New Questions and Answers

Q. Is there a correct way to write a range of only two numbers in a complete sentence? For example, June 3–4, or June 3 and 4? Pages 75–76, or pages 75 and 76? The issue gets especially ugly when referring to multiple numbers. For example, “The event will take place Nov. 3 and 4, 8 and 9, 15 and 16, and 21 and 22.” Yuck. I say that for ease of reading, an en dash would be used. However, I know that according to CMOS, an en dash between two numbers implies “up to and including,” or “through.” With that in mind, should “and” be used, because no number comes between the two numbers that are cited? Or is that overthinking things? 

A. It’s not overthinking to be precise. “November 3–4” is a good way to describe a weekend-long event on November 3 and 4, but not a good way to describe a two-hour concert that takes place on November 3 and again on November 4. You have the right idea. Saying that something appears on pages 75–76 implies that there is a continuing discussion of it. If it appears on pages 75 and 76, it might be two separate, unrelated mentions.

Q. To avoid gender-specific language, is it acceptable to use “upperclass students” as an alternative to “upperclassmen”? I am seeing this more and more in academia, where I work. An alternative would be “upper-class students,” but that seems to refer to those from a higher social and economic class. What do you recommend?

A. Upper-level students, returning students, juniors and seniors (or sophomores, juniors, and seniors—whichever you mean), third- and fourth-years, third- and fourth-year students. There are plenty of ways around this, and all are less ambiguous than “upper-class.”

Q. How many times does it take for a foreign word to become familiar in a document? And does distance between occurrences matter? In reference to CMOS 7.49: “If a foreign word becomes familiar through repeated use throughout a work, it need be italicized only on its first occurrence. If it appears only rarely, however, italics may be retained.” This novel I’m working on has tons of foreign words in the dialogue that vary all over the place in frequency.

A. It’s not wise to quantify these things. You must use your judgment. Each word is a separate case. After all, non-English words that have an English cognate (activisme; simpatico; Milch; abreviación) are easily learned, but others might be very difficult. If you’re spending a great deal of time making decisions, consider making all foreign words italic all the time, knowing that some readers may find this tiresome and others helpful. The writer and editor must decide the best course.

Q. I disagree with the following: The runner noted that, “This course is very difficult.” Better: The runner noted that “this course is very difficult.” Why the comma in the first example? Why uppercase the “T”? Do you agree with me?

A. Yes! Please see CMOS 13.14 for the related guidelines.

Q. Is a question mark called for in the following sentence? “I wonder when it will stop raining.” I believe that it is a statement and therefore a period is the required punctuation, but I see similar sentences with a question mark so often.

A. No question mark is needed, since “I wonder” is a statement, not a question.

Q. Titles of works should be italicized, but on social media sites (e.g., Facebook, Instagram) text cannot be formatted. In social posts, is it best to leave titles of works Roman? Or do you recommend another way to designate titles of works using only plain text?

A. You can use “quotation marks” or ALL CAPS, or write _Title_ or *Title*.

Q. The following parenthetical sentence was in the introduction relating to your 20th anniversary in the February Style Q&A: “Note that some styles have shifted slightly since then.” What is your view of not using the word that in cases similar to your sentence? The word that can be deleted without changing the meaning, or in my view, without making the meaning harder to understand. It can be deleted from almost every use when it follows a verb. Would you agree adding a comma after Note and then deleting that would be clear to the reader?

A. When there really is no chance of confusion, by all means leave out that. Otherwise, let it do its honest work. That is often needed to prevent reading the next noun as a direct object. For instance, “Note those styles” is a complete imperative sentence. A reader would reasonably believe styles to be the object of Note and not expect it to have a verb of its own—only to find that styles is the subject of the verb have shifted in the dependent clause. The reader stumbles. Newspapers notoriously leave out that, causing goofy misdirection:

“But the obtained records reveal the scope of visitor misbehavior is huge” (Matthew Brown, “Visitor Misbehavior Abounds at U.S. Parks,” Chicago Tribune, August 31, 2016, Kindle edition).

As for using a comma after Note, a colon would be better, and in fact is quite common in place of that (Note: Some styles have shifted). Note, of course, that the need for a comma or colon suggests that the omission of that would be problematic otherwise.

Q. It’s long-standing software jargon to “save to disk” or “save to file.” Recently I’m seeing “save to list,” “save to album,” and other “save to” constructions in user interfaces and other places where I would use “save in” or other prepositions. Where can I get advice on whether the “save to” construction is idiomatic outside my industry?

A. Jargon in one area often spreads to other areas. It would be difficult—if not impossible—to determine exactly when an expression becomes “appropriate.” You can compare the frequency of specific phrases in professionally published books (which for the most part tend to stick to “appropriate” language) at Google Ngram Viewer. There’s also a searchable database of TV and movie scripts.

Q. I am editing a series of essays (18th century to present) that have been translated from the French and, later in the series, from other languages. Naturally, word meanings have changed over time. Also, English words and French words, for example, might come from the same root but do not have the same meaning—even in the same century. The translator’s notes on language are copious. He has been numbering them as footnotes, but CMOS says they should be asterisks, not numbers. If there are more than three translator’s notes per page (a quick review shows 8 on some pages), the number of asterisks will be unwieldy. Please advise!

A. Use only one asterisk per page; subsequent translator’s notes should use other symbols, in the traditional sequence (* † ‡ §), doubling the symbols if there are more than four notes. Please see CMOS 14.20. There are several other ways to integrate translator’s notes into those of the original. Please see CMOS 14.46 for the other methods.

Q. Does half need a hyphen when modifying a verb? For example, “He half listened to her story” or “She half walked, half ran.”

A. No hyphen—half may be treated like other adverbs. He barely listened; he half listened. She quickly walked; she half walked.

Q. This question has probably been asked before, but at work we are updating the human resources manual and nobody seems to know the answer. Is the apostrophe necessary in “two weeks’ notice” and “three days’ sick leave”? We will really appreciate your advice.

A. Yes, it has been asked before! Luckily for you, we are the soul of patience. The apostrophe is necessary, since those phrases express a type of possessive. Please see CMOS 7.24 (Possessive with genitive). 

Q. Dear CMOS:

Your Q&A answers are like haiku. I cannot help but admire such clear, concise, compassionate responses. Nor can I resist sending fan mail where you must expect a question.

An Admirer

A. You are very kind;
your e-mail, a welcome balm.
We are happy now.

March Q&A

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.