Capitalizing the Elements of a Compound Word in a Title

By Maeve Maddox

A reader asks about the capitalization of this title: “We Should Be People-oriented”:

In this book I’m editing, there are many such [compounds], all with the second element uncapped. I looked for but didn’t find it in the CMS [The Chicago Manual of Style]. Is there a rule on this? It looks incomplete to me!

The question of whether to capitalize the second element of a compound word in a title is one of style. Different style guides recommend different usage.

Compare the following pairs:

Surviving the Top Ten Challenges of Software Testing: A People-Oriented Approach
Studying individual Development in An Interindividual Context: A Person-oriented Approach

Anti-feminism in the Academy
Anti-Intellectualism in American Life

Capital in the Twenty-First Century
Wealth and Power: China’s Long March to the Twenty-first Century

Neruda: Concerto in E-flat for Trumpet & Strings
Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-Flat Major

The Chicago Manual of Style addresses the question of hyphenating the second element of a compound in a title in paragraph 8:159.

1. Capitalize the second element of a compound in a title UNLESS it’s an article, a preposition, a coordinating conjunction (and, but, for, or, nor) or a modifier like sharp or flat after a musical key:

Surviving the Top Ten Challenges of Software Testing: A People-Oriented Approach

Neruda: Concerto in E-flat for Trumpet & Strings

2. If the first element of the compound is merely a prefix or combining form (like anti-, pre-, etc.) that cannot stand by itself as a word, do not capitalize the second element of the compound UNLESS it’s a proper noun or proper adjective:

Anti-feminism in the Academy

Cane Fires: The Anti-Japanese Movement in Hawaii, 1865-1945

3. Capitalize the second element in a hyphenated spelled-out number like twenty-one or twenty-first:

Capital in the Twenty-First Century

Two-Thirds of a Ghost

Note: The third rule reflects a change in Chicago style. Here’s what the latest edition has to say: “This departure from previous Chicago recommendations recognizes the functional equality of the numbers before and after the hyphen.”

Related posts:
Up Style and Down Style
Exceptions for Hyphenating Compound Adjectives

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1 Response to “Capitalizing the Elements of a Compound Word in a Title”

  • venqax

    I could not have an editor who would write, “Is there a rule on this? It looks incomplete to me!” instead of Is there a rule ABOUT this? or . Is there a rule REGARDING this? or Is there a rule IN RESPECT TO this?– anything but the lazy “on” as the all-purpose preposition. It looks and sounds artless to me. I think he has bigger concerns than capitalization of hyphenations.

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