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  • Raghav Sand

English Essentials: Italics and Boldface

Last week, in the third installment of English Essentials, we got an overview about the full stop, question mark and exclamation mark. This week its the turn of Italics and boldface. The significance of punctuation is shared below for a quick recap.

Significance of Punctuation

Punctuation is an aspect of written English. We cannot use or not use a comma or semicolon because we like it or do not feel like using it. Perhaps people use commas merely because they might pause there in speech. Improper punctuation makes it difficult for the reader and ultimately the essence of message may get lost. In spoken English, we can use all sorts of tricks to make our meaning clear. Even if everything fails, we have the option of repeating what we have said. Through these series of articles, readers will be given a brief outline of common punctuation, and hopefully we can together get better at using them in our everyday written communication.


Italics and boldface are used for emphasis or contrast. It draws attention to a particular word or group of words. Using italics should be a last resort and it should be applied when all other methods of stressing the word are exhausted. Another use of italics is to cite title of complete works: books, films, journals, and so on:

  1. Adam Smith’s book The Wealth of Nations is a classic.

  2. Avengers: Endgame is the highest grossing movie of all-time.

Foreign words and phrases which are not regarded as completely assimilated into English are written in italics:

  1. Déjà vu is the feeling that one has lived through the present situation before. The phrase Déjà vu has French origin and hence it is preferably used in italics. In case of doubt about using italics for a particular word, try to figure out how it is presented in common publications or dictionaries.

Lastly, italics are used in certain fields of study for specific purposes. In biology, genus and species names of living beings are italicized:

  1. The tiger (Panthera tigris) is the largest extant cat species and a member of the genus Panthera.

Names of legal cases are italicized.

  1. Mehta v. Union of India originated in the aftermath of oleum gas leak from Shriram Food and Fertilisers Ltd. complex at Delhi.


Boldface letters shall be used judiciously to make an intended impact in a sentence or paragraph. Some of the common uses of boldface are:

  1. It is used for captions to illustrations, table and graphs;

  2. Chapter titles and section headings are written in boldface;

  3. As an alternative to italics, boldface is used to provide very strong emphasis; and

  4. Introduction of important new terms.

Thoughtful use of boldface can make the text more attractive and keep the reader engaged. Overuse of boldface will erase the effectiveness.

For example: A colon is never followed by a hyphen or a dash.

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