This article has multiple issues. Please help improve it or discuss these issues on the talk page. (Learn how and when to remove these template messages) This article's lead section contains information that is not included elsewhere in the article. If the information is appropriate for the lead of the article, this information should also be included in the body of the article. (August 2019) (Learn how and when to remove this template message) This article needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.Find sources: "Subtitle" titling – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (August 2019) (Learn how and when to remove this template message) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)

In books and other works, a subtitle is an explanatory or alternate title. As an example, Mary Shelley gave her most famous novel the title Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus; by using the subtitle "the Modern Prometheus", she references the Greek Titan as a hint of the novel's themes.[1]

In English, subtitles were traditionally denoted and separated from the title proper by the conjunction "or", perhaps hinting at their function as an alternate title. A more modern usage is to simply separate the subtitle by punctuation, making the subtitle more of a continuation or sub-element of the title proper.

In library cataloging and in bibliography, the subtitle does not include an alternate title, which is defined as part of the title proper: e.g., One Good Turn: A Natural History of the Screwdriver and the Screw is filed as "One Good Turn (title)" and "A Natural History of the Screwdriver and the Screw (subtitle)", while Twelfth Night, or What You Will is filed as "Twelfth Night, or What You Will (title)".


Subtitles for plays were fashionable in the Elizabethan era; William Shakespeare parodied this vogue by giving Twelfth Night his only subtitle, the deliberately uninformative What You Will, implying that the subtitle can be whatever the audience wants it to be.[2] In printing, subtitles often appear below the title in a less prominent typeface or following the title after a colon.

Some modern publishers choose to forget subtitles when republishing historical works, such as Shelley's famous story, which is often now sold simply as Frankenstein.


In political philosophy, for example, the 16th-century theorist Thomas Hobbes named his magnum opus Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common-Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil, using the subtitle to explain the subject matter of the book.

Film and other media

In film, examples of subtitles using "or" include Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb and Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).

Subtitles are also used to distinguish different installments in a series, instead of or in addition to a number, such as: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, the second in the Pirates of the Caribbean series; Mario Kart: Super Circuit, the third in the Mario Kart series; and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the second in the Star Trek series.


  1. ^ Cantor, Paul A. (1985). Creature and Creator. CUP Archive. p. 103–104. ISBN 9780521313629.
  2. ^ Richmond, Kent; William Shakespeare (2004). Twelfth Night, Or, What You Will. Full Measure Press. p. 11. ISBN 9780975274309.