supra
  • vide

Do not italicize the following:

  • AD
  • et seq.
  • e.g.
  • loc. cit.
  • QED
  • ca., c.
  • i.e.
  • ibid.
  • NB
  • cf.
  • v.v.
  • op. cit.
  • PS
  • etc.
  • viz.
  • et al.

6.05 Titles of publications and works of art

Italicize the titles of books, pamphlets, published reports and studies, plays, operas and long musical compositions, paintings, sculptures, novels, films, long poems, newspapers and periodicals:

  • book
    • The Canadian Style
  • pamphlet
    • Keeping the Heat In
  • report
    • Public Accounts of Canada
  • play
    • Murder in the Cathedral
  • opera
    • Rigoletto
  • symphony
    • the Pastoral Symphony
  • painting
    • Voice of Fire
  • novel
    • Cabbagetown
  • long poem
    • The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
  • sculpture
    • David
  • newspaper
    • The Globe and Mail
  • periodical
    • Saturday Night

For the title of a major work within another title, two possibilities exist:

  • Report on the Application of the "Alternative Fuels Act"


  • Report on the Application of the Alternative Fuels Act


Titles of scientific periodicals are usually abbreviated and set in roman type (see 9.08 Compiling a bibliographic entry(c)).

Do not italicize unofficial titles:

  • A record of the debate can be found in Hansard.

Titles of articles, short poems and short stories, songs, arias and other short musical compositions, and radio and television programs are set in roman type and enclosed in quotation marks:

  • article
    • "The Life Beyond"
  • aria
    • "Pace, pace, Mio Dio"
  • musical composition
    • "Stille Nacht"
  • television program
    • "Street Legal"

6.06 Legal references

In legal texts italicize the names of statutes and court cases:

  • the Official Languages Act
  • the Divorce Act
  • Annan v. Canada (M.C.I.)
  • Robson v. Chrysler Corporation

Do not italicize short forms such as "the Act" or "the Charter."

See also 6.10 Identifying matter.

6.07 Modes of transportation

Italicize the names given to individual ships, spacecraft, aircraft and trains but not articles, etc. preceding them:

  • the Spirit of St. Louis
  • the spacecraft Challenger
  • the Rapido


In Department of National Defence documents, names of ships are written entirely in upper case and are not italicized:


6.08 Letters and words referred to as such

These should be italicized:

  • Delete the second and from line 15.
  • There is only one s in disappoint.

Quotation marks (see 8.11 Reference to words as such), boldface type and underlining may perform the same function.

6.09 Peripheral matter in a text

Italics may be used to set off peripheral matter such as prefaces and dedications or epigraphs and quotations at the beginning of a book or chapter. Stage directions for a play are usually set in italics and placed within brackets or parentheses. Introductory matter setting the scene is also usually in italics, but not in brackets or parentheses.

Italicize the terms See, See under, See also and See also under when used in indexes, and the expressions To be continued, Continued on p., Continued from p. and Continued on next page.

Italicize editorial clarifications:

  • Representatives from certain Carribean [sic] countries . . .
  • [My emphasis]
  • [Translation]

See 8.10 Insertions, alterations and parentheses and 8.14 French and foreign-language quotations for further information on this point.

6.10 Identifying matter


  • letters referring to subdivisions of a statute or other regulatory document:
    • Paragraph 42(2)(e) of the Canada Business Corporations Act
    • In accordance with paragraph (f) of CFAO 19-27/H . . .
  • letters referring to lines of verse (rhyme schemes):
    • The Shakespearean sonnet has an abab, cdcd, efef, gg rhyme scheme.
  • letter symbols or words used in legends to illustrations, drawings, photographs, etc. or within the body of the text to identify parts of the item concerned. Such words as top, bottom, left, right, above, below, left to right and clockwise from left are frequently encountered in this context:
    • United States envoy Holbrook, left, greets his Russian counterpart, Vitaly Churkin, in the Serbian capital.

6.11 Mathematical, statistical and scientific material

Italicize the scientific (Latin) names of genera and species in botanical, zoological and paleontological matter:

  • The sugar maple (Acer saccharum) is a member of the family Aceraceae.

Do not italicize the names of the larger subdivisions (phyla, classes, orders, families and tribes):

  • The order Primates includes modern man (Homo sapiens).

Italicize letters designating unknown quantities and constants, lines, etc. in algebraic, geometric and similar matter:

  • Let n be the number of molecules . . .
  • 5x × a2 – 2ab

Note in the second example that no space is left between the numerical coefficients and the variables, and that the italics help to differentiate between the variable x and the multiplication sign. Correct spacing and italic type also help to distinguish between algebraic variables and SI/metric symbols:

  • 10x m
  • 6a cm
  • 10b L

Italicize quantity symbols such as l for length, m for mass and v for velocity in order to distinguish them from unit symbols such as "L" for litre, "m" for metre and "V" for volt, which are normally printed in roman type:

  • 60 N = m × 12m/s2
  •  m = 5 kg
  • (N = newton, m = mass, and m = metre)

Italicize Latin prefixes and Greek and Roman letters used as prefixes to the names of chemical and biochemical compounds:

  • cis-dimethylethylene
  • ß-lactose
  • N-acylneuraminic acid
  • M-xylene

A number of Greek and Roman letters used in statistical formulas and notations are italicized:

  • P
    • probability of
  • µ
    • population mean
  • Ó
    • population standard deviation
  • Ó2
    • population variance

6.12 Headings

Headings or subheadings of a document may be italicized in order to clarify its arrangement for the reader. See 11.16 Headings for further information.

An example of an italicized run-in sidehead can be seen in 7.07 Other uses.