New Questions and Answers

Q. In a book manuscript how much of the citation/location information for an image should I put into the image caption, and how much should go in the bibliography? Do images even need bibliography entries?

A. Image sources do not traditionally appear in the bibliography. The permission letter from the source of the image will specify which information must appear in the credit, but it’s usually an editorial decision whether to put the source credit in the caption or collect all the credits into a single section of the book.

Q. What is your preference for expletives (as in CMOS 5.28)? I have been taught that “It’s important that you eat breakfast” should be changed by a vigilant editor to something else, like “You really should eat breakfast” or “Breakfast is an important meal of the day.” Are expletives acceptable or not preferred?

A. Expletive pronouns are popularly prohibited, but an editor would be overstepping to disallow one that is used idiomatically and unambiguously (as in your sentence). Rather like the passive voice, which is essential to good writing but is routinely excised by overzealous editors, expletives are sometimes the most efficient, clear, and even elegant way to express something.

Q. I edit math textbooks for American students, and although we have a copy of your fine manual in the office, I need help with a query from a writer. When a number is written in words, do you separate the values with a comma: e.g., four thousand three hundred and twenty-one; or, four thousand, three hundred, and twenty-one? Hope you can help.

A. Although CMOS is silent on spelling out such complex numbers, common sense dictates leaving out the commas, since with commas, one large number could be misread as three numbers: 4,000, 300, and 21. Please note that CMOS leaves out and as well: three hundred twenty-one.

Q. What is the proper way of writing in full the initialism OIC (which stands for Officer-In-Charge)?

A. Chicago style often lowercases where other style guides would use caps, so we would write it as officer in charge (OIC).

Q. Hello! I’m currently editing a paper that will be submitted to a journal and have come across a very odd endnote in which the client has cited a number of authors and publications within the same note. It is not a direct reference; rather these are all sources in which a general argument has been made. I am confused as to whether this is proper endnote style. I was thinking perhaps they should all be listed separately, then the in-text endnote number could be listed as 1–5, or 1,2,3,4,5. Or perhaps an endnote is unnecessary, given that this refers to a more general philosophical argument of which there are many proponents?

A. It’s normal to list many sources in a single note, whether as direct references or general source notes. For an introduction to notes, please see CMOS chapter 14. For this matter in particular, please see CMOS 14.23 and 14.52.

Q. My understanding is that the word family is a noun or adjective. So if you use it in a sentence like “We ordered a family-sized pizza for the party,” is the hyphen used correctly in this instance despite the fact family ends in ly?

A. When CMOS 5.91 says “A two-word phrasal adjective that begins with an adverb ending in -ly is not hyphenated,” it’s referring to adverbs (not nouns or adjectives) where -ly is added to a root word: slyly, gladly. Words like ply, homily, and family happen to end in -ly, but the -ly is not an ending; it’s part of the word. And they aren’t adverbs. The section of the hyphenation table (CMOS 7.85) that you’re looking for is “noun + participle” (family + sized), where you will see that the hyphen is correct.

Q. If your first footnote is a specific source, then you have another source for the second footnote, then your third footnote is from the same source as footnote 1, do you just say “Ibid. from footnote 1”? Or do you rewrite it out?

A. Two things to know about ibid. when using it in a note: it must always refer to the note immediately before it; and the note it refers to must have only one citation in it. In note 3, for example, you can use ibid. only to refer to note 2, assuming that note 2 contains only one citation. To refer to note 1 (or to refer to a citation in note 2 when note 2 contains more than one citation), you must repeat the citation (although you can shorten it to just author and a short title). Please read about the use of ibid. at CMOS 14.29.

Q. Dear CMOS, I am wondering about how to handle competing rules. For example, numbers are written in numeral form when used as percentages. However, if that number is starting a sentence, it would be spelled out. For example: 27 percent of the students passed. Or: Twenty-seven percent of the students passed. Which would be advised? Thank you for any clarification you can provide.

A. Chicago recommends spelling out a number at the beginning of a sentence. It might help not to think in terms of “competing rules,” which leaves a person feeling helpless; instead try to think in terms of rules that have many exceptions. This is normal, both in CMOS and in life!

Q. I’m editing a manuscript that uses the terms over-commitment and under-commitment, sometimes in the same paragraph. The writers have hyphenated both terms. Does it look inconsistent to make the first term one word and the second term two words? Would it be less jarring to hyphenate both, as they have done? I’m fine with overcommitment as one word and under commitment as two, but I need some backing up so I can remove the unnecessary hyphens.

A. Chicago style closes up both terms. Under commitment looks odd; it makes under look like a preposition (as in under consideration). It would be best to either close up both or hyphenate both.

Q. Hello. Section 3.33 (“Crediting material obtained free of charge”) says “For material that the author has obtained free and without restrictions on its use, the credit line may use the word courtesy.” What exactly does “without restrictions on its use” mean? Does this mean that, if I’ve gotten permission to use a photo in a specific essay I’m writing, I can’t use “courtesy of” because the permission is only for that specific project?

A. Rights holders can put various restrictions on the use of items they give permission for: they can disallow cropping a photo or resizing or recoloring it or integrating it into a collage. They can prohibit a quotation from being used in an advertisement or from being altered in any way. They can prohibit resale, or repackaging, or use without full credit. If there are restrictions on your photo, they will be listed at the place you got it. Sometimes you have to click on a link to see the specific restrictions. If your photo is without restrictions and therefore does not require a credit, it’s polite to give credit anyway: “Courtesy of Terry Adams.”

Q. Hello, I am copyediting an article and wish to know what the plural form of “master’s degree” is. I believe it should be “masters’ degrees,” as this would be most logical, but I would appreciate your input. All of the online forums I follow have different opinions regarding this matter, and no dictionaries provide a plural form, so I would like to clear up the matter with you. Thank you very much.

A. The “master’s” part of the phrase stays singular: master’s degrees.

Q. The other day a colleague asked me if it’s permissible to use the expression “a momentum” in a sentence. I told him that momentum is a noncount noun and isn’t normally used with articles (a or the). In fact, after a cursory search, I could not find such a usage online. However, the sentence “we’ve built up such a momentum” sounds correct (or at least not wrong) to my ear. So I later e-mailed him to say that it’s correct to use momentum without an article, but it isn’t wrong to use an article. Am I being wishy-washy?

A. My own cursory search shows that “a momentum” is correct in many contexts. So yes, you were wishy-washy—but wishy-washy is better than dogmatic when you’re wrong.

December Q&A

Q. Hello there. Is it okay to use a comma after Anderson? “This is disgusting,” said Anderson, “The man I hired to mow the lawn has missed a few spots.” According to the models you provide, you seem to prefer a period rather than a comma, but is the comma definitely wrong?

A. Yes, the comma is definitely wrong. The test is to write the sentence without “said Anderson” and see whether a comma works: “This is disgusting, The man I hired to mow the lawn has missed a few spots.” You can see that you need a period.

Q. All right then! I’m steadfastly attempting to adopt the “one space after concluding punctuation” rule. It’s not an easy task for a retired English teacher in his late sixties—one who preached the old rule to legions of eager-eyed scholars. Are there any retraining suggestions that assist the elder learner? I’m tired of correcting my continual errors. I am diligently trying, though.

A. Good for you! The easiest way might be for you to leave the mistakes in place until the document is finished, then use the Find and Replace feature to eliminate all double spaces. In the Find box, type two spaces, and in the Replace With box, type one space. Hit Replace All—and you’re done. (And eventually, when your word processor regularly tells you that the search item was not found, celebrate!)

Q. We often refer to Chesapeake Bay as “the bay” on second mention (e.g., Chesapeake Bay is one of the largest estuaries in the world; we often visit the bay to conduct trawl surveys). My question is whether it is correct.

A. Chicago style lowercases “the bay” as you do, but uppercasing it is not incorrect, and you are likely to see it capped in various publications.

Q. Is it a grave error that I wrote “If I’d had time, alone, with my mother’s body, I might have caressed her face” in lieu of “If I’d had time alone with my mother’s body”? I understand that I felt a pause around the word alone and therefore decided to use the commas. I also realize that the pause doesn’t mean that a comma is necessary. Using the commas around alone seemed to underscore the gravity of the situation, the aloneness of the situation. Will an editor be inclined to throw away my manuscript because of a small error like this?

A. A wayward comma is rarely a “grave error.” A good editor will ask you to clarify your intended meaning and then work with you to get the punctuation right.

Q. When pointing to a particular rule within a set of rules, would you capitalize rule? I.e., Federal Rules of Evidence, rule 103, or Federal Rules of Evidence, Rule 103? Thank you.

A. Chicago style lowercases generic usages like “rule 103,” but such words are routinely capped in other style manuals, and it’s not wrong to cap them.

Q. With reference to the NYPD crime data collection system, should I write COMPSTAT, CompStat, Compstat, or CompSTAT? All four seem to be used in journals.

A. If professional journals use all these forms, then you probably can’t get into much trouble just picking one. But to make a more informed decision, look online to see how it is used by authoritative sources. With a single Google search you can see from the results page that the NYPD itself uses CompStat, as do Wikipedia, the University of Maryland, and the New York City government. Good enough?

Q. There is much inconsistency regarding the capitalization of the term evangelical used as an adjective or noun. What do you advise?

A. We advise consistency, but that sometimes involves consistently using different treatments in different contexts. Lowercase as a rule, reserving caps for proper nouns or adjectives when referring to a particular denomination or congregation: the Evangelical Church embraces that tenet. I go to First Evangelical; its mission is evangelical in nature.

Q. I’m wondering if there are other considerations for the order of author names on a third-edition book. The book is a high school textbook, and the first and second editions were written by a team of two authors (the same two for both editions). Both original authors are now retired, and the third edition is being written by a new author. All three will be listed on the new edition, since 60–70 percent of the new book is from previous editions. Would we treat the three authors as equivalent and still use alphabetical order? Or does the author of the current edition have some precedence and so get listed first?

A. Authors are normally listed according to importance, not alphabetically, and the order of the authors is best decided by the authors. If the authors agree to equal status, use alphabetical order.

Q. When working with references in different languages when the main text is in English, do you indicate editors, translators, and so forth in English or in the language the book was written in (e.g., German)?

A. It’s best if everything is in English, but if that requires guessing at the translation of words in an unfamiliar language, it’s better to leave the citation as is.

Q. What does The Chicago Manual of Style recommend for the usage of make vs. makes?

A. We recommend using one or the other.