New Questions and Answers

Q. It has always been my understanding that in a table published in a book, the table source and footnotes should be in the same font and type size. Your table examples would seem to corroborate that, but I’m experiencing some push-back about this at work. Am I right, or is there more leeway than I thought?

A. Although in matters of design there are few unbreakable rules, a consistent style is probably the best choice for table notes and sources, since (1) they are the same kind of information and don’t benefit from being distinguished, and (2) normally they aren’t meant to be eye-catching or decorative. Varying their style would merely be design for the sake of design.

Q. I am evaluating annual reports for a large business, and have been unable to find the answer to my question of when to write numbers as words and when to use numerals when they begin the items in vertical (bulleted) lists. For example: sixty-nine people chose . . . or 69 people chose . . . Which is the correct choice? I would certainly appreciate your answering my question and I have no understanding of the reason this issue isn’t discussed in information concerning vertical lists.

A. Often when an issue is not discussed in CMOS it’s because it calls for common sense and flexibility rather than a one-size-fits-all rule. Our hope is that users can apply guidelines from other sections and use their judgment. At the beginning of chapter 9 you can find guidelines for spelling out numbers. For a vertical list, weigh the options: Are the listed items sentences, which read better with spelled-out numbers at the beginning? Are all the numbers at the beginning of a sentence? Can they be moved? Are there big, nonround numbers like 345 and 6,712, which are awkward to spell out? Look at your text and decide what style works best for making your lists readable. If numerals work best for some lists and words for other lists, you might decide that consistency need not be a goal except within a given list.

Q. Dear Sir or Madam, I am taking a course on Hispanic linguistics. As part of a project that has been assigned by my professor, I just learned that there is an institution that regulates the usage of the English language (in the United States? Great Britain?). I would like to read more about it. It is my impression that The Chicago Manual of Style has part of the job of regulator of the English language. Is this true?

A. If only! But no—there is no institution that can regulate language in the United States or Great Britain, although there are organizations that sometimes pretend to. In both countries people are free to speak and write as they wish. The Chicago Manual of Style is a guide for writers who want to write in standard English and use a standard citation format. You can start your research by reading about language regulators at Wikipedia.

Q. I have read in your style guide that it is incorrect to have more than one footnote number attached to a piece of text (e.g., piece of text2, 3, 4) so that footnotes 2, 3, and 4 all contain one citation each. Instead should all three citations be included under one footnote number, and that footnote number be attached to the piece of text?

A. That’s right. You can put as many citations as you want into a single note. Use as many as it takes to cite all your sources for that piece of text.

Q. Dear Chicago experts, my question is regarding the use of ellipses to indicate text omitted from quoted material. Does one insert a space after the ellipsis if the following sentence is a complete one? Or should all text should be closed up to ellipses in these cases? The example in CMOS (13.51) appears to have a space but is not clear.

A. Chicago puts a space after an ellipsis regardless of its function. If you have trouble seeing spaces in CMOS Online, use the Control key (on a Mac, Command) with the + key to enlarge the type until you can see it better. Or copy and paste the text into a MS Word doc and make the spaces visible.

Q. Dear CMS, I am nearly done revising my dissertation, but my advisor may not pass me on account of my lengthy em dashes! I am using Times New Roman, and apparently the em dashes are too long. Is the standard em dash in Times acceptable for thesis publication? If so, can I point my advisor to something in the CMS on this? (I am serious. I don’t think she would not pass me, but she has circled every em dash and said, “Too long. Fix!” on my drafts, and I’d like not to chance it.)

A. Well, that’s pretty crazy. For publication, it makes no difference what font is in the manuscript—typesetters follow the publisher’s specs, not a Word document or printout—but it looks as though you might have to change the font for your dissertation. Palatino has shorter em dashes than Times Roman, for instance. If you are required to use Times Roman, then change only the dashes to Palatino and maybe no one will notice. You can make a global replacement. Good luck!

Q. I have a question about bulleted lists and capitalization. I’ve always written lists with the first word capitalized and then subsequent words, not (unless proper nouns of course). A colleague believes that every word other than prepositions or conjunctions should be capitalized.

—No artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives


—No Artificial Colors, Flavors, or Preservatives

I can’t seem to find a “rule” on this. Any help?

A. When a colleague wants to do something you find bizarre, the burden is on her to produce the rule. After all, CMOS doesn’t have the space to write “Don’t do this; don’t do that” with regard to every possibility. Meanwhile, you might point out that none of the examples of lists or outlines in CMOS 6.121–6.126 show headline-style capitalization of the items.

Q. In letter-by-letter alphabetization, is it correct to assume that articles, prepositions, and conjunctions are not alphabetized? E.g., would Albert the Great precede Albert of Saxony?

A. Every letter is taken into account in letter-by-letter alphabetizing. Please see the examples at CMOS 16.61, e.g.,


News of the World (Queen)

news release

Q. I am editing a magazine article related to real estate and am struggling with how to hyphenate the descriptions. “With seven bedrooms, four full and two half bathrooms, this home has 6,000 square feet of living space.” Also, “This is a 2,000 square foot, fully renovated four bedroom, three and a half bathroom home.” What does CMOS suggest?

A. Thank you for asking! Reading real estate ads can be painful for us. Your first sentence is passable; the second one needs a lot of hyphens. Please refer to many such examples in the hyphenation table at CMOS 7.85. If a compound phrase (number + noun) serves as an adjective and comes before the noun it modifies, it usually needs hyphens:

a three-and-a-half-bathroom home

a four-bedroom townhouse

a 600-square-foot studio

a 2,000-square-foot, fully renovated four-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bathroom home

If the compound phrase (number + noun) serves as a noun itself and does not modify a noun that follows, it does not need hyphens:

a home with three and a half bathrooms

a townhouse with four bedrooms

a studio of 600 square feet

a home with seven bedrooms, four full and two half bathrooms, and 6,000 square feet of living space

Q. Why do people feel the need to add punctuation to their organization names? I am editing a blog post about a local coalition that has named itself with a word (let’s say it’s “Believe”) followed by an exclamation point. To refer to the coalition by name, the only option seems to be leaving off the exclamation point, correct? Otherwise, it makes for an excessively clumsy sentence that makes no sense at first: “Believe! thinks this legislation is a great idea.”

A. People add punctuation to names when they want to be creative but are bad at it. Readers are actually getting used to this device, however, so it probably won’t cause a problem. Keep the punctuation while making sure that the context provides help to the reader. For instance, avoid putting the organization’s name at the end of a sentence like “The attorneys filing the lawsuit doubt that the contract was broken; although they have never visited the organization, tomorrow they are going to Believe!”

March Q&A

Q. What is Chicago’s view on “all of the sudden”?

A. CMOS is silent on the issue, but “all of the sudden” is not idiomatic and normally would be edited to “all of a sudden.” You can compare the frequency and longevity of these two expressions in published books at Ngram Viewer. You aren’t the only one to have noticed the new popularity of “all of the sudden,” by the way. You can read one discussion of the phenomenon here.

Q. Sometimes, in spiritual circles, people like to capitalize words like Love or Truth or Divine. For example, “that which is ultimately beyond the mind itself, but is what I call the Divine” or “this deep Love that resides within you at this moment.” My feeling is that capitalizing these “concept” words gives them an air of importance and sacredness, and they are quite often written with this intention. But they really aren’t proper nouns. Are there any guidelines for using such capitalizations? And even more important, what about using both capital and lowercase throughout a book-length manuscript with some policy of consistency?

A. We like consistency, but the problem is that even in a book with spiritual content, not every use of Truth or Love will merit caps: sometimes the terms will have a generic meaning. Writers and editors of such content must work mindfully when they uppercase and lowercase so as not to confuse readers. There will naturally be gray areas where either styling would do. In many documents, the safe choice (and Chicago style) is to simply lowercase everywhere, since uppercasing everywhere would almost certainly lead to inappropriate capping in some cases.

Q. Is it correct to say $3–5 million? Or should it be $3 to $5 million? Or $3 million to $5 million?

A. These are all acceptable ways to express the same thing. With regard to the $ symbol with inclusive numbers, in Chicago style an abbreviation or symbol is repeated if it is closed up to a number but not if it is separated by a space: $3–$5 million, but 2 × 5 in. (See CMOS 9.17.)

Q. My colleagues and I are debating a grammar issue. We read the grammar rules, but we are still unclear. Here is the sentence: “Your employees are the business’s most valuable assets.” Business is singular but it could be interpreted as plural. Which of the following is correct?

Your employees are the business’ most valuable assets.


Your employees are the business’s most valuable assets.

A. “The business’s most valuable assets” is correct because business is singular. (Businesses is the plural of business.) Actually, your other sentence is also technically correct (“Your employees are the business’ most valuable assets”), because in a practice that Chicago does not recommend, singular words that end in s are sometimes made possessive by adding only an apostrophe, without another s: James’ hat. (Please see CMOS 7.21.) CMOS recommends adding the s: your business’s assets, James’s hat.

Q. Does the following sentence require a comma after says? The person who says “I no longer get anything out of reading” has stopped running up against questions to think about as he or she reads.

A. Commas commonly appear before quotation marks—for instance, there is a strong convention of using a comma after expressions like “He said” or “She asked.” There may be a widespread belief that the comma is required before a quotation, although there isn’t necessarily a grammatical reason for one. If a quotation is short or if a comma would interrupt needlessly, you probably don’t need one. In your sentence, the quoted material is a direct object within a dependent clause; a comma would do little to help clarify that.

Q. Hi CMOS—I have a question about sentences using either/neither. For example, “They neither discussed the case nor the suspect.” This sounds fine and a reader will understand what is meant. But almost always, people tend to apply strict grammar and transpose the verb: “They discussed neither the case nor the suspect.” Is this really necessary? I mean, I don’t see any room for confusion in the original sentence. Thanks!

A. I agree that it’s a fine point and that the first sentence can pass the reading test. However, in sentences more complex than yours, the incorrect placement of neither can cause ambiguity:

The police neither caught the suspect after he robbed the bank nor the little old lady bystander packing a stun gun.

Does that mean that neither the police nor the old lady caught the suspect, or that the police caught neither the suspect nor the old lady? For clarity, we recommend using proper parallel structure, especially in formal writing.

Q. Sentence: Only 1 in 66 households [has/have] received this letter. Is it has or have? I presume that because 1 in 66 is the lowest common denominator of a larger group it should be have.

A. If literally only one household received the letter, using the singular has would be the intuitive (and correct) choice. But normally this construction expresses a ratio with a plural numerator, as you suggest, so that “1 in 66” might actually stand for, e.g., “200 out of 13,200.” Perversely, the singular verb is still recommended by many, perhaps because the word one is the subject regardless of its implied meaning in such expressions.

Q. Is it okay to use a quotation as a chapter title without enclosing the title in quotation marks or otherwise distinguishing it from other chapter titles that are not quotations? If so, must the quotation be explained, that is, associated with a source, in the text?

A. A quotation that has reached the status of cliché may go without quotation marks or attribution in a title: To Be or Not to Be; Practice Makes Perfect. Other quotations should be quoted. Although it’s standard practice not to attach source notes to display type like book or chapter titles, whenever readers would benefit from knowing the source of a quotation, the writer should explain either in the text or in a note.

Q. While copyediting a scholarly manuscript, I’m having trouble with the author’s very frequent use of key terms (which he puts in quotation marks and I then change to italics). I know the rule is to put the word in roman after first mention. The MS is nearly 500 pages, and I’m wondering if there are instances in which I should reintroduce the key term—that is, put it back in italic—if it has been quite a number of pages since its last mention. Also, in a similar vein: Some of the terms, if not italicized, don’t fit semantically into the sentence. So, should I put them in italic even after first mention (and despite the amount of space since last mention) if it will help clarify meaning for the reader? I have only a few weeks left to finish this book, and I’m agonizing over how long it’s going to take me to go back and fix places in which I might’ve been remiss.

A. There is no rule that a term must be put in roman every time after its first occurrence. And even if there were, it is wrong to enforce any rule when the result is confusing for the reader. Although it’s a good idea to put key terms in roman after the first occurrence because repeated italics can become annoying, italics should be used whenever they are helpful. Please read CMOS 7.54 and 7.58 for more guidance.

Q. If a phrase is possessive in the first instance it is used, is the abbreviation possessive as well? For example, should it be “Student Psychological Help Line’s (SPHL) 24/7 assistance center” or “Student Psychological Help Line’s (SPHL’s) 24/7 assistance center”? I know that you answered this question already. However, your answer was to avoid that type of phrase. In my case, I work for a company in which the possessive phrase, which gets abbreviated, is part of a larger phrase. (The above example is real.) Hence, I need to know what to do if you absolutely have to use this sort of wording.

A. If you can’t avoid it, you get to choose. You have the power! Use it well.