New Questions and Answers

July Q&A

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!)