Italicizing Foreign Words
Karin-Marijke Vis wrote:
What to do with foreign words? Do I put them in Italics, or in single or double quotes? And then, is there a difference in for example the word ‘retsina’, that my dictionary knows, or ‘kafé’ that the dictionary doesn’t know [both words relate to a story in Greece]. Same about Indian words, are ‘nan’ and ‘puja’ officially acknowledged words or should they be written in Italics, or with quotes?
Whether or not to italicize foreign words depends upon the word’s familiarity to the intended audience, the context in which the word appears, and the frequency with which the word appears in a given text.
In American usage, if a foreign word has an entry in Merriam-Webster, it need not be italicized. According to that rule of thumb, kafé and nan would be italicized; retsina and puja, not.
However, if the writer feels that a word is largely unfamiliar to the intended audience, italicizing it may be the reasonable thing to do, dictionary entry notwithstanding.
If the word is going to be used frequently in the text, then it need be italicized only the first time it is introduced. For example, in a story with a Hindu setting, the word puja would probably occur frequently. The first time it could be defined as “a Hindu act of worship” and thereafter used without italics.
Here are some guidelines for the use of italics with foreign words in an English text.
1. If only one unfamiliar foreign word or brief phrase is being used, italicize it.
2. If an entire sentence or passage of two or more sentences appear in a foreign language, type the passage in plain type and put the passage in quotation marks.
3. If the foreign word is a proper noun, do not italicize it.
4. If you are using two foreign words or phrases, one familiar and one unfamiliar, italicize both of them for consistency and appearance.
5. Common Latin words and abbreviations like etc., et al., and ibid. need not be italicized. An exception is sic, which should be italicized and placed in square brackets.
MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers
APA Style Guide
Chicago Manual of Style
Recommended For You
Subscribe to Receive our Articles and Exercises via Email
- You will improve your English in only 5 minutes per day, guaranteed!
- Subscribers get access to our exercise archives, writing courses, writing jobs and much more!
- You'll also get three bonus ebooks completely free!
10 Responses to “Italicizing Foreign Words”
is it bad form to use real latin words when using magical spells in fiction? Or should you just make up the word?
I run a magazine for foreigners living in Japan, and my editing staff and I run into this question a lot. Opinion is split down the middle between our staff. Because the bulk of our readers are residents of Japan, my personal stance is that there’s no reason to italicize Japanese words. They aren’t foreign to our audience and there’s no need to point them out as such. Ultimately, we leave the decision up to our contributors. If someone italicizes the Japanese, we leave it italicized. But if someone doesn’t italicize their foreign words, then we don’t go in and change that.
@ Rebecca and niranjana-use footnotes
how should i explain d meaning of a italicized paragraph?
Where do I explain what the foreign word means?
Sorry your link to subscribe to your daily news is broken and so it
is my chance to receive the Basic English Grammar ebook.
actually these words are not enough but u should give more words
Thanks Maeve for your extensive reply. It is exactly the info I’m looking for!
I find that I tend to italicize foreign words if they’re from a language that seems…feminine. I italicize French, for example, along with Latin, Spanish and Italian. Languages like Hungarian, though, I tend not to italicize–it’s more of a BOLD language, but I’d kill myself if I ever actually bolded sentences in a piece I’ve written.
Also, Dave; you make a compelling point. It’s the only thing Katakana is good for, though, I find.
Personally, whenever I write a foreign word, I render it in the Katakana alphabet. Italics are for sissies.