Entitled or Titled?

On Monday I led seminars for the communications group of a huge company. When I asked this sophisticated audience to find errors in sentences, they identified an error I did not intend. Here is the sentence:

She was quoting from a white paper entitled "Avoiding Antitrust Violations".

In the United States, the error is the period outside the closing quotation marks. It belongs inside in the U.S. However, these workshop participants pointed out entitled. In their journalism classes they had learned that titled is correct. Are they right?

Yes. Titled is correct to refer to the title of a work. But some style manuals assert that entitled is also correct.

In Common Errors in English Usage Paul Brians points out that the English author Chaucer used entitled as I did above. Brians says it may be pretentious but not wrong.

The Gregg Reference Manual says it is now "generally acceptable" to use entitled as I did. 

The Associated Press Stylebook (AP) says I’m wrong: Only titled is correct for the title of a work.

The Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications agrees with AP in saying my usage is wrong.

Garner’s Modern American Usage says my usage is fine when used as a past participle, that is "The book is entitled . . . " But Garner frowns on this usage: "What are you going to entitle your article?" He prefers title in such a sentence.

The Chicago Manual of Style does not appear to address the question–at least I couldn’t find entitle/title in its index.

As for me, I am going to change my ways. If a knowledgeable group of corporate communicators all view entitle as wrong, I am going to move to their side. Starting today, I will use entitle only when I mean "have the right," as in "You are entitled to a 10 percent discount" or "You are entitled to one parking space."

I have used the word entitled in many written pieces. To eliminate it, I will search my computer for documents that include the word, then use the Find and Replace function for each document. Once I have revised my documents, I just hope I can get my brain to make the change as easily.

Lynn

28 COMMENTS

  1. My OED contains, as one of the definition of entitle, the meaning of giving something a particular name.

    I don’t think this is an error, myself. But, then, who am I?

    Robin

  2. Hi, Robin. I agree with you that the use of “entitle” as we discussed is not an error. But I have decided to use the word “titled” since all reference books apparently view it as correct.

    Thanks for sharing your library!

    Lynn

  3. I actually agree with the business folks.

    I often explain to my students that we might be entitled to something but inanimate objects are not.

    Thus, I title a book; it’s not entitled to anything.

  4. Thanks for your advice on this, Lynn! I was editing a document written by someone else, and was about to change his word “titled” to “entitled”, but your observation regarding common usage has dissuaded me.

    However, I would like to offer a brief defense of “entitled” in the sense of “given the title of”, even though I recognize that it is a lost cause.

    The prefix “en-” is commonly used in many other words (e.g. “enthrone”, “enshrine”, “entrap”) meaning “to make”, “to cause to be”, to put into”, etc. It seems to me that “entitle” is in good company.

    I also think there is an important distinction between its usage as conferring rights versus giving a title. In the former sense it seems to me that the verb is used intransitively, whereas the latter is transitive. (I can’t find a single dictionary that agrees with me about this, but I’m sticking to my guns!)

    For example: in the sentence “The book is entitled ‘War and Peace’,” the object of the verb is “‘War and Peace'”. In contrast, the sentence “The book is entitled to be considered a classic,” I don’t see any clear object.

    On the other hand, English loves to use nouns as verbs. We don’t “encolour” something, we just colour it. So I guess I can get used to titling a book rather than entitling it.

  5. Hi, Ron. Thanks for your detailed, gutsy views on the subject.

    I am having a tough time dropping “entitled” in the published sense from my vocabulary. I guess I spent too many years writing “The book is entitled.” However, I keep reminding myself, and I am sure I will break the habit soon.

    Thanks again for your thoughts.

    Lynn

  6. Oxford English Dictionary (OED) says your prior usage was just fine. If it is good enough for OED, it’s good enough for me.

    Ditto for Webster’s.

    It might be well to defer to OED and Webster’s over a bunch of style manuals, and “corporate communicators” or other business folk. When did such people become authorities on the English language?

    The AP manual? Puh-leeeze. Is it not true that such a manual would likely be geared toward saving ink, where paper and ink are more relevant, like in the business of producing and transporting newspapers? Maybe lopping the EN off the front of a word like “entitled” and cutting off syllables elsewhere would make sense in that world, if only to save paper and ink over time.

    It really seems like a toh-may-toh toh-mah-toh sort of distinction.

    Here are a couple of cites to sites:
    OED — http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50076257/50076257se2?single=1&query_type=word&queryword=entitled&first=1&max_to_show=10&hilite=50076257se2

    Webster—
    http://www.webster-dictionary.org/definition/Entitled

    It is a tad appalling that you would so easily cave, my dear.

  7. Hi, Terry. Thank you for taking the time to write.

    We all need to use the references that suit our occupations and employers. Most corporate communicators use “AP” (not the “OED”), and I am happy to side with “AP” whenever I can. I don’t consider it caving.

    Lynn

  8. I’d be more likely to base grammatical/usage decisions on a revered style manual (AP, New York Times, etc.) than on a dictionary, because dictionaries are mirrors of common usage. If enough people referred to a leg as a “fartlik”, for instance, rest assured that there would soon be an entry for “fartlik” in dictionaries. This would be absurd, of course. But dictionaries don’t care — they are mirrors and, as such, display both correct and incorrect usage. Since it seems plenty of people still use “entitled” in the construction listed in the introductory post, dictionaries (generally) follow suit.

    That is why, in my opinion, grammar texts and usage manuals are superior — they give their opinions on what is correct. They name the best (or better) option. They do not espouse incorrect usage, even if said incorrect usage is rampant in the English-speaking world.

    And in this case, “titled” is the better option. “Entitled” is used correctly like this: “Tom felt that he was entitled to the last piece of pizza.”

  9. Thank you! Now let’s begin obliterating the bad habit of combining singular subject and plural pronoun (like “everyone and their”); placing apostrophes in non-possessive nouns, except when the apostrophe is used to signify an abbreviation; and the use of “irregardless”, which is a logical absurdity… etc.

    … so many usage rules, so little time to enforce them. hehe

    🙂

  10. Irregardless of your comments, everyone and their dog’s know that we are entitled to our own opinions. Thanks for all the insight everyone; titled sounded better to me and after reading through this I will be sticking with titled. Entitled, when used to reference the title of something seems a little pretentious.

  11. In academic works, it is fine to use the term “entitled.” I agree with Lynn that one ought to gear one’s usage to the conventions of their specific target demographic. If your target audience is academics and intellectuals, entitled will do as well or better than titled. Do I really need to cite all the examples?

  12. Hi, Jillian. Thanks for writing.

    No, you don’t need to cite all the examples. But examples do convince people that one’s views are supported by respected publications. I myself was surprised that certain style guides condemned my use of “entitled.”

    Lynn

  13. It’s very simple: “entitled” is UK English; “titled” is American English. I’m Irish, but I have been using “entitled” for the past 50 years or so, and was quite shocked the first time I encountered “titled”.

  14. I believe that when someone is naming their work, entitled is fine. “Mary entitled her paper “The Fall of Rome.” However, when someone is referring to a work that already has a title, then ‘titled’ should be used. “Mary was quoting from a paper titled “The Fall of Rome.”

  15. Hi, Brian. I try to use respected style guides when I discuss issues in grammar and usage. Do you have a style manual that agrees with your preferences?

    Thank you for taking the time to comment.

    Lynn

  16. Entitle is to give title to.
    So, technically both are correct.

    Why? Well it’s true that “XXXX” was the title that was given to it by someone.
    In general, “XXXX” is also the title.

    So if a book is entitled “XXXX” it is also titled “XXXX”. Title = the name. Entitled = the name that it was given.

    So, technically both are correct. I think anyone who says it’s incorrect is incorrect. It may be semantics, but it has to be correct based on the definitions.

    Even though some mean to say that the name is “The Three Bears”. To say it is entitled “The Three Bears” means that the title that the author gave it is The Three Bears.

  17. Am I the only one here that doesn’t see the “original” mistake of the lesson NOT as a mistake? If she had quoted a sentence, then the period should fall within the quotations. But she was quoting a title. Therefore, the period should end her sentence, which would be outside the quotations. Anyone???????

  18. Thanks for the link, Rob. I was glad to see the view of the University of Chicago Press that “entitled” is fine. “The Chicago Manual of Style” does not comment on the usage.

    I am still going to avoid “entitled” in the context I discussed above. Too many people think it’s wrong, even if it is a “zombie rule,” as your source suggests.

    However, I will not change someone else’s work–following the important point your source was making.

    Lynn

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