New Questions and Answers

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.

July Q&A

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.