Italics and Underlining: When to Use Italics and Underlining in Writing (Examples)

By Carly Forsaith, updated on June 2, 2023

If you're confused about when you should use italics and underlining in your writing, look no further. This article will teach you everything you need to know about using both formatting styles.

In short:

  • Italics and underlining are both used for the same purposes, but underlying is mainly reserved for handwritten works, whereas italics are used when typing.

This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.

What Are Italics and Underlining?

Italics and underlining are two ways of formatting your text to make certain words, phrases, or sentences stand out.

  • They're like high-visibility jackets: you can't help but notice them.

They're actually interchangeable, but the thing is, we primarily use italics nowadays, and underlining has pretty much become redundant, with one exception: handwriting. Think about it; can you imagine trying to italicize your text by hand? That's some highly-skilled stuff! That's why, instead, when handwriting, you can underline your text if you want it to stand out.

Okay, so italics and underlining help parts of your text stand out. But for what purpose? Let's find out.

When to Use Italics

There are many instances when you might want to use italics to make your text stand out. Let's look at those one by one.


When citing titles of works in your text, you'll want to make it stand out; otherwise, how will your reader know it's a title and not just a continuation of your sentence?

That's where italics come in. Well, technically, there are two forms of formatting you can use for titles of works:

  • italics for longer works
  • quotation marks for shorter works

We actually did a whole article on this, so you can check it out if you want to know more, but here's the long and short of it.

  • Longer works are usually defined as pieces that contain smaller parts.
  • Shorter works are those smaller parts.

So, the title of a TV show is an example of a longer work that should be italicized, and the title of a podcast episode is an example of a shorter work that should be placed within quotation marks.

Let's look at an example of each one:

My favorite show of all times has to be How I Met Your Mother.

Have you seen the final episode, "Last Forever"?

Notice how I used a title case for both titles. Here are some more examples of titles of longer works that require italics:

My work has been published in the Journal of English Linguistics.

I'm reading The Shining at the moment, and it's terrifying!

I can't believe you've never watched The Pursuit of Happyness.

Names of Vehicles

Yep, this one is quite specific and seemingly a little random, but what can I say? That's how it sometimes goes with the English language!

Famous ships, aircraft, trains, space shuttles, cars, and so on all must have their name written not only in title case but also in italics.

The first spaceflight to land us on the moon was Apollo 11.

I would have loved to have traveled on the Orient Express.

The HMS Victory was long known as Lord Nelson's flagship.

Foreign Languages

Italicize the foreign words in your text to distinguish them from the English words. The exception to this rule is for words that have pretty much been absorbed into the English language, like 'kosher,' 'status quo,' and faux pas.' Admittedly, it's a pretty fine line between words that are considered to be part of the English language and those that are not, and it often comes down to personal choice.

While it's a little ambiguous, one thing's for sure:

  • Foreign words or phrases that aren't commonly used should definitely be italicized.

Here is an example:

She told me "A bientot" and I just smiled and pretended to understand what she meant.

NOTE: Quotation marks are also used here since it's a direct quote.

Here are some more examples:

The expression Carpe Diem never really meant that much to me.

Hasta la vista guys, enjoy your trip!

We hired a tuk tuk to drive us around Bangkok all day.

The same principle applies if you want to distinguish sounds from words.

For example:

Nothing worse than being woken up by the zzz sound of a mosquito hovering around your ear.

I love the ping sound the microwave makes when my food is ready.

Witnesses at the scene said they heard a loud boom.


Italics are also great for emphasizing words. Some of the reasons you might want to emphasize a word include:

  • to discuss words as words
  • to stress a word
  • to be dramatic
  • to clarify
  • to draw attention to a particular word

Yeah, Johnny, why do you always leave the office early?

What do you mean when you say you want me to be patient?

The show was incredible, and I don't use the word incredible lightly.

Note that in most of these situations, you could also use quotation marks, so it's up to you to pick one or the other. Both are acceptable.

Other Uses for Italics and Underlining

Feel free to make up your own rules, too! Like with all things linguistics, it's always encouraged to get creative. Don't get too bogged down by the rules!

  • Rules are excellent and provide a framework to do your best writing in, but the most important thing is always to stay consistent.

For instance, at Writing Tips Institute, we use italics to make examples stand out in our articles. Okay, granted, I haven't done that here due to the topic of this article because I needed the words in italics to stand out. But if you take a look at other articles, you'll see that the examples are written in italics, and that's just a stylistic choice we made. And we try to stay consistent with that.

When to Use Underlining

So we've established that underlining is a bit outdated and mostly reserved for handwriting. However, I wanted to include a section on underlining because there is still a case to be made for underlining. It helps your text stand out if you've already used other tools, like italics, hyphens and dashes, parentheses, quotation marks, etc.

For instance:

  • If I write an article about adjectives, I'll underline the adjectives in the examples
  • I apply the same principle to any concept article.
  • You might also underline the main title of your essay at the top of your page.
  • Either that or you could increase the font or capitalize it.

The choice is yours!

You could also underline your headlines or sub-headlines. Whatever you pick, just be sure to stay consistent: if you underline one subheadline, you should underline them all.

Moreover, some style guides do still advocate for using underlining in your typed works. If you're unsure, check your style guide. If you don't have one, good news, you can decide for yourself!

NOTE: Text processors automatically underline hyperlinks (and often also change the text color).

Concluding Thoughts on Italics and Underlining

That concludes this article on using italics and underlining in your writing. I hope you found it helpful.

Let's summarize what we've learned:

  • Italicizing has mostly replaced underlining when making your text stand out.
  • Use italics for titles of longer works, names of vehicles, foreign words, and to place emphasis.
  • Underlining serves the same purpose but in your handwritten texts instead.

If you enjoyed this article, you'd probably love our Grammar Book, a free online database of grammar articles just like this one.

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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