This might be a tad off-topic, but I am looking for an English-specific answer.

When I’m using italic text to denote emphasis or a quotation, should the italicisation extend to the punctuation surrounding the italicised words? If the punctuation marks are not italicised, in most digital fonts the italic letters will crash horribly—or at least intrude awkwardly—into the Roman punctuation. It’s especially problematic with parentheses, and lowercase Fs. Since I don’t have the luxury of typesetting all of my documents in lead, I’ve taken to either italicising the punctuation, or inserting a thin space (for lowercase F) or a hair space (for other letters) before the closing punctuation.


  • What is that? ⇒ What is that? ⇒ What is that ?
  • Solid (or fluff). ⇒ Solid (or fluff). ⇒ Solid (or fluff ).
  • (Good times!) ⇒ (Good times!) ⇒ (Good times !)

I know this is a nitpicky thing (in fact, even I think so, and I’m the one asking), but is there a standard way to address it? Just because this is the internet, it doesn’t mean we need to totally disregard the typesetting facilities that are available.

  • 3
    I can't add a decent answer but I feel your pain; most word-processing programs seem to have been written by geeks who knew not the first thing about typesetting (exception for TeX) Jan 25, 2011 at 8:37
  • 1
    @smirkingman: Yeah...I constantly have to resist pulling a Knuth and letting my annoyance become typesetting software.
    – Jon Purdy
    Jan 25, 2011 at 21:59
  • Is the punctuation and brackets crashing in print or only on-screen? If you're using Windows, it's only recently (Win7) received some real attention to text display. In OS X roman or italic punctuation and brackets work just as well. If you're doing typographical corrections anyway, as any good publication must, it's just another thing to visit. Remember though that unless you're using a typesetting capable program, things look different on screen compared to printed form. MS Word will display the same text differently to Outlook and to notepad etc. They merely use a different render engine.
    – Chris
    Nov 7, 2012 at 23:38
  • If you're writing for a professional publication, you should assume they will typeset it to the best of their abilities with aesthetically pleasing spacing. If you want to know the nitty-gritty of how to make them typeset it properly, then academia SE or writing SE is probably the place to go (the former for academic publishers, the latter for others).
    – Stuart F
    Jun 29, 2023 at 22:31

5 Answers 5


The Chicago Manual of Style (14th Ed.) has this to say about it:

5.4: The typographic treatment of punctuation adjacent to a variant font (italic or boldface within roman text, for instance) should be governed by both appearance and meaning. Generally, punctuation marks are printed in the same style of font of type as the word, letter, character, or symbol immediately preceding them.

5.5: A question mark or exclamation point that immediately follows an italicized title and that is not part of the title should be set in roman to avoid misreading.

5.6: Parentheses and brackets enclosing italic material may be set in italic to avoid such common typefitting problems as overlapping ascenders or descenders or visually uneven spacing within enclosures. When the enclosed material begins and ends in italic but contains roman text in between, italic enclosures may be used. If only one end of the enclosed material is italic, however, the parentheses or brackets should be roman.

Looking at your examples, therefore, I think option 2, then option 1 or 3, then option 2 are the best choices.

  • 3
    Ah, this is a reference I can appreciate. Jonathan Leffler is right when he says that house style probably takes precedence over my own typesetting preferences when it comes to publication, but at least I can quote a reference to back up my usage when I have a say in the matter.
    – Jon Purdy
    Jan 25, 2011 at 7:35
  • 1
    Bringhurst says not to do this. He says to write [sic] not [sic]. He also provides a rare case where you would go the other way, but you probably won't be able to look at yourself in the mirror in the morning. :)
    – tchrist
    Jul 18, 2012 at 16:31
  • @tchrist It seems everyone is going to non-italicised [sic]. Seems right without italics in prose.
    – Chris
    Nov 7, 2012 at 23:19

I realise this is an old post, but I was searching for guidance on this issue myself, and, unfortunately, things have changed.

The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition, now says (§6.2) that punctuation surrounding a word or phrase should be in the font of the surrounding text, unless the punctuation is part of the text in question (e.g., the movie title Help!). Section 6.4 further says about italicising adjacent punctuation:

According to a more traditional system, periods, commas, colons, and semicolons should appear in the same font as the word, letter, character, or symbol immediately preceding them if different from that of the main or surrounding text. [...] This system, once preferred by Chicago and still preferred by some as more aesthetically pleasing, should be reserved—if it must be used—for publications destined for print only.

Sigh. This style looks like crap to me, but I suppose there's no fighting it.

  • Hi Nomad, welcome to EL&U. Thanks for the great answer! It's always good to go back and update out-of-date answers.
    – Adam
    Sep 18, 2015 at 22:02

In some traditional typesetting contexts, you would never italicise parentheses even within italic text (and I'd recommend doing this yourself if you have the luxury). I must highly recommend not to only italicise one of the parentheses! (As in your example ‘(or fluff)’.)

Otherwise I agree with the other comments on ‘it depends’, according to aesthetics and ambiguity of the text. Just make sure you're consistent.

Finally, your use of the thinspace is to be highly commended. Keep it up.

  • 1
    Upvoted in solidarity with your final sentence: there is a reason that there are about a dozen different "space" characters available.
    – Dave Land
    Feb 17, 2016 at 23:26

Logically, it depends on whether the punctuation belongs to the italicized text or to the rest of the sentence.

  • He asked, "Why?".
  • He asked, "Why! Because it is not obvious to me why."

(And yes, we can debate the presence of the full stop in the first example - where 'full stop' gets translated to 'period' in American English.)

If you are going for publication, then 'House Rules' probably take precedence over 'logic'.

  • The exclamation mark attaches to Why, and there needs to be a question mark. Jun 28, 2023 at 11:07

The Chicago Manual of Style seems to disagree with Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style, but I tend to agree with Bringhurst. He recommended using upright parentheses all the time, and noted that this rule ‘has been broken more often than followed . . . but it was followed more often than broken by the best of the early typographers who set texts in italic’.

I guess we should follow the masters wherever possible, even if it means more trouble. (Here comes the advantage of LaTeX: it has semi-automatic italic correction!)

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