I am writing an essay for school on the book The Wreck of the Whale-ship Essex for school. However, the Essex, as a ship, should also be italicized. Should I write it as "The Wreck of the Whale-ship Essex?"

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    No, write it, as in the first instance, all in italics. Don't sweat the small stuff. Sep 3, 2019 at 13:17
  • Note that we usually use the non-hyphenated form whaling ship, not whale-ship or whaling-ship. And if it weren't part of a title, it wouldn't be capitalised, obviously. Sep 3, 2019 at 13:22
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    @FumbleFingers - I think the reason William Grannis wrote it that way is that's the way it's written in the original publication of that book by Owen Chase. Subsequent editions have changed the title to "whaleship," sans hyphen, but if William Grannis is working from an earlier edition of the book, the title actually uses the hyphenated noun "whale-ship," not "whaleship" or "whaling ship." Sep 3, 2019 at 14:09
  • @BenjaminHarman: Yeah - obviously one wouldn't change the word as used in the book title. But that wouldn't really justify using the relatively uncommon compound noun form in OP's essay text. Anyway, here's an example of essentially the same typographic issue on the actual title page of The Sinking of the "Minerva" (also a whaler / whaling ship). Sep 3, 2019 at 14:50

2 Answers 2


This is a question of style, not grammar. You would write that in accordance with whatever style guide you are to follow, whether it be MLA, APA, Chicago Manual of Style or something else that your teacher or school has provided.

In general, I've seen three ways of handling it:

  1. merely italicizing "Essex" with everything else, thus it not being set apart from the rest of the title in any way†;
  2. super-italicizing it, if available (i.e., a more extreme form of italics with a steeper slant than the italics already being used);
  3. underlining "Essex," underlining generally being the standard of any style guide when italicization is unavailable, like it's how people used to style book titles when typing as typewriters usually didn't have an italics option, so by underlining the name of the ship, you are indicating additional italicization to the italicization already being used.

So, if you're not beholden to any particular style guide or the style guide you are beholden to is silent on this issue, you would be falling within common practices doing any of the above.

What you should not do is not use italics and merely return to standard text. Now, you might be able to get away with that if "Essex" weren't the last word in the title, but since it is, since no italics would appear immediately afterwards to sandwich it in to the title, what you would end up with is a last word that simply falls out of italics, thus appearing to not be part of the title or appearing to be a mistake. It's kind of like how it's normal to capitalize the first letter of the last word of a title no matter what it is, even if it's a preposition, prepositions not otherwise taking a capital first letter in a title, as making the last word look different has a tendency of making it appear to be not part of the title or making it look like a mistake.

† Probably the most common (e.g., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essex_(whaleship) - see ref. 3).

  • 1
    Titles of books (the context here is: a historical account) are 1) but within the title no one would ever use a different font. I have never seen that in any title, either on a book's cover or as a citation within its pages...
    – Lambie
    Sep 3, 2019 at 14:52
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    I have seen it. I've seen it in numerous bibliographies, bibliographies citing sources whose titles contain titles and/or other otherwise italicized items, like the name of a ship. Sep 3, 2019 at 17:46
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    You will not see it on a book cover. The Sinking of the Titanic or Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania In a school essay, I would not italicize it.
    – Lambie
    Sep 3, 2019 at 17:50
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    I have seen style guides that insist on one, and others that insist on the other. I have even seen computer typesetting programs that allow you to set a flag for which choice you want to follow. The cover of a book is often a very different style than the title page.
    – puppetsock
    Sep 3, 2019 at 18:00
  • @puppetsock is right. You can't use how a title appears on a book cover to determine how it is to appear within the body of a paper or other writing referring to it. Book covers almost never italicize their titles, for example, but we nonetheless as a rule italicize book titles when we refer to them in writing, or an author might write their title in all lowercase letters, but we nevertheless capitalize the first letter of each word when referencing that title. Sep 4, 2019 at 19:27

It is acceptable either way. Such issues are subject to local style rules. If your school has such rules then follow them. If they don't have such rules, then pick rules for yourself and follow them consistently.

  • 1
    No school worth its salt will tell a student to italicize the name of a ship in the title of an essay.
    – Lambie
    Sep 3, 2019 at 17:51

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