Titled versus Entitled

By Daniel Scocco

Another day I was browsing around the Internet and I came across this sentence:

You might want to check out this great article that I found; it is entitled “bla bla bla.”

But was the article really entitled?

There is a common confusion between the words titled and entitled. Titled would have been the correct adjective for that sentence. If something is “titled” it means that it received such a title, either by the author or by someone else.

Entitled, on the other hand, means that a person has rights to something. If you are entitled to a house, for instance, it means that the law protects your right to own that house.

Some dictionaries propose that “to entitle” can also mean “to give a title.” I have rarely seen mainstream publications back up such usage, however. Below you will find two quotations from The Economist illustrating the point.

A visit to Canada’s web-site where the Federal Government describes itself to the world, particularly the section titled “Powers of National and Provincial Governments, as written by the late Honourable Eugene A. (The Economist)

The largesse has not been restricted to poor children. Since 1998 all pre-schoolers have been entitled to some free nursery care once they turn four, and in 2004 that entitlement was extended to three-year-olds. (The Economist)

Recommended for you: « »



51 Responses to “Titled versus Entitled”

  • Allen Garvin

    That’s the original meaning of the word, 700 years old. OED definition 1, transitive, to furnish (a literary work, a chapter, etc.) with a heading or superscription. … To give to (a book, etc) a designation by which it is to be cited, or which indicates the nature of its contents.

    It’s not marked obsolete or non-standard, either. It’s been in use since Chaucer. Literally, the first citation is Chaucer “This booke entitled was right thus Tullius of the dreame of Scipion.”

    A few other examples from my personal corpus of ebooks:

    Izaak Walton, Lives of Donne, etc: … is well known as the author of the tract entitled, “Europae Speculum”…

    Jonathan Swift, The Journal to Stella: …a Pamphlet entitled, A Letter to the Seven Lords of the Committee…

    Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: The first composition that was read was one entitled “Is this, then, Life?”

    Sir Walter Scott, Ivanhoe: the Reverend Charles Henry Hartsborne, M.A., editor of a very curious volume, entitled “Ancient Metrical Tales”…

    Alexander Pope, Essays on Criticism: …written by a notorious quack mad-doctor of the day, entitled “The Narrative of Dr. Robert Norri”…

    Herman Melville, Moby Dick: … took out a bundle of tracts, and selecting one entitled “The Latter Day Coming”…

    James Boswell, Life of Johnson: …it came out on the same morning with Pope’s satire, entitled ‘1738’…

  • Bill

    Both words are correct. Some people like to use “titled.” Other people like to use “entitled.” Both have been used for a long, long time and all the dictionaries I’ve checked say that both are OK.

  • Renee Williams

    I ended up on this forum seeking clarification. I have always used “entitled” (old school), and saw “titled” and thought it was just another bastardization (while knowing I’m not perfect). After reading your postings, I will continue with my current usage, and forgive any other. What I CAN’T forgive is the obnoxious and grammatically incorrect line that is used on telephone hold messages WORLDWIDE: “… your call will be answered in the order it was received”. WTF??? Excuse me, where’s the “in which”? That makes no sense, and it royally pisses me off. Are all of you Grammar Nazis with me? Or how about the ‘apostrophe s’ in plural’s <— see what I did there? And I'm still not sure whether or not my car is 'ensured'. Thanks for listening — er, reading (and understanding, I'll wager).

  • Martha

    Some years ago a writer friend corrected me on my use of “entitled”. She pointed out that a book could not have entitlement, etc. and that “titled” is correct. After that I thought everybody and his brother was an ignoramus for saying ” entitled “. On occasion, I would point ot out.
    Recently, I pointed out this distinction to a woman I met in Florida. She is a professor. She took me at my word with a kind of openminded amazement but asked, ” Did you check this in the dictionary?” I told her I had, but decided to look in on the matter further. Much to my embarassment I find that “entitled” is correct!
    I agree it seems to be more prevalent in England. Not so surprising.

    I will now go forth and multiply with wild abandon my use of the word ” entitlement” !

    Question:

    Does this mean that the word “titled”, now gaining momentum in America, is also correct and that these words are in essence, synonymous? And that it is simply a matter of preference? Or is it just plain wrong?

    Thank you for this enlightening discussion.

    Moral of the story:
    Writers do not, in fact, know everything!

  • Heather

    Ed the Photographer: inanimate objects like your photographs are hung, people sentenced to death are hanged, eg “During the Salem witch trials, those found guilty were hanged at Gallows Hill, not burned at the stake as was frequently done in European witch trials.”

    I was an English major and have worked in scientific publishing/communications for many years, but never heard “titled” used to describe what an article or book is called until this year. I have always used “entitled,” and I’m an American in case you couldn’t tell by my spelling and punctuation. Saying that a book is “titled” conjures for me the image of a tome standing in front of a king and being given the title of Lord or Baron (as in a person being described as a “titled landowner”). When I first started seeing this usage, I asked my mother about it (she used to teach Reading and Grammar), and she looked at me in horror and said, “Oh no, that’s just WRONG!”

    I believe that the difference here is not an American vs British English difference, but rather a journalism vs non-journalism writing convention. Journalistic writing style tends to (in my opinion) overly shorten things to reduce character count, which I suspect started when text was still typeset by hand on the press. This style difference has constantly been a source of frustration to me in the case of serial comma (aka “Oxford” comma) use, which is not present in journalism but is frequently essential for clarity.

  • Jeremy

    So does the author of this not know it is still online, and that his statements have been shown to be inaccurate? You’d think he would have edited it or removed it by now. Just because modern styles have changed a bit, and people start misusing words, doesn’t mean a long established definition is wrong. That just sounds like the arrogance of youth.

  • Vicki

    Hmm. Interesting point, but I have to disagree. Perhaps I am older than you are?

    Entitled has been, and still is, a correct way to refer to a book or publication. http://grammarist.com/usage/entitled-titled/

  • Merijn

    Not to provide an answer to the endless discussion whether American-English or British-English should be followed as a guideline, but the title of a person and the title of a book are the exact same thing (they have a different use/meaning/purpose – but a title is a title). And as said before, the prefix en- is just there to denote that it has become rather than always was. (You are enthroned because you weren’t always on that throne,

    Therefor I would argue that it is correct ‘to entitle’ something/someone, in which case he/she/it/whatever becomes ‘titled’. Anything can be given a title, therefor anything (from a photograph to a person and from a book to a car) can be titled, entitled, untitled and perhaps even overtitled (though OS X puts a dotted red line underneath that…).

    The second meaning of to be entitled (to something) originates from there but (by now) isn’t related to whether someone actually has a title; and so isn’t even remotely related to the discussion of whether a book is titled or entitled. Arguing that a book cannot be entitled because ‘it has no rights’ is just plain gibberish.

    Being entitled TO something and being (en)titled AS something is not the same. Period.

    P.S. Not a native speaker, nor a perfect human. Also didn’t look it up. Deal with it.

  • roland

    The usage is based upon the prefix “en” (expressing entry into the specified state or location) as in ENscripted. Which justifies its usage in saying the book is ENtitled.

    Language is fluid, but intellectual stubborness of this kind is plain ignorance. The use of the word “entitle” simply sounds more elegant in language, just as “How are you?” sounds more elegant than “Sup?”

    Aight?

  • Victoria

    Just read this interesting comment on the subject by Eugent Volokh at The Washington Post:

    Prof. Mark Liberman (Language Log) quotes a commenter who writes,

    In reference to: This ties in perfectly with the recent post entitled “Once more on the present continuative ending -ing in Chinese” in two ways:

    Entitled is incorrect. TITLED is correct.

    Unless the letters are “entitled” to an ice cream cone.

    I’ve seen this elsewhere, and think it’s just zany. Look up “entitled” in the Random House Dictionary, and you see definition 2, “to call by a particular title or name: What was the book entitled?” Look it up in the Oxford English Dictionary, as you see examples going literally all the way back to Chaucer. (I mean here “literally” in the sense of “literally,” not in the sense of “figuratively.”) Unsurprisingly, other dictionaries follow suit. And a quick Google Ngrams search reports that, while “a book entitled” and “a book called” have been about equally common for centuries, “a book titled” was virtually never used until the late 1930s, and remains less than half as common than “a book entitled” even today.

    Words have multiple meanings. That can be annoying. It can be distracting. Sometimes (though not that often) it can be confusing. But even if we wish that only one of those meanings survive, that doesn’t make all the others “wrong” under any sensible definition of “wrong” that I can think of.

    So if you want to say that you think “entitled” in this context comes across to you as unduly fancy, or as potentially distracting, or as just plain annoying, go right ahead (though you might be properly reluctant to condemn a fellow participant in a conversation on such grounds). But there’s no basis, it seems to me, for labeling it “incorrect,” unless you can explain who died and appointed you Usage King.

  • Mike Writer

    Andrew is the poster child for “YOU’RE WRONG!” Entitled, is most certainly a correct usage of the word. When referring to a title given to a book by an author it’s absolutely without a doubt, 100% correct.

  • Ed the Photographer

    My photographs have titles – but they are not entitled. Just my opinion and I’m sticking to it,

    But what REALLY concerns me is this – when I frame a print for hanging in a gallery or art show, will the print be hung or hanged? Neither really “sounds” correct – but I tend to use “hung” to mean any form of suspension of an object (or person) by a rope or wire. Yet another case where American (bastardized) English is the reason. (And I am American!)

  • TonyInNYC

    To pick up on what michael bouwmanon November 11, 2011 said, although we seem to have had “entitled” (for books) since Middle English, from Anglo-French “entitler,” from Late Latin “intitulare,” from Latin in- + titulus (“inscription” or “label”) and it seems like the en- prefix, which creates transitive verbs from noun bases (e.g., throne (noun) > enthrone (verb)), has been natural for us in the past, perhaps we’re seeing Americans’ sparer sense of the the language making its influence felt.

  • Andrew

    It’s very simple if you care to think about the evolution of the word. A title was ‘also’ something given to a person of note or prestige, such as a dignitary. They were ‘entitled’ meaning they were given that title. Because it was something of significance and respect, over the years a person has been referred to as ‘entitled to such a right.’ The language has evolved to include such a usage of the term and now people are starting to differentiate by using ‘titled’ in place of entitled. Neither is wrong because language evolves. (Personally, though, I would go with entitled – because my mum’s a teacher!!!).

  • Steve Woodward

    From The Associated Press Stylebook, the arbiter of American journalistic style:

    “Entitled: Use it to mean a right to do or have something. Do not use it to mean titled.
    Right: She was entitled to the promotion.
    Right: The book was titled “Gone With the Wind.”

    The AP Stylebook, however, is often at odds with more formal English usage guides.

  • Amy V

    Where did the author go to school?! He says there is only one definition of the word “entitled,” – “that a person has rights to something.” Seriously, have you actually looked the word up? Often the following definition is listed first under the word – “to give a name or title to,” as referenced in the online “The Free Dictionary.” I am fairly sure that when I was a child some 25 – 30 years ago, I mostly saw the word “entitled” properly used to describe a book, article, etc having a title. I rarely saw “titled” used in this way, and when I did, I knew it was WRONG because it was made clear to us in English grammar classes that you absolutely DO NOT use the word “titled” to describe the title of a work. (The main proper use of the word concerns a person with a title.) Truly, people might think it sounds odd now because for several years, it seems many publications have taken to using the incorrect word so that, just as I feared would result, everyone now thinks “titled” is the only – or at least preferred – way to refer to the title given to a book or the like. This is a major pet peeve of mine because, again, we were taught the clear distinction in the two words, and now most people have just thrown that out of the window.

  • I.MO

    Entitle is a verb that means to give title to a book, film, etc. Therefore, we could say, “His novel, entitled ‘Pride and Prejudice, has won an award.” In this example, the subject of the sentence is the one who gave the title to the novel. Thus, we use entitled.

    Titled is an adjective that is used after a verb that means ‘with the title of’. So, we could say, “Jessica wrote a report about Chelsea titled ‘Are you there Vodka?’ In this example, the subject only refers to a certain book which was given a title by an author.

  • Shelby

    When I was in college I was given a “B” instead of an “A” on a major paper, after using the word “entitled” instead of “titled”.

    This was many years ago but I was furious. but, at that time the professor insisted and had back up that I was wrong.

    However, Webster’s Dictionary states now that “entitled” is correct when speaking of the name if a book.

    I looked this up in 3 Dictionaries and all say “entitled” is correct.

    No matter what we think as people, it really is not an opinion – it is a fact – dictionaries say it is correct so it is.

  • Cutter

    What I think many people are missing is that, yes, both can be correct in the right context.

    A person can give a title to something, therefore, entitled exists in your dictionary as having that meaning:

    “Dr. Braun entitled his speech once he finished writing it.” This sentence is an acceptable use of the word “entitled.”

    However, often when we see the word written it’s in a sentence that makes the usage contextually incorrect:

    “The play, entitled “Down by the River,” was a fascinating interpretation of classical literature. In this sentence, the use of the word “entitled” is, without exception, completely wrong.

    The play itself is not entitled to anything. The author has titled or entitled (both correct here) the play. But if the subject of the sentence is not a person who has given a title to, or bestowed a title upon something or someone, then the usage is wrong.

    Does that make sense to everyone? I have a background in journalism as editor in chief of my college paper and this is precisely what modern journalism books teach at the collegiate level. It’s extremely important to be precise in journalism.

  • John

    When referring to a written work such as a book, both titled and entitled are unnecessary For example, “The book, ‘Harry Potter’ is an excellent read.” It is obvious one is naming the title of the written work, as it was entitled by the author.

    In a similar sentence “The author, JK Rowling wrote a great book.” we seldom, if ever see it written “The author (named) JK Rowling wrote a great book.”

  • Jeff Key

    “Literate” gives such a great response. Using the other examples like “enthroned” et. al. make it much easier to understand. Both “entitled” and “titled” are indeed correct according to the OED. I’m used to seeing “entitled” used to mean “titled” because I’m an English major and read a fair amount of literary criticisms that refer to the title of a poem, a book, an article, etc..
    The reason I started exploring the word tonight, however, has nothing to do with this use. I have heard it used ironically so frequently that I thought that usage must be one of the definition. I’m talking about in sentences such as:
    “The governor’s son was rich, snobbish and entitled.” or
    “Her beauty gave her an almost palpable sense of entitlement.”
    Any thoughts?

Leave a comment: