Italics & Punctuation

by Heather

To italicize (punctuation) or not to italicize, that is the question.

The Rule (According to CMS 6.3): Punctuation should appear in the same font or typeface as the general body text of a document. So if you have a roman sentence that contains an italicized word followed by a comma, the comma should appear in roman.

Example 1: He’d lent his favourite film, City of Lost Children, to his mom, but she didn’t seem to like it.

Seems straightforward enough, but does this work all the time? Not quite…

The Exception to the Rule: The exception to this rule applies to punctuation that properly belongs to the italicized word. In this case the punctuation should be in italics, too.

Example 2: When I’m in Manhattan, should I go see Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Chicago‘s rule here is logical and gives readers helpful information (aha, the question mark is part of the title), which makes it a good default approach to dealing with italics and punctuation.

Alternate Rule: That said, there are publications and organizations whose house style will dictate that all punctuation after an italic word should also be italic. This is usually prescribed for aesthetic reasons about how the italic word looks with the punctuation that follows, and it’s an easy rule to follow.This rule can create some infelicities, though, like paired commas having different formatting. I can show you by applying the alternate rule to example 1 from above:

Example 3: He’d lent his favourite film, City of Lost Children, to his mom, but she didn’t seem to like it.

Aesthetically the comma fits nicely with the n at the end of Children; however, the paired commas that set off the name of the movie no longer match one another.

So What Rule Should You Follow?

As you may already have guessed, I prefer to follow Chicago’s rule in this matter because of its logic. Nevertheless, because consistency trumps almost everything else in editing, every day at work I apply the alternate rule, which is house style at the publisher I work for. You, too, can decide which style rules you you prefer to apply to your own work, but you’ll also have to be prepared to fall into line with house styles whenever you run into them.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather August 28, 2013 at 6:55 am

Hi Brian,

Good question. In the case you’ve described, when you’re following the alternate style described in this blog post, the period would be italic as described above. As for the quotation marks, the thing to remember is that both the opening and closing quotation marks should match. This means that if the entire contents of the quotation are italic, then both quotation marks will be italic, too. If the word(s) between the quotation marks are set in roman (regular) type, then the quotation marks will be, as well. If just a word or two in an otherwise roman quotation are italic (for emphasis or to denote the title of a work, for instance), then the quotation marks would still be roman. (The same principal applies if you have just a word or two of roman text in an italic quotation.) Hope this helps!

Brian August 27, 2013 at 11:39 pm


Thank you for this entry.

What about when two forms of punctuation follow an italicized word? Such as a period and then quotation marks but it’s not a title of something. Does one italicize just the period and not the quotation marks or both?

My memory fails me here and I can’t find the answer in my -Chicago Manual of Style-. Thanks much for your time and assistance.

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