Talk:Style/Language/English

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Rationale

I've tried to come up with a simplified rule set that does not generally require in-depth understanding of English grammar, but produces reasonably correct results in almost all cases. The 3/4 letter preposition size limit is used by (I think) most U.S. publishers.

The trickiest part is (2c). Cutting the preposition size down limits the number of exceptional cases. The 3/4 letter split is a rough guideline. I have omitted prepositions like "up" and "out" because they are so infrequently used as prepositions that it's much simpler (and not terribly wrong) to always capitalize them; on the other hand, such 4-letter words as "from", "into", "onto", and "with" are common and almost always used as prepositions, so there is a rather good case for including them. I personally prefer to lowercase these four, but feel it would be easier (and not terribly wrong) to always uppercase them.)

To help determine if a short preposition (2c) is being used as an adverb, check if it's modifying a noun or not. For example, "Dog in Eternity": "in" creates the phrase "in Eternity", "Eternity" is a noun, so "in" is a preposition- vs "Logged In Eternally": "in" is part of the phrase "Logged In", "Logged" is not a noun, so "in" is an adverb.

  • Actually in that example, "in" is part of the verb phrase "logged in", not an adverb. "Logged Eternally" would mean something entirely different. Otherwise you're right, though.
  • Actually in that example, "in" is part of the verb phrase "logged in", and an adverb.

"A phrasal verb is a combination of a verb and a preposition, a verb and an adverb, or a verb with both an adverb and a preposition."

I've also omitted "so" from the list: while it is sometimes used as a conjunction, it is overwhelmingly used as an adverb, so the same rationale applies as with "up" and "out".

I am hard pressed to explain "as" and "by" except by grammar rules: both are used as conjunctions (lc), prepositions (lc), and adverbs (ulc); although lc uses predominate, they are not overwhelming.

Not capitalizing "to" in infinitives, which is common but not universal practice, puts it overwhelmingly in the lc camp.

The bottom line here is that we have a list of 15 words (I may have missed a couple more, what are they?) that are not capitalized in most or all cases. We could probably illustrate that list in a second file, as well as build up a deeper list of exceptions and special cases. If we have more examples, we may be able to better formulate the rules.

Discussion

The comments in this section are opinions of single users or open questions and as this not official.

"(Don't Fear) The Reaper" example: I have to disagree with this one. (Don't Fear) is a parenthetical thought, not an optional substring. "(Don't Fear) the Reaper" seems more correct. -- BrianSchweitzer 21:32, 05 March 2009 (UTC)

What about when the first letter of a title is dropped via an apostrophe?

  • e.g. " 'Cross the Breeze" --http://musicbrainz.org/track/34bf79db-eeca-4f23-ad11-b6be2203c2f4.html. It looks somehow wrong capitalized, but that seems to fit with the current rules. --Gecks
    • Yeah, some comments from others on this would be nice.. I also often see "'Em". Unsure about this. --Shepard
      • The rule seems to be that by default, all words are capitalised unless they belong to a small group of exceptions. By this logic, shortened words that would normally be capitalised should be capitalised, even if they look wrong. But then that raises another potential problem: What if after shortening, a word falls into the exceptional category? eg. "Though" -> "tho'" --MichelleW
        • An attempt was made on the style ml to clarify the question (starting from a practical case, 'Round About Midnight). This never went to RFV, but it seem latest opinions were: "capitalize" the first letter. -- dmppanda 19:47, 02 February 2007 (UTC)

AKA, aka, A/K/A, a/k/a/, A.K.A., a.k.a.

As far as I can tell, in connection with development of the GuessCase script, folks have decided that a.k.a. is how the abbreviation for "also known as" should be written in MB. See this ticket: 2967. As of today, GuessCase still has a bug that (at least sometimes) writes A.K.A., not a.k.a. Because GuessCase is not reliable on this, and because some folks might not use GuessCase, the style guide should say:

  • The abbreviation for "also known as" should be written a.k.a.

(Note that if I were coming up with my own rule from scratch, I would not use periods. But it appears that a decision has already been made.) — Editor:bhagerty 2009-03-14

If MusicBrainz style is going with "a.k.a." as opposed to "AKA," then can we extend this rule to "a.m." and "p.m." as well? ("a.m."/"p.m." rather than "AM"/"PM") - Editor:StyleGeek 2010-01-18

What about the word 'yet'?

  • A coordinate conjunction not listed is "yet" and it's also left uppercase by the "guess case" function. Should it not be lowercase? --ChristopherPrice
    • It's more commonly used in song titles as an adverb (i.e. Uppercase) to indicate a period of time. e.g. "It's Not Over Yet", but it can be used as a conjunction meaning "however", "nevertheless" or "in spite of" - e.g. "So Near, yet so Far", for which I would use lower case. See http://www.wordwebonline.com/en/YET --ArtySmokes

How do we capitalize titles starting with dots?

  • Example: "...and Justice for All" by Metallica (and this is how I would do it, the "and" is not the beginning of the title). --Shepard
    • But by the rules above, "Anything after the ... is a new sentence", and "and" is the first word of a title. (I don't really have an opinion on this, though.) --MichelleW I always thought that a 3dot elipsis meant something was missing, and that to say that something was missing at the end of a sentence required a 4dot elipsis. So I'd say "...and Justice for All" or ".... And Justice for All" --Hickling
      • There is no such thing (in normal English, at least) as a four dot ellipsis. The thing you remember is (1) a full-stop at the end of the sentence, followed by (2) an ellipsis (three points). So you'll only see four consecutive points if something is missing after the previous sentence is finished. If there are four points at the end, there is no space between the first and the sentece (because there's no space before the full-stop, in general). Whether or not there are spaces between the others, that's a style issue. Also, whether or not there is a space between an ellipsis and the surrounding text, I see this as related; since we don't use spaces inside an ellipsis, I suggest we keep it connected to the preceeding text (or following, if there's nothing before, as in this example). Otherwise, we'd get to ugly things like: "A nine words-long sentence followed by an ellipsis. ..."
        • I would imagine that the style used by the artist would determine if it is capitalized or not. Inaddition, I believe the statement "Anything after ... is a new sentence" to be incorrect, one must look at the source. If the word that followed the ellipse in its original contect is the beginning of a sentence then it should be capitalized, but if it was in the middle of a sentence then it should not be capitalized. By the way "ellipsis" is a plural form of "ellipse", and is incorrectly used in the two comments above.--Rooster22
          • An ellipse is an oval. An ellipsis is a mark or series of marks indicating an omission, and ellipses is the plural of ellipsis. --Nikki
            • Yes, thanks for correcting me, it was correct the way that ellipsis was used above. Just checked and ellipses is the plural of ellipse and ellipsis.--Rooster22

'via'

Capitalise or not? My gut says no, but my gut says a lot of things... --Gecks

  • My dictionary says it's a preposition. It's only three letters long. Therefore, the guidelines appear to agree with your gut :) --MichelleW

"short", "middle length" and "long" conjunctions

Short - We list several short ones, but not all of them. The missing standard English ones are: but, cum, mid, off, per, qua, re, up, via - lower or uppercase? Notwithstanding MichelleW's comment above, the list in 1(c) seems to be a definitive list, not a partial list (at least as we currently word it). (Moved to the list now.)

Middle Length - we currently define only short or long, 3 +/-, however most of the English guidelines indicate 5, not 3, as the cutoff. This would then include:

  • (4 characters): amid, anti, atop, down, from, into, like, near, next, onto, over, past, plus, sans, save, than, till, unto, upon, with
  • (5 characters): about, above, after, along, among, anent, below, circa, minus, round, since, times, under, until

Long length - Not that I think these ought to be made lowercase, but in case it's useful to list somewhere on here, here's the rest of the single-word conjunctions in English that are 6+ characters, in case anyone thinks any of these should be still made lowercase:

  • (6) aboard, absent, across, amidst, around, aslant, before, behind, beside, beyond, during, except, inside, toward, unlike, versus, within
  • (7) against, amongst, astride, barring, beneath, besides, between, betwixt, despite, failing, outside, through, towards, without
  • (8) opposite
  • (9) alongside, following, regarding, vis-à-vis
  • (10) throughout, underneath
  • (15) notwithstanding

-- BrianSchweitzer 00:16, 28 August 2007 (UTC)

Prepositions / adverbs

The rules around "prepositions as adverbs" is still very confusing - and it doesn't help that the example used in the rationale is actually a phrasal verb. :) But seriously, I don't believe that a preposition can be used as an adverb. Now, one can be used to start an adverbial phrase, but it seems silly to make the adjective/adverb distinction here. For example: "He Left in a Car" vs. "He Left In a Hurry". Is this really what you want? --dkg

  • A preposition *can* be used as an adverb (and commonly is), but it usually "looks wrong" if capitalised in the middle of a title. Along these lines is the apparent contradiction in the way GUESS CASE treats "In" and "Out". Changing "In" to "in" makes sense to me, but GC but doesn't change "Out" to "out". Unless I've missed something (quite likely), "in" and "out" are equal and opposite, so their cases should be covered by the same rules. "Turn on, Tune in, Cop Out" (by Freak Power) - as suggested by the Guess Case button - is an example of the contradiction. --ArtySmokes
    • Here "Out" is the last word though and therefore never lowercased. -- Shepard 04:42, 21 June 2007 (UTC) Ah, yes. I said I was missing something. :) I'll see if I can find an example where "out" is capitalised (possibly incorrectly) in the middle of a title. Meanwhile I need to fix the Freak Power track, as I think it currently has "in" lowercased. -- ArtySmokes "Cop out" is actually a phrasal verb, so "out" should be capitalized even in the middle of the title! :) Can you give me an example of using a preposition as an adverb? --dkg
      • Separating Adverb from Prepositions has a good list of examples, with a short explanation. Also, I'm definitely no expert on phrasal verbs, but I think you may be incorrect - sortof. "Cop out" can be a phrasal verb ("...but when his turn came, he copped out."), but in more standard useage, "cop" is acting as a noun, not a verb ("a cop", not just "cop" or "copped"), thus making most standard usages of "cop out" not phrasal verbs, but rather, compound nouns. In any case, though, I think this type of thing is simply too complex and context-based to be dealt with easily by code additions to GC. I would, though, like to see the restraints on some of the currently lowercase items relaxed a bit - "out", "but", and a few other words that currently are forced to be lowercase by the guidelines - I agree do look very odd in most contexts. I'd personally be happier if a distinction (or exception?) was allowed depending upon if these words appear as part of a phrase ("If You Are But a Dream") or as 'phrase joiners' ("Sad but True"). Rereading the guidelines, I note we actually already have at least one such example, in the word "to". Just looking through ten thousand or so tracks in my collection in which the word appears (and where GC w/o modification was applied to each release), I notice that GC often assumes rule 2(d) above for the word "to", rather than using 2(c) when 2(d) doesn't apply, meaning that we actually have at least a few thousands of occurrences of the word "to" incorrectly capitalized in the database, where it is used in the propositional sense, and not the infinitive. -- BrianSchweitzer 06:33, 28 September 2007 (UTC) "Cop" is usually a noun, meaning policeman, and "cop out" can be a noun, e.g. "That was a cop out", but in the song title above it is clearly part of a phrasal verb, "to cop out". Having said that, I'd prefer prepositions used in phrasal verbs to remain in lower case, just like "to" is. I've never liked seeing "to" capitalised anywhere but as the first word of a title, whether it is part of the verb infinitive or not. I'd prefer if other short words used with verbs were also always put in lowercase and the exception in 2c was removed. -- ArtySmokes I don't agree. I feel it looks very wrong to have 2c words lower-cased. The link was very helpful, BrianSchweitzer, but I'm still having trouble thinking of any examples involving the *specific* words excepted in 2c. ArtySmokes, can you point me to an example where "to" is capitalized (while following the rules)? -- dkg "To" is rarely capitalized. My point is that the other prepositions should follow the same pattern. The part of 2c that reads "except when used as adverbs or as an inseparable part of a verb" seems to add confusion. I guess it's personal choice, but I don't think the usage of the word should dictate the case; just have them all in the same case (lower is my preference) whatever their role. --ArtySmokes

'And' in brackets

"It's the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)" is correct, but the Guess Case button currently changes the 'A' of "and" to a capital. If the brackets came before the main title, or "And" followed an ellipsis, the capital 'A' would seem fine, but I doubt there are many/any examples of a track where "And" appears as a separate sentence in brackets after the main title. Could the GC function be altered accordingly? -- ArtySmokes

  • As per the 1), a title split up in multiple parts by major punctuation (eg bracket), then it's a separate title and needs to have a capital letter for the each part. It's only when the brackets are splitting part of the same sentence that you keep a leading 'and' in lower case. Since you can have a sentence that starts with "And" I suppose it's impossible for a script to decide, though I guess it's at least more likely that a bracket with an 'and' after it, then it's the same sentence, so you're probably right! -- Gecks
    • The last time I suggested something like that, I was told that it was "guess case", not "fix case"... I think the number of such instances I've seen is a bit too varied to really be done correctly by a script without even futher having it do capitalization in parenthesis incorrectly: (Main Title) --> (main Title) being the one I see most frequently under the current guess case. (And, (But, (In Which Case, (So, (An, (Or - I can just think of far too many examples of this for us really to catch them all without also having guess case incorrectly de-capitalize words in the paren that really should be capitalized. -- BrianSchweitzer 22:28, 24 August 2007 (UTC)
      • Oh yes, Gecks, in case I'm reading your confusion correctly, Arty' correctly referring to Exception 2, which overrides 1). -- BrianSchweitzer 22:30, 24 August 2007 (UTC)
        • Hehe, no I'm afraid the confusions seems to be have been adopted by yourself :) Exception 1 states that phrases in brackets are treated as separate titles, so the first word in a bracket is always first-char-capitalized, UNLESS the phrase in brackets is a continuation of the main title phrase. Eg: "Hello (and Goodnight)". -- Gecks
        How does the Guess Case script currently decide what to do with stuff in brackets? It seems to me that it always puts any of the prepositions/conjunctions into upper case if they are the first word in brackets. Try, for example, "It's the End of the World (as We Know it)". I can understand the fix being applied to the first overall word in the title, but don't brackets normally come *after* the MainTitle? I suppose the Guess Case script would have to be too complex to spot if there are other characters that appear before the brackets. I guess I'll just have to be extra vigilant with titles containing brackets and prepositions. -- ArtySmokes

"What about parts of titles that are put in parentheses but continue the main title?" subsection

This subsection is not an exception, nor solely an explaination, as I see it. Rather, it sets up a separate capitalization guideline. However, it is separated from the other 4 rules, so easier to miss, and unnumbered, so more difficult to easily reference by rule number ("See capitalization rule 3 in CapsStdEng" vs "See the 'What about parts of titles that are put in parentheses but continue the main title?' subsection under 'Exceptions and Explainations' in CapsStdEng"). I'd suggest that rule (for it is one; as far as I can see, it isn't simply an evolution from the extant 4 rules) be numbered rule #5, and that subsection be relocated into place with the other 4 rules. -- BrianSchweitzer 06:43, 28 September 2007 (UTC)

Why the exceptions

I find the exceptions for some words rather strange. I have only seen 3 types being used: - Put all words completly in upper case - Put the first letter of every word in upper case, no exceptions for some words as used here - Use "normal" English grammar rules, which would mean that for most titles it would only be the first letter of the title would be an upper case letter. Exceptions would be things like names of persons.

The 3rd option seems to be used for most of the other languages, and I have to wonder why English is so different.

Can someone point me to some other place that also uses the current way? -- kroeckx

  • This is indeed not an invention of MusicBrainz. Varying capitalisation like that is used in all sorts of places, like book titles, section headings in articles, ... Just browse around a bit on Amazon.com and you'll see. :-) CDs as well do it all the time. There is however no standard for this. Since MusicBrainz wants to keep things consistent people had to come up with a standard definition. -- Shepard 23:22, 19 July 2008 (UTC)

Word "with"

What about word with?dayslypper

The word with is not capitalized in a title in proper English grammar. gzl5ry

OK, I added "with" to (2)(b) if it isn't correct then you can sort it better. This word is missed in rules.dayslypper

I reverted the change. MB never used to put "with" lower case so this needs to be discussed first before making a change to the guideline. I think the reason is the length of the word. Also note that there are no grammar rules for title capitalisation in English really. The database currently has 4885 track titles with "with" and 44614 with "With". GuessCase will capitalise it. -- Shepard 14:26, 08 December 2008 (UTC)
"With" is a preposition, also. Not a conjunction. I guess the reason it's excluded is because it's not a "short" preposition (3 letters or less) though personally I think I would probably expect it to be lowercase (although most {all?} of the other 4 letter propositions seem to look more natural in upper case for titles). So yeah, I personally would support it being lowercase but I guess it's personal preference :) Gecks
I'll add my vote to include "with" as a lowercase word - it's a short enough preposition in my book; although that may depend on usage. In any case, It's hardly a convincing argument that there are currently more cases capitalized than non-capitalized - after all, most people (wisely) probably just click on the Guess Case button and avoid thinking about it. -- Emn13 15:24, 7 August 2009 (UTC)
Let's see what CMOS says on the issue... From section 8.167 Headline style: Lowercase prepositions, regardless of length, except when they are stressed, are used adverbially, are used as conjunctions, or are part of a Latin expression used adjectivally or adverbially. I'll go ahead and add with back into the article until someone can produce a reference that supports the 3 letter rule or specifically excludes with. AntLegs 01:56, 4 August 2010 (UTC)
I've reverted the change. If you want to try and make changes to a guideline, we have a process for doing that (see Proposals). We arrived at the guidelines we currently have through lots of discussion and debate, so any changes people want to make should also be discussed. Please note as well that this is an international project, so we don't follow a single style manual. Nikki 18:24, 4 August 2010 (UTC)
  • APA specifies four letters or more. With most guidelines - including CMOS - threshold of five letters is somewhat flexible; the most important thing is that it's used consistently. We should stick with the current threshold. Changing it because "With" looks odd to some people means that we also have to open up a bunch of other four-letter words for consideration: down, from, like, near, over, past, than, etc. Then we'd have to review and correct all the existing data. Torc 20:04, 4 August 2010 (UTC)
Nikki, please point me to the discussion you've implied exists. Also, please tell me which style manual was used to arrive at the current guideline, specifically the 3 letter threshold. AntLegs 22:56, 4 August 2010 (UTC)

What about units of measurement?

(Posted by StyleGeek, 2010-01-18)

Which one is correct and why?

A: 200 km/h in the Wrong Lane B: 200 Km/H in the Wrong Lane C: 200 KM/H in the Wrong Lane

Different style guides agree that "km" is written in the lowercase form, yes, but is that still the case when it appears in a title? Or does it become "Km" (option B) instead?

I know most people will pick A, but I would just like to know the rationale given that these units of measurement are not articles, coordinating conjunctions, or prepositions that we usually lowercase.

  • It's because "km/h" isn't a word. Torc 20:36, 4 August 2010 (UTC)

Articles that refer to proper nouns in titles

Should an article ("a", "an", "the") be uppercase or lowercase when it's part of a title that refers to a proper noun. I see it appear both ways: Bedtime With the Beatles vs. With The Beatles. Our current guideline doesn't say to make "the" uppercase when it's referring to a proper noun as part of a title, and the academic guidelines tend to favor leaving it lowercase when it's used in running text (which I prefer, especially in cases where "the" is used inconsistently by the band itself). Is it worth including this as an explicit rule or adding an example to the guideline? Torc 20:36, 4 August 2010 (UTC)

Extra Title Info

Can we please get a link to Extra Title Information Style somewhere in this guide? That's a pretty major capitalization rule that isn't even mentioned here. Torc 06:00, 30 November 2010 (UTC)

  • Just RFC for it :) --Reosarevok 02:18, 4 November 2011 (UTC)

Number Abbreviations

"#" is the most common abbreviation for "number". There is no space between "#" and the number, i.e. "Song #2".