New Questions and Answers

Q. Our marketing people want to know which is correct: The buyer(s) purchase a policy or the buyer(s) purchases a policy.

A. Neither is correct. The optional plural doesn’t work as the subject of a sentence; it works only as an object: “The title, along with the name(s) of the editor(s), appears on page 3.” One solution is to spell out your meaning and make the verb agree with the nearer subject: The buyer or buyers purchase a policy.

Q. Is it okay to capitalize Modernist when speaking of the twentieth-century movement in English literature? Many sources favor the lowercase, but I’ve always done the opposite.

A. Either way is acceptable. Chicago style prefers the lowercase, but an editor should defer if possible to a writer who has reason to depart from style.

Q. I believe this may have been addressed back in the 14th edition, but I cannot find a current rule to support my writing “Yes sir!” as an exclamation (or “Yes ma’am!”) in the manner of “Aye sir!” Would you please let me know what CMOS’s view is on this? I have been leaving out the comma and am now being challenged by publishers I’m editing for.

A. You are fine either way. In direct address, a comma before the addressee is traditional and acceptable: “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” However, as noted in CMOS 5.47 of the 14th edition, expressions like “yes sir!” may be considered almost as a single word and omit the comma, especially when a true direct address follows (“Yes sir, Uncle Howard!”).

Q. I work for a theological seminary and am editing a brochure that has a list of speakers. If the speaker is an ordained minister or has a PhD, that is noted with a Rev. or Dr. However, there are a few speakers on this list who are just referred to by first and last name with no social title such as Mr. or Ms. I think this is incorrect, but I can’t find anything to support my position.

A. In academic publications, Chicago style does not use Mr. or Ms. with names or Dr. or Prof. for people with PhDs. It does allow the use of Rev. for ministers and Dr. for medical doctors. These styles are a practical solution to the difficulties of checking the gender, marital status, and academic degrees of every scholar mentioned in a book or article—who sometimes number in the hundreds. However, this doesn’t mean it’s incorrect for your publication to use whatever titles suit your community of readers.

Q. Which is correct: 12,000,000 or 12 million?

A. They are both correct. To read about how to choose a style for your numbers, please see CMOS 9.2–8.

Q. When using an ellipsis in a quotation that contains a full sentence and then deletes some of the next sentence, do you use a period at the end of the full sentence followed by a space and the three dots? Then do you capitalize the first word of the next sentence and do you bracket the first letter to show it was not capitalized?

A. That’s right, assuming that what follows the ellipsis is a grammatically complete sentence despite the omission. Please note that it’s usually not necessary to bracket the newly capped letter. Do that only if you are quoting in a legal or scholarly context that lends significance to the changed case. You can see an example of this at CMOS 13.51, where the changed cap is not noted with brackets.

Q. Please give me your thoughts on subject/verb agreement in the following construction: “History, and the efforts of many people, [have or has] given this island a valuable gift.” Does an and phrase set off in commas change the number of the verb?

A. It doesn’t. Treat the text between commas as though it were in parentheses. But while you’re at it, notice that the construction is awkward. You aren’t sure which verb to use because neither singular nor plural sounds or looks right. That means no matter which you choose, some readers are also going to think it doesn’t sound right. It would be better to use parentheses or reword the sentence.

Q. Section 7.85 says that a noun + participle phrase is hyphenated before a noun that it modifies but is open otherwise (e.g., “a clothes-buying grandmother” vs. “a day of clothes buying”). However, would a verb shown as hyphenated in the dictionary retain the hyphen in its participle form? For example, Merriam-Webster hyphenates the verb “to color-code,” so would “color-coded” be hyphenated or open in the sentence “The binders were color-coded”?

A. It’s usually safe to hyphenate a verb that is hyphenated in the dictionary, no matter what form it takes.

Q. I am a government auditor who frequently issues findings to entities with long, cumbersome names (e.g., the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission for Widget Standards and Inspections). In my previous job, I was instructed to state the full name of the entity the first time it appeared in a report, followed by a capitalized abbreviated version (e.g., Commission) throughout the rest of the report. In my new job, I have been instructed to follow The Chicago Manual of Style, which has been interpreted to mean using lowercase for such abbreviations. Apparently, I am not the first person to question this practice, and it has become a source of contention in our office. Do you have any words of wisdom to help mediate this dispute?

A. Although Chicago style is to lowercase generic terms like commission in reference to a named organization, CMOS (always insistent upon flexibility in the application of its guidelines!) does offer support for capitalizing shortened forms of organization titles:

8.67. The full names of institutions, groups, and companies and the names of their departments, and often the shortened forms of such names (e.g., the Art Institute), are capitalized. . . . Such generic terms as company and university are usually lowercased when used alone (though they are routinely capitalized in promotional materials, business documents, and the like). (emphasis added)

Q. A colleague and I are pondering the correct usage of reflexive pronouns (CMOS 5.48). Can they be used as objects of the preposition if they still refer back to the subject of the verb? Here’s our example: “I see benefits for both my class and myself in using that approach.” We could rewrite the sentence and may do that, but we’re more interested now in the “legality” of the usage. Would switching class and myself sound less awkward? That way, myself would be closer to its subject.

A. If the object of the preposition refers to the subject of the sentence, it can indeed be reflexive. There’s no need to move it closer to its referent if the meaning is clear—and in any case, it’s polite in English to put oneself last.

I see benefits for myself.
I see benefits for both my class and myself.

In both sentences, myself is an object of the preposition for and refers reflexively to the subject of the sentence, I.

She sees benefits for me.
She sees benefits for both my class and me.

In these sentences, me is an object of the preposition for, but it does not refer to the subject of the sentence, she, and is therefore not reflexive.

Q. I’m trying to get clarification on the shined/shone issue, as all the sources I have found seem to differ, and it is driving me crazy. Can you confirm for me, once and for all, the use of each of these? Would the following sentence use shined or shone, for instance? Mary shone/shined the flashlight in front of them to light the way.

A. Please see CMOS 5.220:

shine. When this verb is intransitive, it means “to give or make light”; the past tense is shone {the stars shone dimly}. When it is transitive, it means “to cause to shine”; the past tense is shined {the caterer shined the silver}.

So the flashlight shone (gave or made light) because Mary shined it (caused it to shine) in front of them. (Note that “causing something to shine” has more than one meaning. Presumably, Mary didn’t shine her flashlight along with her forks.)

Q. Do you recommend using suspended compounds and hyphenation in the following cases? hard- and software; up- and downgrade.

A. Maybe on Twitter. Otherwise, the awkwardness outweighs the economy.

June Q&A

Q. The following wording seems problematic to me: “Additional software may be required to use the fingerprint reader.” This could be interpreted to mean that the software might have to use the fingerprint reader. Your thoughts?

A. There is certainly room for misunderstanding. Transposing into the active voice might help: The fingerprint reader may require additional software.

Q. My company has a handbook called The Standards and Expectations Handbook. We intend to call it “the handbook” for short. When written, should “the Handbook” be capitalized to denote that we’re talking about the specific book, or should it be lowercase?

A. You can do it either way. Here we write “the Manual” when referring to CMOS (italic, because it’s a shortened italic title), but it wouldn’t be wrong to call it “the manual.”

Q. In my footnotes, I want to cite something as well as explain what it is I have cited, because I do not want to insert the info in the body of my paragraph. How do I do this? Does the citation go first or the explanation?

A. Put your citation first and the explanation after. (When an explanation comes first in a note, a citation after it might appear to be in support of the explanation rather than in support of something in the text.)

Q. Hello, my question concerns hyphenating the term “anti-Second Amendment.” Wherever I see it, it is hyphenated as in my first sentence, but if the purpose of the hyphen is to let the reader know which of the words are linked, then “anti Second-Amendment” would seem to make more sense. But my spelling checker flags this alternate hyphenation. Is this an instance where we would be justified breaking the rule?

A. First, capitalized proper nouns are rarely hyphenated. The job of a hyphen is to link two words. The capital letters in a proper noun do that job very well; a hyphen is usually overkill. Second, Chicago style does not use a hyphen to link a prefix (like anti-) to an open compound. We require an en dash (anti–Second Amendment), because a hyphen would link only anti and Second, leaving us with an amendment that is “anti-Second.”

Q. How do I present the first mention of an in-text cited source which is normally referred to with initials? Specifically, AAALAC, which is the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care. Is this correct? (Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care [AAALAC] 2011)

A. You could do that, although it would be more elegant to introduce the initialism in the text than in a citation. Note too that if you are going to use “AAALAC 2011” thereafter as your citation (which seems practical), the reference list entry must go under AAALAC, rather than under Association.

Q. Greetings, Wise Ones—House style at our university press is to omit the period after contractions such as Dr or Mrs and omit periods in abbreviated names of countries, organizations, etc. Question: When faced with a careless author whose transcriptions of source material cannot be easily verified, do we let these inconsistencies in quoted material stand or impose house style and omit periods throughout? Does this fall under the umbrella of permissible silent changes?

A. Explain the issue and ask the writer to check the original quotations for accuracy. If this is impossible, an editor must be very careful in changing quotations. We would not recommend editing all quotations to conform to house style. If you were to impose an unusual style like removing all periods from quotations, discerning readers would immediately sense that the quotations had been tampered with. Rather, if the style in a given quotation is inconsistent in a minor way and can’t be checked, the prevailing style in that quote (not house style) could be followed in making a silent change or two to correct what are probably typos. If the inconsistencies are extensive or notable in any way, however, the use of sic or a comment on the issues might be more appropriate than silently correcting them.

Q. How do I cite a Google Forms survey that I have conducted for my research paper in Chicago format?

A. State the title and add that it was a Google Forms survey. If the survey has a URL, you can give it, along with the dates you gave the survey.

Q. There is no guidance in the manual to settle a difference between editors and a graphic designer about the interior design of books. Our audience is educators. The graphic designer makes the back of the title page (with copyright and ordering information) part of the design, uses fancy font in the headers of body text, etc. The introductory chapter has a photo occupying two-thirds of the page. I contend that the visuals dominate the text and distract the reader. She contends that pages of gray print are not appealing.

A. A classic standoff! You might have to pick your battles. Argue firmly when it comes to protecting the text where the design actually causes trouble and confusion, and try to let go of the aesthetic issues for now. After all, your educators might like a jazzy treatment. Distraction isn’t always bad; it can be a little break from academic tedium.

If you work with this designer frequently, and if you feel that her design approach isn’t appropriate for your books, try to get some specific feedback on the finished product. See how book reviewers receive it, or poll some educators in exchange for free copies. If others agree that the design is inappropriate for the audience, and if you have any choice in the matter, ask for a different designer.

Q. Hello, how do I cite an electronic thesis that I found on the web?

A. Cite this as you would any other dissertation (see CMOS 14.224 for examples), but include a URL. For documents retrieved from a commercial database, give the name of the database and add, in parentheses, any identification number supplied or recommended by the database.

Q. For a poster, is the following correct, “Friday June 17th 8:00 pm,” or does there need to be a comma between Friday and June?

A. If the words are all set on the same line in the same type size and color, then yes, you need a comma after Friday. Chicago style does not put th after the day: “June 17” says it perfectly. You also need a comma after the date, and Chicago style uses periods in p.m.:

Friday, June 17, 8:00 p.m.

The same information could appear on a poster without any punctuation, however, if the position, type size, color, or other design elements clearly separate day, date, and time.

Q. When writing about the town in Massachusetts, should I use Foxboro or Foxborough? The latter is the technical, legal name; the former is what everybody (USPS included) prefers and actually uses.

A. Choose one and explain your choice. For instance: They lived in Foxboro, Massachusetts (officially Foxborough, although that spelling is largely ignored).

Q. I received a lease agreement and am questioning the meaning of one line in it. The line says, “Landlord will be responsible for any structural or major maintenance and repairs, other than routine maintenance and repairs that are not due to Tenant’s misuse.” I believe this means that the landlord will not be responsible for repairs that are not due to tenant’s misuse, whereas I’m being told that it means that the landlord will not be responsible for repairs that are due to tenant’s misuse.

A. That messy sentence is almost impossible to figure out. It appears to be an instance of misnegation; the writer probably didn’t mean what the sentence actually says. Unfortunately, I’m afraid you need a lawyer, not a style guide.