New Questions and Answers

Q. I wrote a report at work, and whenever I wrote a sentence such as “Most businesses pay taxes monthly, however, some small businesses pay taxes quarterly,” the sentence was changed to “Most businesses pay taxes monthly. However, some small businesses pay taxes quarterly.” Is this correct?

A. It’s fine to use however in the middle of a sentence (“In the morning, however, I like to have coffee”). But you used however to join two sentences: (1) “Most businesses pay taxes monthly” and (2) “some small businesses pay taxes quarterly.” Your editor was correct to separate them properly. The editor could also have chosen to join your sentences with a semicolon or dash: “Most businesses pay taxes monthly; however, some small businesses pay taxes quarterly.” Please see CMOS 5.207 and 6.55.

Q. When tables are double enumerated (3.1, 3.2, etc.) is a full stop placed after the number and before the space separating it from the table title?

A. This is usually a design decision rather than an editorial one. You can see examples of it with and without the period at CMOS 3.52 (“Table titles”).

Q. I’m editing a Regency-era romance, and there are several references to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, shortened to Foreign Secretary in some places and Secretary in others. I’m aware of Chicago’s preference for lowercase in such circumstances. I find myself using lowercase for the prime minister with ease, but the secretary is giving me pause. I’m worried about creating confusion with the modern idea of clerical secretaries.

A. In a Regency-era romance where the full title and partial title of the secretary of foreign affairs appear in several places, you can probably trust readers to understand that this character is not an administrative assistant in the office of a modern start-up. (If not, capitalization should be the least of your worries.)

Q. I’m editing a dissertation that quotes letters and interviews and other private documents. I understand that authors’ names in the bibliography do not include clerical titles such as Father, Bishop, and Archbishop. Does that apply to footnotes as well? And should the clerical titles be omitted for the recipients of the letters? Given that the dissertation concerns all manner of ecclesiastical matters, it includes many references to clergy at all levels of the hierarchy.

A. You were right to inquire! In scholarship, it’s much more important to include information that is relevant to the work than to follow a style guide’s preferences. Style must accommodate the work, not the other way around. As you suspect, in a dissertation concerning ecclesiastical matters, the titles of people can be very important, indicating their place in the clerical hierarchy, their manners, their viewpoints, or their power relative to the addressee. If the writer included them, they should not be removed without consultation, and the writer’s wish to keep them should take precedence over a style preference.

Q. I am writing a long research paper, and in almost every page the footnotes take up nearly half the page. Most of my sources have URLs with them; am I allowed to take out all of the URLs in the footnotes if they are included in my bibliography?

A. You should ask your instructor what’s allowed, but as far as Chicago is concerned, footnotes may consist of short citations (author, short title, page number) when there’s a bibliography to provide full citations. Please see CMOS 14.18.

Q. Is it permissible to modify the verb tenses in a quotation to fit the grammatical and/or aesthetic structure of a sentence, presuming that the meaning of the original is not otherwise altered?

A. This is not permissible unless you show your changes in brackets:

Sherman asked whether he could alter the verb tenses “presuming that the meaning of the original [was] not otherwise altered.”

You can read about this use of brackets at 13.12 and 13.58. (For other kinds of permitted changes to quotations, see CMOS 13.7–8.)

Q. Many online journals are switching from continuous pagination of their articles to assigning each article a number. I’m working with a company that wants to incorporate these article numbers in their citations. Where would the article number go in the citation?

A. Since CMOS is silent on this, it’s up to you, but logic would suggest that article numbers come after volume numbers.

Q. I took typing in 1967 and was taught the two-space convention and have used it ever since. That is, until one of those pesky millennials complained and slapped me with your website. When did the convention change?

A. I’m afraid we can’t pin this one on millennials! The convention changed quite a while ago. (Our Q&A has covered the topic more than once, and you can read more about it at Wikipedia.)

Q. I’m editing a biography of a WWII pilot. Would bomber training and fighter training be capitalized because they are referring to specific types of planes?

A. Fighters and bombers are not actually specific types of planes; they are general categories. Specific types of fighters would be (for example) the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle, and the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor. You can find a list of WWII fighters and bombers here.

Q. A friend and I are debating over the proper use of as in this sentence: “You are as unique as your style.” My friend believes the sentence requires a verb at the end such as “You are as unique as your style is.” We cannot figure out which construction is correct.

A. The verb is is implied; it’s not necessary to state it.

Q. How would this be punctuated correctly? “The AZ Group of Companies’, comprising ABC Machine Company, DEF Machine Company, and GHI Corporation, mission is to provide . . .” or “The AZ Group of Companies,’ comprising ABC Machine Company, DEF Machine Company, and GHI Corporation, mission is to provide . . .”? I’m writing a brochure and can’t find it anywhere online.

A. Forgive the bluntness, but you will never find this online, because no one would ever write it either way. Please rewrite it—there are many better ways. Here are two suggestions:

The mission of the AZ Group of Companies, comprising ABC, etc., is to provide . . .
The mission of the AZ Group of Companies (ABC, etc.) is to provide . . .

Q. Is there a rule I can point to in self-defense to justify the following hyphenation of compound nouns: “in private- and business life”? Business life is an unhyphenated compound noun in this sentence, but the first term, private, is hyphenated by virtue of being separated from the second term of its compound form, life. Does that sound right?

A. Not quite. Private life and business life are simply two adjective-noun combinations (not compounds), which you compacted a bit in your example by not repeating life. Think of similar constructions that you probably wouldn’t even consider hyphenating; yours is no different:

in big and small matters
through textbook and online instruction
at public and private venues

Q. In a graph with two labeled y axes, where the left axis label is turned counterclockwise so that it is read from down to up, what direction should the right label be turned: clockwise or counterclockwise?

A. Both axes should face the same direction so they can be read at the same time without any need to turn the book. Your readers’ necks will thank you.

August Q&A

Q. In “Who shall I say is calling?” is who the object of say (and therefore whom would also be acceptable), or is who the subject of is (and therefore whom is wrong)? I always thought one rearranged the order of the sentence to check (“I shall say whom”).

A. Who is the subject of is. When you rearranged the order to check, you stopped too soon: “I shall say who is calling.” I is the main subject, and shall say is the main verb. The entire phrase “who is calling” is the direct object of the main verb, shall say. (If you don’t trust your ear regarding who/whom, switch to a different pronoun and it may become clear whether to use the subject or object form: “I shall say she [not her] is calling.”)

Q. We have a debate going on about the following sentence. Should there be a comma after the word states or not? Following rule 6.28 about commas before independent clauses joined by conjunctions, I believe it would. Thoughts? “The company operates in DC and all states except AK, ME, NH, NY, and RI.”

A. “Except AK, ME, etc.” is not actually an independent clause; it is a prepositional phrase. So there should be no comma after states.

Q. If Q & A stands for question and answer (as in a Q & A session), how would you make this a plural, as in “The police officer recorded the [questions and answers] in his notebook”? I assume Qs & As is correct but would appreciate your confirmation.

A. The styling “Qs & As” (with spaces) implies “questions and answers.” For a question-and-answer session, however, we write “Q&A” (with no spaces) and “Q&As” for the plural. The meanings are close but not identical.

Q. How do I alphabetize “Prince Michael of Greece” as an author name?

A. Please see CMOS 16.38 (“Indexing princes, dukes, and other titled persons”): “Princes and princesses are usually indexed under their given names.”

Charles, Prince of Wales
William, Prince

Q. I am editing a paper and changing the citations into Chicago style. The sentence in question reads: “In terms of the transition from a sociology of labour, there has been enough uptake to allow for such assessments (see Lier 2007; Castree 2007; Coe and Lier 2011; Rutherford 2010; and Coe 2013 for a more recent review).” How would I cite this in Chicago?

A. This is your lucky day: they are already in Chicago style! Please see CMOS 15.29 (“Multiple text references”) for a similar example.

Q. I’m trying to write a footnote for a book that has been revised and enlarged. How do I cite the reviser? This is what the author has currently provided: James Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. George Birkbeck Hill, revised by L. F. Powell, rev. ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1934–64), 2:365. I feel that if I include Powell it should be abbreviated somehow—“rev. by” or something. Should I treat him like an editor instead?

A. Yes, you can change “revised by” to ed. or rev. (not rev. by) to match the ed. in front of George Hill’s name. And it would make sense to place the fact of its being a revised edition (rev. ed.) before the name of the revision editor so that the phrases together mean “the revised edition was edited by L. F. Powell”: James Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. George Birkbeck Hill, rev. ed., ed. L. F. Powell . . .

Q. My colleagues in marketing add a full space before and after a hyphen rather than using a dash without spaces. I agree with CMOS on the proper uses of hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes, but haven’t seen any direction about the spaces before and after these characters. I tend to kern a little air between the beginning and end of a dash if the font jams them together, but it is nothing remotely close to a full space.

A. Please see CMOS 2.13 (“Dashes”): “For an em dash—one that indicates a break in a sentence like this—either use the em dash character on your word processor or type two hyphens (leave no space on either side).”

Q. What is CMOS’s take on the use of and the defining of acronyms in section and subsection headings?

A. It’s fine to use and define unfamiliar acronyms in headings, but that doesn’t take the place of defining them in the text. The text should make sense even if all the headings and subheadings are removed.

Q. I am citing a letter from a volume of documents that was once part of a manuscript collection at an archive. I have a photocopy of the letter, made twenty-five years ago when the volume was at the archive, but the volume has since been stolen. How do I cite the letter?

A. You could cite the document and add “The volume has since been lost” or “No longer available.” Be sure to add the word photocopy to your citation (see 14.228). You don’t want readers to think you’re the perp who took the original! 

Q. A colleague frequently uses the abbreviation Sr. in reports and other communications, even when not abbreviating other words. For example, “the Sr. Leadership Team agreed to meet on Thursday” or “the Sr. Researcher is attending the meeting this week.” Am I just being picky?

A. If these are in-house memos and the culture of your office is such that people use abbreviations or initialisms as time-savers (mtg., appt., ASAP, FYI), then you are being picky. If the reports are formal documents that go out to news media or shareholders, then an editor should spell out such abbreviations.

Q. I recently reviewed a scientific test report and my comments included recommendations to correct the use of over 80 instances of passive voice. I rewrote (corrected) each of the instances of passive voice for the author and included them in my comments. The author rejected each of my comments with the rationale that the avoidance of passive voice does not apply to scientific test reports. Is this true?

A. It is true that scientists have a long tradition of using the passive, probably because it is usually clear that the writers performed the actions being described. In such contexts the passive can be more efficient and less distracting than the active (“the temperature was adjusted to 212°F and the beakers were positioned in order of volume” rather than “Roger and I adjusted the temperature to 212°F and Harriet and Waldo positioned them in order of volume”).

On the other hand, passives can obscure the actor in places where it should be revealed (the “mistakes were made” problem). They can also be awkward (“the weights were lifted by the subjects”) or pretentious (“it was concluded that”) or invite a dangler (“after measuring, the beakers were filled”). And when overuse of the passive makes for dull reading, changing some instances to the active voice is an improvement.

Since there is nothing ungrammatical or inherently wrong with the passive and all good prose makes some use of it, it’s hard to say whether you overstepped by trying to eliminate it. But if you marked every instance of the passive as incorrect regardless of whether it caused a problem, then you may have annoyed the writer and damaged your credibility, causing the writer to reject your editing wholesale.

Q. I have a question that my colleague and I can’t find a definitive answer to, and that is whether less or fewer is used with countable, but singular, nouns. For example, “one less/fewer group,” “one less/fewer number,” and so on.

A. If the countable noun is plural, choose fewer; if it’s singular, choose less. (When CMOS says to reserve fewer for countable things, it’s talking about plural countable things. When it says to reserve less for mass nouns, it means singular mass nouns.) One is always singular: there is one less food group in the new pyramid; there is one less number in this column. Two (or more) is plural: there are two fewer food groups in the new pyramid; there are three fewer numbers in this column.

Q. Is it acceptable to use undefined acronyms in the table of contents, waiting to define the acronyms in the body of the document?

A. If you are sure your readers won’t look at the table of contents and throw the book across the room because nothing makes sense, then it’s acceptable.