If you want to emphasize a word in a roman text, but don't want the effect last long in the readers, you make it italic.

In an already italic paragraph, how do you make the same emphatic effect to italic?

Some considerations:

  • Bold italic: too heavy due to its boldness
  • Roman: I find a roman text inside an italic sentence is harder to notice and doesn't convey the same psychological effect as an italic text inside a roman sentence.

I think this is related to psychology in typography, so any help with the topic is much appreciated.

Here are when each type of emphasis fits, in my experience:

  • Bold: introducing definitions or making comparisons, where the emphasis effects shouldn't be fleeting.
  • Italic: nuances emphasis, where the word in emphasis naturally embeds in the reading flow.
  • Underline: sentence breakdown, where in one case nearby words form one group, while in another case nearby words form different groups
  • Quote: wording choice, which can be a a new term just being coined, or a sarcasm
  • That vastly depend on your language rules. For example in Polish you should use quotation marks but the "second" ones. The ones you use in nested quotes. So in Polish it's German marks She saids >>I love you<< with soft voice Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 11:03
  • to any and all readers and answerers on this question, please take note that a bug affects the display of italic and bold on some machines. Se this meta discussion for more info.
    – Vincent
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 11:08

6 Answers 6


Don't underline in print. Underlining is a manuscript convention to tell the future typesetter "italicize this." On the web it means a link.

To your main point: when you have a chunk of copy which is italicized, and you need to emphasize one word, the general technique in fiction is to make it roman (non-italic), because that's the "opposite" of italic.

In non-fiction, I might make it bold italic, because your italics have a meaning on top of formatting emphasis.

[I'm trying to create examples and our board CSS is resisting my formatting for some reason.]

  • 1
    Hey Lauren, please have a look at this to understand what hampers you.
    – Vincent
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 11:08
  • 1
    I find a roman text inside an italic sentence is harder to notice and doesn't convey the same psychological effect as an italic text inside a roman sentence. Do you know any resource that discuss about the psychological effect of typography?
    – Ooker
    Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 9:52
  • @Ooker I don't, unfortunately. And I agree that "roman in italics" doesn't have the same visual punch, even though it's the convention. I like bold italics myself. Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 10:44
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    Or merely bold/semibold roman... no italics. I detest underlines for anything other than book/periodical titles, so I tend to use various faces which present enough visual difference.
    – Scott
    Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 10:49
  • @Scott Just out of curiosity, where would you use underlines for book or periodical titles? Apart from old typewritten academic sources, I don’t recall seeing that… Commented Jul 16, 2018 at 19:40

Small caps would be an obvious choice, since it is also a “quiet” emphasis like italic. Needs a font that has small caps in the italic style of course.

And just to add to the listed options: increased tracking is also an option in theory. In German blackletter typesetting that was the standard method for emphasis.

  • What is tracking?
    – Ooker
    Commented Apr 7, 2018 at 11:49

One of the benefits of having a large typeface family is the variety of styles and weights available for a chosen job.

The way to emphasize text set in an italic context would be to set it in either a bolder or lighter face. As you have indicated bold italics too emphatic for your taste, light italics would be compatible and appropriate.


It is a rare case that this would be necessary so I don't believe there is a hard and fast rule. I would use a 'single quote' around the word or words to highlight or feature it within a sentence that is all italics.


My current choice is to use a different font on the word. I can't explain this, but I find roman in italic or bold italic don't convey they same psychological effect as how italic in roman does. How to know which typeface should be used, given a contextual typeface?

An alternative choice is suggested in Emphasis (typography) - Wikipedia:

In Internet usage, asterisks are sometimes used for emphasis (as in "That was *really* bad").

I think it's not conventional (since it's an "internet usage"), so it might depend on how the readers familiar with this.

  • I downvoted your answer because I heartily disagree. Another typeface (because that A what I think you mean) within a single sentence flies into the face of everything I've learned about typography. The asterisks stem from the fact that they are a code for bold, so that is not a stylish solution either.
    – Vincent
    Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 5:34
  • Thanks for your feedback. If you have time, can you tell me what's wrong with using another typeface? The number of asterisks for italic is not standardized, I think?
    – Ooker
    Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 5:42
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    It's not that it's exactly wrong, I worded too strong. It's that it is really easy to mis-choose a typeface to insert in your body text, or to treat it wrong. Letter sizes need to match (not just point size, the different x-heights need to play nice as well), and there should be ample contrast between the two typefaces. Never of the same general class (sans, classic serif, display, etc), and preferably still using a bold or italic treatment on the second type. So many ways to do it wrong, so few to do it right :)
    – Vincent
    Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 8:10
  • afaik, commonly *asterisks* are bold and _underscores_ are italic. But some sites, like SE, change that by having *asterisks* be bold, **double asterisks** for bold, and ***triple asterisks*** for bold italic.
    – Vincent
    Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 10:39
  • You chose your own bad answer! This is an excellent example of the Dunning-Kruger effect (a cognitive bias - please look it up to avoid falling into this trap).
    – Stan
    Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 14:47

I use a small and italicized connective:

  • Why is this not good?
    – Ooker
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 11:59
  • Because this image does not reflect what the question asks. In the image, the text is roman, while the question asks for what to do with emphasis when all text is already italic. Besides, that, my personal opinion is that this treatment is... odd, to say the least, so my downvote also functions to disagree with this treatment as an option. Sorry for the delay in commenting.
    – Vincent
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 13:05

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