New Questions and Answers

Q. Can you use ’80s when referring to the 1880s? Thanks.

A. Yes. But if you want people to know what you’re talking about, and your context hasn’t already made it clear which century you’re in, then no.

Q. While copyediting several scientific research papers in different fields (mathematics, chemistry, physics, medicine, etc.), we encounter some uncountable nouns used in countable forms (with plural s and preceded by an or a). Some of these words may be used across the paper more than a hundred times, and correcting these may require rephrasing some parts. The authors of the papers complain that this is how they use these terms. Is it possible to use these uncountable nouns in the countable forms if this is how they are used in the scientific field? Also, should I question every single noun used in the research paper and check whether it is countable or uncountable?

A. Without examples, it’s difficult to know how to advise you, but normally it is the copyeditor’s job to render prose in standard English and query unfamiliar usages, especially if they dominate in a given text. (It’s the unglamorous side of editing!)

Q. My question is about this sentence construction: I’m bigger, stronger, and I know more about it. In narration, I would change this to “I’m bigger and stronger, and I know more about it.” But when it appears in dialogue in novels, I’m inclined to leave it as is. What’s Chicago’s take on this construction? Am I right to be fixing it in narration? Thank you!

A. It’s a judgment call. But by editing only the punctuation, you can eliminate the infelicity and retain the original language: I’m bigger, stronger. And I know more about it.

Q. In mathematics it is common to refer to an important construction or theorem due to several authors by joining their names together with hyphens. For example, one often refers to the Cartan-Eilenberg spectral sequence for the spectral sequence of Cartan and Eilenberg. There seems to be room for confusion when an author’s name is already hyphenated. For example, some authors refer to the conjecture of Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer as the Birch-Swinnerton-Dyer conjecture, whereas others write the Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer conjecture. Is there a style which you recommend?

A. Since using two hyphens (or an en dash and a hyphen) would be confusing, use and instead.

Q. Should the sound (i.e., pronunciation) of a parenthetically included word be factored in when deciding between a and an? “Patent holders may wish to consider a (preliminary) injunction” or “Patent holders may wish to consider an (preliminary) injunction.” Lots of Internet discussion on this one, but I can’t seem to find any definitive answer in style manuals or grammar books.

A. A definitive answer would be hard to find, but the reader can’t skip over the word in parentheses, and either choice is problematic. In most cases like this, there’s little to justify having parentheses in the first place. Removing them is the easiest solution.

Q. Hello. I wonder where in the CMOS might lie hidden the answer to the following question: should I refer readers to “Table 1, in contrast to Tables 2 and 3,” or to “Table 1, in contrast to tables 2 and 3”? In other words, should all items in a numbered series such as tables, sections, chapters, etc., be capitalized in such references? A minipoll among colleagues has yielded mixed results; hence my appeal to the Ultimate Authority in Such Matters.

A. We have very sneakily hidden it under section 3.51 (“Numbering tables”). It is also hidden in the index under “Tables > numbering of, 1.55, 2.26, 3.51–52, 3.54.”

Q. I edit academic papers in Canadian Press style, which uses per cent rather than percent. However, I am always told that while the text must be Canadian Press, the footnotes must be Chicago style. Since it looks odd to have per cent in the text and percent in the footnotes, is it permissible to alter that word to Canadian Press style in footnotes? The same would go for the problem with Canadian Press style: colour, behaviour, etc., in the text as opposed to color and behavior in the footnotes.

A. Anyone who asks an editor to use Canadian Press style in the text and Chicago style in the notes is begging for inconsistencies in all the ways you mention and more. And if you’re able to use two style guides simultaneously without mixing things up, you deserve double pay! However, given the possibility that you are taking the instructions too literally, you should run this by your supervisor. Once made to see the issues, your supervisor might clarify—e.g., that you should use Canadian spelling throughout.

Q. I’m editing a translated interview transcription for publication by a university press. The sentence in question reads as follows: I asked, “Mr. agent, why don’t you do me a favor.” The speaker is addressing an unidentified agent of a Colombian paramilitary. The uncapitalized agent looks strange following the title of address, but then of course agent isn’t an actual capitalizable name. Should I go with “Mr. Agent,” or would “Mister Agent” take some of the formal edge off, or is “Mr. agent” preferable?

A. “Mister Agent” or “Mr. Agent” would both follow the customary capitalization. I agree that there is little precedent for “Mr. agent.”

Q. What is the proper way to punctuate or structure a bulleted list of items that ends with “and much more!”? Thank you!

A. “And much more” can be the last item in the list, or it can be the first words of a paragraph that continues after the list. Punctuate the items as you would a list in running text. For guidelines on punctuating different kinds of lists, please see CMOS 6.123–25.

Q. Dear CMOS experts, I’m in a debate with my thesis advisor regarding using years or decades as time-stamp adjectives. For instance, I might write: “Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel The Great Gatsby” or “influenced by 1950s rock and roll.” However, my advisor says this is wrong. It should be “Fitzgerald’s novel from 1925 The Great Gatsby” or “rock and roll from the 1950s.” Who is right?

A. You are right, but your advisor is following a zombie rule that won’t die, and there may be no point in arguing. You might ask your advisor to point you to the rule in an up-to-date style manual. You can also point to CMOS 5.82 as support for your own view.

Q. I’m writing this with tears in my eyes, my family and I were mugged at the park of the hotel where we stayed all cash, credit card and mobile phone were stolen off us. It would take me 5 working days to access funds in my account, our flight will be leaving in less than 8-hrs but the hotel manager won’t let us leave until we settle the bills, i promise to make the refund once we get back home.I need about $1,940. You can have the cash wired via Money Gram transfer, thank God i have my passport ID as identification to pick up the money. John Brewer, 54 Boulevard Chave, 13005 Marseille, France. Let me know if you are heading to the Money Gram outlet now.

A. Don’t worry! We sent $3,000 (for good measure) to John Bowen, Montpellier, France (eek—is that right? Hope so!). Meanwhile, let us help: you have a serious problem with run-on sentences; Chicago normally spells out numbers up to and including one hundred; there is no need for a hyphen in “eight hours”; periods need a space after; and the personal pronoun “I” should be capitalized. Good thing you wrote!

September Q&A

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. In the first example in 8.158, the word than is capitalized: “Mnemonics That Work Are Better Than Rules That Do Not.” This does not seem to be in keeping with your general principles of headline-style capitalization. We’d be grateful if you would clarify.

A. Than is a conjunction in that title and therefore capped (see 8.157, point 1; but see point 4 for some conjunctions that are not capped). When than is a preposition in a title (“Younger than Springtime”), Chicago style lowercases it. (Check the examples in a good dictionary to figure out which part of speech a word is.)

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.