New Questions and Answers

In February 1997, manuscript editors here at the University of Chicago Press posted the first “Chicago Style Q&A.”

To celebrate the Q&A’s twentieth anniversary, we’re introducing a brand-new category of answers called “Second Thoughts,” where we will occasionally clarify or correct answers from our archives. (We realize that as celebrations go, this is pretty nerdy, but that is just our way.)

When we revise an answer, we’ll append our correction to the original in addition to posting it in the “Second Thoughts” browsing category.

Our second thoughts are almost always prompted by e-mails from readers, so please keep them coming! Your comments keep us on our toes and are important to our planning for future editions of The Chicago Manual of Style

Just for fun (to make it a real party!), here’s one Q&A from the original 1997 “Chicago Style Q&A.” (Note that some styles have shifted slightly since then.)

Q. In a citation of a journal article, where do you put the title and editors’ names if it is a special issue? And roughly the same question: where do you put the title of a symposium and editors thereof if the symposium takes up only part of the journal issue?

A. If you can’t find an example in the CMOS, just put the information in a logical arrangement and make sure that similar entries in the book are styled the same way, e.g.:

Jones, John. 1992. “Rancid Parsley.” In New Species of Refrigerator Scum, ed. Bob Smith, a special edition of BioThrills Journal 75: 45–55.

A symposium that takes up part of a journal issue might be cited as though it were an article:

Williams, Joe, ed. 1980. “Symposium: Zamboni Repair in Your Home.” Entrepreneur 75: 32–99.

You could also begin with the title of the article:

“Symposium: Zamboni Repair in Your Home.” 1980. Ed. Joe Williams. Entrepreneur 75: 32–99.


Finally, to further celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Q&A, we’re offering 20 percent off But Can I Start a Sentence with “But”? Use code QA20OFF at through February 28.


February Q&A

Q. How should we style the name of a competition? In quotes, italics, title case? Example: An initiative recently named a finalist in the “Tokyo Vertical Cemetery” competition.

A. Just plain old initial caps is how we would do it. Please see CMOS 8.82.

Q. Hi! I have a citation question. Text B included an excerpt of Text A, which the author of Text B translated. The translation exists only within Text B; it’s not in any other published work. I want to cite the translation. When doing so, do I need to include Text B in the citation? Or, do I simply cite Text A as translated by author of Text B?

A. If I understand you correctly, you are citing a passage found in Text B and written by Author B which happens to be a translation of someone else’s text. Thus you must credit Author B in addition to Author A.

Q. I work in a publicity department where we routinely sort back issues of national news publications. I have trouble figuring out how to sort publications with New York in the title: the New Yorker, the New York Times, New York Magazine, the New York Review of Books. Would the New Yorker come before New York Magazine, treating the final e in New Yorker as alphabetically prior to the first letter of Magazine, or would you put the New Yorker after all the others that contain New York followed by a space?

A. That depends. There are two popular methods for putting items into alphabetical order: letter by letter and word by word. Your list of terms would sort differently depending on which system you choose. You would greatly benefit from reading CMOS sections 16.58–61, which explain the two systems and compare them side by side.

Q. For our work editing projects, we have had a long-standing debate over the wording “renters insurance” (as a concept). There seems to be no industry standard with regard to using an apostrophe. Which should it be? Renters’ insurance, renter’s insurance, renters insurance.

A. All those forms are fine, but Chicago prefers the plural possessive. Please see CMOS 7.25 (Possessive versus attributive forms).

Q. “Your feedback is important and will help us identify ways to make the company a better workplace.” My habit is to change “ways to make” to “ways of making,” but I’m having trouble explaining why. I’ve looked in CMOS under infinitives and gerunds and elsewhere, but I can’t find a justification. Is there one, and if so, where in CMOS is it?

A. Actually, both wordings are fine. There’s no grammatical reason to prefer one over the other.

Q. Is it normal to not indent the first paragraph after subheadings?

A. Yes—it’s common practice to begin the paragraph after a subheading flush left.

Q. I’m doing a report on typographic systems and thought it would be great to analyze the guide that everyone uses. I can’t find anything on who designed your style guide, what typeface was used, and why. Is there a resource you can point me to or provide the information?

A. Our guide is designed by the in-house design staff at the University of Chicago Press. The book’s colophon (p. [1027] of the print edition) gives the other information you’re looking for, including information on the fonts (“Composed in Mitja Miklavčič’s FF Tisa and Hoefler & Frere-Jones’s Whitney”). You can also find the colophon at CMOS Online.

Q. We need to alphabetize a list of donors but it’s difficult to find a consistent format. Who to list first in a couple with the same last name? Jane and John Smith, if the wife is the principal donor, and John and Jane Smith if the husband is? We have the same confusion regarding couples with different last names. John Smith and Jane Doe, when he is the main donor, and Jane Doe and John Smith, when she is? And what’s the rule for alphabetizing such couples? Do you alphabetize by the first name listed or the second? Does inconsistency matter?

A. Most of your questions are more matters of etiquette than of style or grammar. Your organization could make a little style sheet with answers to all these questions—including whether consistency should yield to etiquette in your donor lists.  Here’s an answer to your one style question, to get you started: yes, alphabetize by the last name of the first person in each pair.

Q. When citing a source in Urdu for a dissertation in English do I need to transliterate with diacritics (in the notes and in the bibliography) the name of the author and the place of publishing and publication house? If so, how should I write an author’s name in the bibliography when I have two or more publications by the same author, in both English and Urdu?

A. The question isn’t whether you need to, but whether your readers will understand and benefit from having the information in more than one form and whether they would be inconvenienced by not having it. Once you’ve figured out what your readers want, you can give it to them. To give an author’s name in more than one form, you can annotate or cross-reference as you see fit:

J. Smith [Q. Urdublik]
Smith, J. See also Urdublik, Q.

For rendering the place-name of the publishing house, see CMOS 14.137: “Current, commonly used English names for foreign cities should be used whenever such forms exist.”  (We would check Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate, 11th ed.) Otherwise, include the Urdu diacriticals and make sure the place-name styling is consistent throughout your notes and bibliography.

Q. Should the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual be italicized in the text? What about when it is referred to only as the DSM?

A. Yes; italicize a book title and its abbreviation: the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM).

Q. Hello, CMOS! How do I punctuate when a question mark precedes a semicolon: “Why are you writing Matt’s evaluation?; he works in Emily’s office.” CMOS 6.54 tells us what to do when the first of the closely related sentences ends with a period; it looks funny when it ends with a question mark. Clearly, I could just separate it into two sentences. But can this construction be saved?

A. It cannot be saved! Just start a new sentence.

January Q&A

Q. Is elect capitalized in president-elect (in running text, when preceding the person’s name)? That is, should one write “President-Elect Donald Trump” or “President-elect Donald Trump”?

A. Since Chicago style lowercases “president Barack Obama,” we would also lowercase “president-elect Donald Trump.” When the title is used as an honorific (in place of Mr. with a surname), however, we would uppercase: “President Obama” and “President-Elect Trump.”

Q. My coworkers and I are debating what exactly is meant by the word isolated in section 9.21 (“isolated references to amounts of money are spelled out for whole numbers of one hundred or less”). One opinion is that two or more references to amounts of money in one sentence no longer qualify as isolated, as in “He had $0.21 and she had $21.00.” The other opinion is that one sentence containing two or more references to amounts of money could still qualify as isolated if the surrounding text does not mention money, as in “He had twenty-one cents and she had twenty-one dollars” in a passage contrasting the two people personally with no other reference to money. Could you please settle our debate?

A. By isolated references, we mean references not grouped in a table, list, financial report, equation, tax form, or budget. We mean numbers that come up in a generally nonnumeric context, such as a novel or a history textbook or a blog post about the election—even if there are more than two amounts of money in such a context. Even if there are more than three. Heck—even if there are more than four.

The idea is to spell out amounts of money unless they become hard to read or compare, or too many to keep track of. Because the choice between numerals and words requires judgment, it would be counterproductive to make a rule about it. The CMOS standard you seek is not a magic number of references but simply the writer’s common sense.

Q. Can a citation be too long? And how do you know if it is?

A. If you run out of paper? If your computer crashes? (Is this a trick question?) A citation is probably too long if it looks silly or contains more information than necessary. You are probably the best judge of this.

Q. I am looking to know the proper style for when I start my paper with a block quote. This quote is not integrated into the text. It is simply there in lieu of an introductory paragraph at the very, very beginning of my paper. I have thoroughly gone through the manual and cannot find an example or advice for what to do in this instance.

A. This sounds like an epigraph, which may be set off like a block quote, without quotation marks, and with the author’s name immediately following. You can find advice on formatting epigraphs at CMOS 1.36, 1.48, and 13.34.

Q. Authors younger than myself have recently included the following phrase in their writing: “If you think that, you’ve got another thing coming.” I’ve tried to point out the illogic of “another thing,” but I’m met with baffled looks. An informal poll shows me that nearly everyone today believes the expression is “another thing coming.” A rock band seems to have compounded the problem by using this phrase in one of their hit songs. I’ve gotten firm resistance when suggesting that the phrase be rendered “another think coming.” At what point does a mondegreen supersede the original phrase and become the accepted norm? Is it time for me to “stet” and move on?

A. It’s not time yet. Most published books continue to use think (keep an eye on this Ngram). As long as you can google the phrase and read posts saying that think is correct, you’re on firm ground. Eventually, when online articles start using the think version as an example of pedantic nonsense, you’ll know it’s time to cave.

Q. I recently started working for an institution founded on the values of the Sisters of Mercy. I am working on our magazine, and I’d truly appreciate your skilled recommendation on whether or not to capitalize the word mercy in various tricky/gray areas. For example, we know mercy should be lowercase when used in the generic sense, as in “he begged for mercy” or “at the mercy of the court,” and capitalized when used in a proper name, as in Mount Mercy University or Mercy Hospital. The trick is in situations like “a mercy education,” “a mercy institution,” or “providing mercy care.” We are looking through many guides and checking with other mercy institutions to figure out best practice, but I would love a CMOS ruling!

A. You could try mentally substituting the name Sisters of Mercy when considering whether you mean the institution and its specific tenets or the more generic (lowercased) term. If it makes sense to use Sisters of Mercy, uppercase Mercy. For instance, does “mercy care” involve specific practices outlined by the Sisters of Mercy, or is it a kind of merciful care that anyone could provide?

You and your team see gray areas because you conflate your institution’s name and brand with one of its values. Anyone outside your perspective can easily see that “a mercy education” makes little sense. A professional editor could help you and your team put together a style guide with sample sentences and guidelines.

Q. Hello, I’m looking for clarification for 10.34. Are you recommending 123 MAIN ST STE 456 for envelopes but 123 Main St., Ste. 456 for running text, etc.? (And if capitalizing the envelopes, would the entire address be capitalized?)

A. As we say at 10.34, spell out the terms in running text: I live at 123 Main Street, Suite 456. (Please see 10.35 as well). As for addressing envelopes, CMOS does not presume to override US Postal Service instructions. If you want your mail delivered, you’d better abandon Chicago style.

Q. I’m confused about the word neither. Is it plural or singular? How should the following sentence be written? Neither of them (likes/like) to travel. 

A. Neither is properly singular (neither A nor B is attending), but when used with a prepositional phrase that has a plural object (like “of them”), it is often made plural (neither of them like to travel). Strict grammarians would call the plural usage an error. You can read more in a dictionary, under the word neither:

Q. When writing a paper, do you footnote information that you have learned in multiple sources?

A. If what you learned is common knowledge, then there’s no need to cite sources, but if it’s something that most people would need to look up or that different sources treat differently, then you should identify which sources you used. Obviously, this calls for judgment and partly depends on who your readers are and what you can expect them to know. For help with student papers, please see our free Student pages.

Q. Can CMOS weigh in on the pluralization of trademarked materials? We have an internal debate over “iPhone 7s” versus “iPhones 7.”

A. “iPhone 7s” is the default; use “iPhones 7” only for phones belonging to attorneys-general and mothers-in-law.