Italics – When to Use Them

You know how it is thought of as shouting if you use all caps in an email or in a blog comment. Think of italics in a similar way when you overuse them. While one or two shouts get your attention, if the shouting goes on and on and on, it becomes something you want to tune out. It is the same with italics.

But used properly, italics can be effective and serve a very useful purpose.

One of these uses in fiction writing, is to convey what a character is thinking. We use quotation marks to show conversation, but to show the reader what a character is thinking, we put his words in italics. It is not necessary to add a dialogue tag (no need to add “said Joe.”) The other important thing about using italics for thoughts is that the thought is in the present tense even if the rest of the text is in the past tense.

Here’s an example from my novel, Marlie.

“Might be starting to get dark soon. Mind if I walk you home?”

“Oh, I’m fine,” she said. “You don’t need to do that.” Now why did I say that? I’m so stupid.


Another use for italics is for words in a foreign language. Generally, if the word is not in the dictionary of the language you are using, it is considered a foreign word and should be italicized.

Try to work it into your writing in a way that the reader will know what the word means.

Here is an example from my novel, Orion’s Gift.

…as Antonio came out to clear the dishes away.

โ€œAlgo mรกs?โ€ he asked.

I asked Kevin if he wanted anything more.


Italics can also be used to show emphasis.


He thinks my dog knocked over his garbage can? My dog?


Titles of books, magazines, movies, TV shows, and newspapers should be italicized, but smaller essays, articles, or poems within them should not be italicized.


I read an article in The New York Post entitled “Another Mass Shooting.”


Above all, don’t overdo it by italicizing too much. Italics are not as easy on the eyes as Roman font is, and don’t forget about it being too much of a good thing when it is overused. It loses its punch.


14 thoughts on “Italics – When to Use Them

  1. This is excellent, Anneli. You should be writing freshman comp (college) textbooks! I started trying my hand at micro autofiction, and I am using italics for dialogue because the dialogue is so sparse. I find that I really hate quotation marks for dialogue, so I am really weird that way.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Writer’s Tips May Edition – Copyright Page, Italics, Web Content, Amazon, Canva –

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