New Questions and Answers

Q. Do you use a or an before a word that begins with the letter S?

A. If the S is pronounced with a hissing sound (“sss”), use a: a snack. If the S is pronounced as the letter S (“ess”), use an: an SVGA cable.

Q. I’m hoping you can clarify the meaning of this line in 8.22: “Queen Elizabeth; Elizabeth II; the queen (in a British Commonwealth context, the Queen).” What counts as a “British Commonwealth context”? I’m editing a novel that takes place in the UK but refers to a meeting between the sovereigns of the UK and another country. Should these be styled as “the Queen” and “the king,” or “the queen” and “the king”?

A. If you are editing a novel for a UK publisher primarily for UK readers, or a novel that takes place in the UK with characters or a narrator who wouldn’t dream of lowercasing their queen, uppercasing is appropriate. For consistency, you would style all kings and queens in that document in the same way.

Q. I’m alphabetizing a list of schools for a journal of children’s prose and poetry. Do I alpha-order a school with The as the first word under T, or do I use the first significant word? E.g., The Hun School: T or H?

A. You can do it either way, but in many cases, alphabetizing under The isn’t very helpful. Often a reader might not even know whether a name starts with The.

Q. Some guidance, please, on the use of (s) to indicate that a noun may be singular or plural, as in “The manager will interview the candidate(s).” I use the plural candidates to indicate there is at least one candidate but have been getting pushback from authors who ask for the source of my decision.

A. Although we aren’t crazy about the (s) solution, we do use it at times in CMOS. Another solution is to write “candidate or candidates,” but that’s a little clunky. Simply using the plural is often a good solution, but if it gives the wrong impression (e.g., that if there’s only one candidate, someone other than the manager will interview), then avoid it in favor of clarity.

Q. I am writing a book on a movement practice called Authentic Movement that distinguishes those in the role of movers and those in the role of witnesses. Should the words Mover and Witness be capitalized since they have a specialized meaning in this context? And if so, should they be capitalized in just the first usage, or throughout the entire book?

A. Chicago style lowercases words like these. If your goal is to promote Authentic Movement into franchises or some other commercial use, then caps might be appropriate. But in normal contexts, even if these words denote practitioners of Authentic Movement, they are still common nouns (not proper nouns) with no need for capitalization.

Q. At work I was questioned about the use of numerals versus words in the following sentence: “Table 7 reports the number of cases in which individual debtors filed for protection under Chapter 13 and stated on Official Form 1 that they had filed a case during the preceding eight years.” I had previously explained to this person that if you use numerals for a number greater than 10 in one part of a sentence, you should also use numerals for other similar numbers in that sentence that normally would be spelled out. When she read the sentence cited above, she asked why the second-to-last word (eight) wasn’t replaced with a numeral (8), given that I had used numerals earlier in that sentence. I explained that the other numerals were part of the title of a table, bankruptcy law chapter, and form, so they weren’t in the same category as the last number and thus did not require me to write “8 years.” Am I correct?

A. Yes, you are correct. However, when every number in a paragraph is a numeral except one, sometimes it’s a good strategy to change that one to a numeral as well so readers don’t get distracted by it or doubt your competence. It’s called “regional consistency.”

Q. Grüezi. How do I handle cf. in combination with e.g. in a citation? Combining the usual rules yields (cf., e.g., XYZ 2014). However, that looks very clumsy to me. Therefore I have two distinct propositions which I’d be very grateful to be verified: (A) The CMoS seems to support eg., so: “(cf. eg. XYZ 2014)”? (B) From unofficial sources, I find cfeg., therefore “(cfeg. XYZ 2014)”?

A. You got it right the first time: (cf., e.g., XYZ 2014). Clear and correct.

Q. I know semicolons are mandated for complicated lists. But is a complicated list defined only as a list containing commas within the items in the list?

A. Although items in a complicated series may well contain commas, the items can be complicated in other ways—for instance, they might have dashes or parentheses or a series of nouns connected by and or or.

Q. Is it OK to greet someone with “Morning!” or is it “’Morning!”? I’d think that it’s common understanding that you’re saying “Good morning” and not just shouting the time of day at someone.

A. An apostrophe means that letters are missing from a word, not that a word is missing from a phrase. Since “Good morning” is a two-word phrase, there is no reason to use an apostrophe in front of “Morning.” I agree that the phrase is easy to understand in its short form. In a context where it could be confused with shouting the time of day at someone (I like your way of putting it), it would be better to include “Good.”

Q. I’m writing an email to academics, selling a product offered “24/7, 365-days a year.” Should I write “24-hours a day, 365-days a year”? (The word year appears at the end of my sentence.) I am stumped with the slashes (/) and the hyphens. Thank you for your time and help!

A. You don’t need any hyphens, and it’s always nice to be consistent in your styling. So either “24/7, 365 days/year” or “24 hours a day, 365 days a year.” Hyphens come into play when you use a phrase like that to modify something else (our 365-days-a-year service) or when you use it in place of a noun (an eighty-four-year-old).

Q. Does this dedication need correction? “This book is dedicated to my kids, who I’m crazy about” or “This book is dedicated to my kids, whom I’m crazy about”?

A. You could leave who as it is, but whom is more appropriate for a book dedication, even though it might look stuffy in other contexts. The preposition at the end is just fine, however.

Q. Hi, I wanted to ask how quotation marks would be used for a timing, for example, John Cage’s 4’3”. Because this features both single and double quotation marks, how would I quote it? Would it be ‘4’33”’ or “4’33””? Thanks in advance.

A. Confusion abounds here because minute and second marks are not quotation marks. Minute and second marks are straight and slanted (use the prime and double prime symbols: 4′33″); quotation marks are either curly (“4”) or straight but vertical ("4"). You can use quotation marks around minute and second expressions as you would any other quoted text, but if the typography gets ugly, paraphrase instead of quoting, and spell out minutes and seconds.

Q. Can we start a sentence with But?

A. Yes—it’s perfectly grammatical. (But watch out for sticklers who haven’t read a grammar book since they were in high school!)

June Q&A

Q. I have been asked to include in my bibliography of works written in ancient Greek and translated into English an indication of whose Latin translation of the Greek would have been most widely read in the Middle Ages. Where and how would I include this information in the bibliography?

A. Adding this information will turn your bibliography into an “annotated bibliography,” with a sentence or two elaborating on some sources. You can either rewrite the whole list into an essay or simply add a sentence or two at the end of some or all of the citations. Please see CMOS 14.59 and figure 14.10.

Q. I had a question regarding the proper citation of a source with a pagination error. The printed book I’m working with (an early modern source from 1650) jumps erroneously from page 30 to page 34. I have been told that I should use the print signatures in the citation, but that I should also add the page numbers in quotes to indicate the mispagination. Would a proper footnote then look like this? Ibid., sig. C5v–C6r, “30–34.”

A. If that form is a familiar convention in your field, that’s fine, but as a reader, I would be confused. Why not make it clear? E.g., Ibid., sig. C5v–C6r, misnumbered as “30–34.”

Q. I have completed my first literary novel. I am working with a well respected editor who has edited many modern novelists. In my writing, I have followed Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style and The Chicago Manual of Style in my use of the semicolon. My editor claims that my uses are “incorrect.” Here is a typical example from my book: “When the spring comes, you tell us we cannot work until we pay our dues; but the problem is, we cannot pay until we work.” The editor’s “correction”: “When the spring comes, you tell us we cannot work until we pay our dues. But the problem is, we cannot pay until we work.” My editor has deleted every semicolon in the manuscript. Can someone explain what is happening to the lowly semicolon and why it gets no respect?

A. Semicolons tend to be frowned upon in fiction. An editor who doesn’t allow them at all is overly rigid, however, since they are sometimes useful and even necessary. As for the sentence you quote, a semicolon isn’t wrong (see CMOS 6.57), but it’s a matter of taste whether the best choice is to start a new sentence or use a semicolon or even a comma before but.

Q. I wonder if I am correct in capitalizing the word Resident when referring to a physician who is in residency training, in order to distinguish this specific type of person/professional from the generic resident of a community.

A. It’s not Chicago style to cap a common noun like resident, but if you think lowercasing would cause confusion in a given context, capping might be the best solution.

Q. Hello. We are a university library, and annually we create a bibliography of faculty and staff works. Within that context, I would like to know how to construct a citation for an art exhibition (not the related catalog or pamphlet, but the event). We have an exhibit by an individual artist that we have cited like this:

Wallace, Tammy Perakis. Re-Done. Art Exhibition, Becker Gallery, Courtright Memorial Library, Otterbein University, Westerville, OH, March 24 – June 30, 2015.

And an exhibit by multiple artists that we have cited like so:

Hobbs, Frank. In The American Landscape. Art exhibition juried by Steve Doherty, Beverley Street Studio School, Staunton Augusta Art Center, Staunton, VA, May 23 – June 29, 2014.

I used elements of 14.226, 14.250, 14.112 (latter citation), and 8.195 to construct these. I also considered 14.223. So what recommendations do you have? What needs tweaked? Thanks!

A. CMOS is silent—after all, an event is not a conventional item to include in a list of published work. You’ve done what we recommend: wing it, based on related examples. If you’re happy, we’re happy! (But if you’d like to tweak something for the sake of Chicago style, delete the spaces around your en dashes.)

Q. Is the word program capitalized as part of the name of a program, such as Orphan/Infant Care Program—or is it Orphan/Infant Care program? Does the rule change if it is in text or on a poster?

A. In text, program is capped only if it is part of the name of the program. In a poster headline or title, all important words may be capped.

Q. Is it ever acceptable to use both footnotes and endnotes in the same paper, such as to separate citations from longer comments? Or is it permissible to combine both elements into either footnotes or endnotes? I have not been able to find any answer to this in the Manual. Am I just bad at looking? Thanks!

A. Well, since you ask, yes—you are pretty bad at looking. CMOS 14.2 describes typical content for notes (“The notes allow space for unusual types of sources as well as for commentary on the sources cited”), and 14.44 lays out the case for endnotes plus footnotes. (“Endnotes plus footnotes: In a heavily documented work it is occasionally helpful to separate substantive notes from source citations. In such a case, the citation notes should be numbered and appear as endnotes.”)

Q. I’m hoping you can help me with my confusion about Chicago’s guidelines for citing website content. The guideline in 14.245 is for informally published content and doesn’t seem to quite fit articles that are published on websites that are not online magazines, newspapers, or blogs. For example, I’m editing a book in which the author cites an article published on the website for the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley (http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/). Should I treat this like an article in an online magazine even though it isn’t really, or should I follow the guidelines for “website content” (title first, followed by author, etc.)? Thanks!

A. You’ve got the right idea. It’s messy out there online; this is why 14.245 cautions that “some editorial discretion will be required.” So just do your best. Because it’s not practical for a style guide to try to anticipate every type of Internet resource and include examples of citations for it, our hope is that you will extrapolate from the more common citation examples to fashion citations that are clear enough to guide a reader to the source.

Q. Where can I find the guidelines for punctuation and capitalization in a sentence with numbered parts? Take the following for instance: There were two main viewpoints presented: 1) All people lie, and 2) Only certain people lie.

A. You can find this at CMOS 6.123 (“Run-in lists”). Here’s your example in Chicago style: There were two main viewpoints presented: (1) all people lie, and (2) only certain people lie.

Q. On the title page of some workshop proceedings, is it correct to list “Edited by” and “Compiled by” names separately? If so, what is the difference between the editor of the proceedings and the compiler? If it is correct to list editors and compilers separately, do we ignore the compilers in our citation?

A. Editors and compilers can do overlapping but different kinds of work on a project, so you should trust that the title page of the proceedings accurately reflects who did what, even if the reader isn’t told exactly what each role was. It’s not the job of the citer to question this, although you might reasonably decide not to include all the information in your citation. You can see examples of citations that include various types of contributors at CMOS 14.88.

Q. When you write about a GIF in a text, can you just refer to it as GIF on first reference or do you have to write “graphic interchange format (GIF)”? I don’t think the long version is actually helpful; more people know it as GIF. And I’d be using it as a noun.

A. You never have to do anything that isn’t helpful. If a style guide says you do, you need a better guide.