In the sentence, below, I am using the French word sans to mean without. Should sans be italicized? Or, should all of "sans human civilization" be italicized?

Planet Earth sans human civilization is imagined, at least by Teasdale, to beautiful, harmonious, and ultimately superior to the human-centred world we live in now.


Planet Earth sans human civilization is imagined, at least by Teasdale, to beautiful, harmonious, and ultimately superior to the human-centred world we live in now.

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    Seems like you should only use italic for Italian.
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 19, 2015 at 18:36
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    @HotLicks Who on earth says that?
    – WS2
    Jan 19, 2015 at 18:41
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    Using a well-understood foreign term to call up an accepted idea (e.g. as lawyers employ Latin), can be a succinct and expressive way of getting one's meaning across. Talking about the late 19th century a historian might, for example, refer to the nationalist zeitgeist of the age. It is the well-understood term that historians have assigned to the spirit of the age. But zeitgeist adds something else if one is discussing that period, since Germany represents the quintessence of 19th-century nationalism. But using just an odd preposition,sans, smacks of simply trying to be pretentious.
    – WS2
    Jan 19, 2015 at 18:52
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    @WS2 I believe it was a pun on the shared etymology of italic and Italian. French ought presumably to be written in Frankic. ;-) Jan 19, 2015 at 20:20
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    @JanusBahsJacquet - I was thinking that "frantic" would be more suitable. Or maybe "frenetic".
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 19, 2015 at 20:55

4 Answers 4


As a matter of style, many U.S. publishers follow the general rules given by the Chicago Manual of Style, fifteenth edition (2003) at 7.51, 7.53, and 7.54 under the heading "FOREIGN WORDS":

7.51 Italics. Italics are used for isolated words and phrases in a foreign language if they are likely to be unfamiliar to readers. [Examples omitted.]


7.53 Proper nouns. Foreign proper nouns are not italicized in an English context. [Examples omitted.]

7.54 Familiar foreign words. Foreign words and phrases familiar to most readers and listed in Webster are not italicized if used in an English context; they should be spelled as in Webster. ...

Guideline 7.54 is the relevant one for your question about sans—and any other arguably foreign word you might be thinking of using. If the word is in the English dictionary that you normally use (and it doesn't have to be a Merriam-Webster product, Chicago's wording notwithstanding), you may treat it as an adopted English word and thus as not requiring italics to indicate its foreignness. This certainly is the case with sans, which has been in use in English since the fourteenth century (according to MW) and appears in such memorable quotations as Jaques's speech about the seven ages of man, in Shakespeare's As You Like It:

Last scene of all,/That ends this strange eventful history,/Is second childishness and mere oblivion,/Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

So if you're inclined to follow Chicago's lead on this question, have a dictionary handy when you prepare to use what may or may not be viewed as a non-English word.

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    If it were possible, I would upvote this answer +10 because it absolutely correct. As @WS2 noted, lawyers regularly use words that originated in foreign languages. As a former lawyer who did a significant amount of legal writing and especially editing, the CMS guidance is fantastic. Italics are a signal to the reader that the word deserves special attention. If the foreign word is likely unfamiliar, then the signal is useful. If the loan word has been fully assimilated then the signal is a distraction or potentially confusing. No italics for sans. Great answer, Sven. Jan 19, 2015 at 21:09
  • Well done for digging out the Shakespeare. But I have to say I have never, in my lifetime, heard sans used in Britain as though it were an English word. Some uninspiring people name their houses or boats Sans souci, but that is entirely French.
    – WS2
    Jan 19, 2015 at 21:49
  • Further to that I have looked in the OED and you may be interested in what it says in the matter of sans. Without. Now arch. (chiefly with reminiscence of Shakespeare), joc., and Heraldry. Before the time of Shakespeare used almost exclusively with ns. adopted from Old French, in collocations already formed in that language, as sans delay, sans doubt, sans fable, sans pity, sans return. Even in some of our earliest examples, however, a native English synonym has been substituted for the Romanic n. in the phrase, as in sans biding = sans delay. α.
    – WS2
    Jan 19, 2015 at 21:52
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    @WS2: In publishing (especially design), one standard use of sans is in the term "sans serif type." Sans comes up in the context of things like crossword-puzzle clues, too. I think it's fairly common in various situations in U.S. English.
    – Sven Yargs
    Jan 19, 2015 at 21:53
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    @Chris H: In the case of the typographical term "sans serif," which I mentioned in a comment above, the normal U.S. pronunciation of sans is "san" as in "San Francisco" or "San Simeon"; but in font names such as "Comic Sans," the pronunciation is (as WS2 notes) "sanz."
    – Sven Yargs
    Jan 20, 2015 at 17:08

"Sans" is a common enough word in English that I would not bother with italics. But I also think in your sentence that the word "without" scans better, and I'd use that instead of "sans" for esthetics reasons.


Given that "sans" apparently entered early enough and/or become so much part of the language that it is primarily pronounced /sænz/ and not /sɒ̃/, then it is not required that you italicise. On the other hand, if you do prefer the latter pronunciation (as I do) i.e. you are borrowing from modern French, where you're using phonemes that aren't really used except in loanwords, you probably should italicise.

"human civilization" is plainly English so should not be italicised.


I'd prefer it if you did, please, for two reasons:

  • I know the word sans in French but not in English ... italicizing it in a sentence warns me that there's something unusual about the word. Normally when I read a sentence I scan the whole sentence, but italicizing a word is a cue for me to scan/read that word individually.
  • It's normal to use 'punctuation' or formatting for words which have a different emphasis in a sentence: and because sans is French it has a different pronunciation, and that different pronunciation (pronunciation being like emphasis) is sufficient reason for italicising it.
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    As others have said, sans is sufficiently anglicised to be pronounced 'the plural of san' from Shakespeare onwards: it would be a solecism to pronounce it the French way. Jan 20, 2015 at 10:48
  • Other have said that, but I don't remember having read sans in English (though when I look, now, I see it's in the dictionary). In this comment, @WS2 suggests it's a 'foreign term' or 'odd preposition'. I'd pronounce it as English (and not italicize it) in 'sans-serif' but I wouldn't even say 'she came sans husband'.
    – ChrisW
    Jan 20, 2015 at 10:59
  • Here in southern England I would have thought you'd be more likely to hear it pronounced with a vowel sound rather like the French, but (more) audible consonants at the end than in actual French. I don't think I've ever heard sans-serif pronounced with /sænz/. Comic sans is better example in some ways because it doesn't pick up the /s/ from the next word. I'd expect to hear something like /sɒnz/.
    – Chris H
    Jan 20, 2015 at 15:59
  • The pronunciation is totally irrelevant. Chris' answer is the correct one. (It's worth noting that regarding "pretentious foreign words" which even the most uneducated use to appear posh ("sic" is a good example)... a funny one is "Re" (as in "in re", at the start of legal letters etc); it's funny that this is widely used "pretentiously" to "sound important" but most people thinks it's pronounced "ree", which is completely wrong of course.
    – Fattie
    Jan 21, 2015 at 3:36
  • Pace @Fattie, the pronunciation is relevant. It's pronounced [sænz], and that shows how assimilated it is into English. As Tim Lymington said. Sans as the OP used it is an English word (albeit derived from a French one) with an Anglicised pronunciation, so it should not be italicised. Re "re" as a preposition meaning "about, concerning": this too is an English word with an Anglicised pronunciation [ri:]. If anyone considers this pronunciation wrong, I wonder what they think are the correct pronunciations of other English borrowings from Latin, e.g. "vice versa" and "pace".
    – Rosie F
    Jan 3, 2020 at 11:57

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