When a book uses arabic page numbering, the usual habit is to treat the front cover as a page number 1, and start the book itself by page number 3. However, sometimes the front-matter of the book is numbered seperately by roman numbers. In such case, should the first page be i = 1 or iii = 3?

4 Answers 4


In my experience it depends upon binding.

If a piece is a self-cover, then often the cover will be considered page 1. In addition, if there is no table of contents or forward, or other information not directly related to internal contents, there would be no need to number differently.

If a piece is not a self-cover, contains a table of contents, or a forward, or prologue, then I often start the front matter with lower canse roman numerals (i, ii, iii, iv) and begin content with page 1.

One aspect many forget is that page numbering should always begin on the right side page for US/English left to right reading content.

  • There is a need for seperate front-matter numbering. If I didn't have ToC or forward or so, I wouldn't have a front-matter at all, would I?
    – yo'
    Commented Dec 28, 2012 at 23:31
  • Sometimes there are simple publication copyright and date pages with an extra internal title page. Those aren't traditionally numbered in any sense, but could comprise 3-5 pages of front matter. You seem poised to argue with any answer :)
    – Scott
    Commented Dec 28, 2012 at 23:33
  • Sorry, I do not argue, I only try to explain myself in more details. My apologies for sounding negative.
    – yo'
    Commented Dec 28, 2012 at 23:36

There is some variation in this technique. The cover itself is often left out of the numbering. One tradition is to start the numbering with the inside front cover, often the title page.

There's no reason the numbering tradition should change based on the numbering style.


Front matters (a.k.a prelims) of hardcover and some softcover books produced in a traditional fashion comprise:

A) Page 1: The half title page (always on the right side of the page spread)

B) Page 2: The back side of the half title page, called the half-title verso.

C) Page 3: The main title page (always on the right side of the page spread)

D) Page 4: The imprint page (which is the main title verso)

E) Page 5–x: The table of contents

F) Page y: dedication and/or acknowledgements

G) Page z: preface/foreword

Paperbacks and self-produced books may omit the half title page and its verso (reverse side) – it's a relict from an earlier era of book production when books were shipped only with a paper jacket. Nowadays it's for the tradition. If omitted, the page count starts with C., the main title page.

If you choose to use separate page numbering for the front matters, you use Roman numerals.

However, the page number is not printed on any of the title pages and their reverse sides (A–D), they are counted nonetheless. So the next page after the imprint page would be paginated V (or III, if you omit the half title page.)

The new page count of the main text part starts with 1, but the page number is not printed on the first page if page numbers are positioned at the top of the pages.

Partly based on two German books about book production and typography:

Blana, H. (1991). Die Herstellung
Gulbins, J. & Kahrmann, C. (1992). Mut zur Typografie


English-language books most commonly begin page numbering on the half title page, unless that is omitted (as in some soft cover editions). Lowercase roman numerals are the standard for front matter folios. These are strong conventions, particularly for non-fiction works.

When you are working with a publisher, there will usually be a house style that you will follow. Otherwise, the best advice is to stick with the convention. The two most commonly used style references in North America are the Chicago and Associated Press. The excellent New Oxford Style Manual is the gold standard for Commonwealth English.

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