New Questions and Answers

Q. How does Chicago recommend citing a URL that is only accessible via a paywall? I’ve noticed the practice of including a parenthetical statement “(subscription required),” but I haven’t seen Chicago address this.

A. You can find examples of citations of such materials at CMOS 14.271. Although our examples don’t include information about subscription, add it if you think it will be helpful to your readers. Beware, however, that noting it in one case somewhat implies that all sources have been checked for accessibility. That might oblige you to recheck all the sources.

Q. I work at a major children’s book publisher and have recently noticed a trend in creating books without any blanks at the end of the book. I would like to know if there is a rule on how many back-of-book blank pages are permissible in standard works of fiction (young-adult and middle-grade novels). At various adult publishers, I was taught that up to six pages is acceptable and that having at least a couple of blanks is actually preferable in order to allow for potential changes and additions during pass stages. But I can’t seem to find anything online or in CMS to support that. Thanks in advance for any light you can shed on this.

A. In conventional offset printing, large sheets of paper are folded into “signatures” of usually 16 or 32 pages (sometimes 8, or even 48) that are bound together and trimmed to make a book. For this reason, books have a page count that is a multiple of at least 8, and usually 16. Children’s picture books have long been paged at 24, 32, 48, or 64 pages. Middle-grade books page out at larger multiples. Having blank pages in a book isn’t a goal; it is simply unavoidable if the text and illustrations can’t fill all the available space. And since it’s expensive to tear out extra pages by hand, publishers turn a blind eye to the blanks. Digital printing doesn’t involve these large sheets of paper, so if you are seeing a lot of self-published or print-on-demand books, they probably won’t have any leftover pages.

Q. I am having a disagreement over the placement of a word in a sentence: “The estimated cost is 1% higher than the original estimated cost.” I think the word original is acting as an adverb and therefore should be replaced with the word originally, whereas a colleague suggests that original ought to act as an adjective describing cost. What’s your opinion?

A. If you use original, it’s an adjective modifying cost; if you use originally, it’s an adverb modifying estimated. They are both good usages, and the two wordings mean almost exactly the same thing.

Q. This problem came up when copyediting a journal: on a page that is occupied by a broadside image and has a single footnote (to the caption of the image), should the footnote be oriented the same as the image and caption (i.e., 90 degrees from normal), or should it stay as regular?

A. It’s not usual to footnote a caption rather than simply run the note into the caption with “Note:” in front of it, so you won’t find a rule for this in CMOS. But to compound the oddity by having two strings of text at right angles to each other is probably not a good idea. It’s almost always best, if possible, to set all the type on a page in such a way that it can be read continuously without turning the book.

Q. I often have to edit sentences with dangling modifiersfor example, “As a valued supporter, I am pleased to invite you . . .” My go-to improvement is to add you into the sentence: “As you are a valued supporter, I am pleased to invite you . . .” That is, until today, I got back feedback from a higher-up that said it had to be changed, because “you can’t change the subject of the sentence from you to I.” Now I’m really confused! Is that a legitimate critique? Should I just rework the entire sentence? Thanks!

A. Although the higher-up botched the grammar critique (you didn’t change the subject of the sentence; it was always I), it’s clear that your editing was rejected, so yes, you need to try again. For instance, you could move the offending phrase elsewhere (“I am happy to invite you, a valued supporter, . . .”) or make it declarative (“You are a valued supporter, and I am happy to invite you . . .”). If your higher-up just can’t part with the opening phrase, explain that you would be happy to reword but can’t think of a more efficient way to eliminate the dangling modifier. Using the term “dangling modifier” is often enough to frighten someone who doesn’t know grammar into complying.

Q. Is it grammatically correct to start a sentence with the word because?

A. Yes, it’s correct. It’s correct in formal prose when because is the beginning of a complete sentence, e.g.,

Because of the wind, it felt colder.

Because I was late, they towed my car.

Sticklers object to the use of because because it sometimes introduces a sentence fragment, and they think that sentence fragments are not allowed in writing. But they are wrong—sentence fragments are found in the very best of classic English prose. Because they work.

Q. Are there any permitted qualifications of the word unique?

A. Yes, certainly. The Oxford Dictionaries Online has posted a terrific piece about the misperception that unique can never be qualified (scroll about halfway down for the part specifically about unique).

Q. How do I in-text cite a quote from an organization’s website?

A. It’s best not to be too detailed or technical when citing in the text. Instead write something like ““According to a post on the Hyde Park Herald website on August 14, 2012, . . .” If it’s important, you can put the URL in parentheses, but if the URL is a yard long, it’s better to abbreviate to a reasonable root and let readers navigate for themselves: “According to a post on the Hyde Park Herald website (hpherald.com/category/editorials) on August 14, 2012, . . .”

Q. Is this sentence correct, and if not, why? Because it is seriously injured, the dog may die.

A. The sentence is correct. Strict editors might say that it is not correct because the pronoun it comes before the noun that it refers to (dog), but they would have trouble finding such a rule in any authoritative grammar book. If someone has objected to your sentence, it is probably because they are thinking of the rule that main-clause pronouns can’t refer forward to subordinate clauses yet to come (“It died, because the dog was seriously injured”). It’s fine for subordinate-clause pronouns to refer forward to main-clause antecedents yet to come.

Q. Dear Chicago, What is your stance on myriad versus a myriad of? Myriad thanks.

A. CMOS is silent on the issue, but Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary (our go-to resource) has this to say, s.v. myriad: “Recent criticism of the use of myriad as a noun, both in the plural form myriads and in the phrase a myriad of, seems to reflect a mistaken belief that the word was originally and is still properly only an adjective. As the entries here show, however, the noun is in fact the older form, dating to the 16th century. The noun myriad has appeared in the works of such writers as Milton (plural myriads) and Thoreau (a myriad of), and it continues to occur frequently in reputable English. There is no reason to avoid it.”

Q. Would one say, “He was a close friend of Gabriel’s” or “He was a close friend of Gabriel”? Is there a rule governing this?

A. There is! CMOS 5.47 calls your first construction a double possessive. Both forms are correct, but one or the other usually sounds more natural. “A friend of Gabriel’s” is the more common idiom.

Q. We hired an editor to edit our book (a novel), but several things just seem wrong. Here’s the quote:

“I see you got the water running.” Steve looked from the water canal to the disheveled man before him. “But what in God’s name happened to you?”

She wants to change it to

“I see you got the water running,” Steve looked from the water canal to the disheveled man before him, “but what in God’s name happened to you?”

Which is correct?

A. The first version is correct; the second one creates a run-on sentence. (I hope you got a good deal on that editor.)

September Q&A

Q. CMOS 6.9 and 6.10 clearly define where closing punctuation goes in relation to quotation marks—particularly when the quoted text is a complete thought or phrase. However, where does the period go in text like the following: In the Gross Weight column, type “.01” and in the Volume column, type “1”. I’ve been putting the period inside, as in the following: Change the customer order status from “Delivered” to “Invoiced/Closed.” Which is correct in these types of cases?

A. Please see CMOS 7.75 (“Distinguishing words to be typed and other elements”). In your first example, a period after the 1 is likely to be taken as part of what should be typed. At best, it’s ambiguous, so to avoid misreading, put the period outside the quotation marks. This situation is uncommon and an exception to the American rules for punctuating quotations. In the second example, the instruction is clear, so use standard punctuation, putting the period before the ending quotation mark.

Q. I am working with a manuscript in which the faculties of reason and feeling are described as rationality and emotionality. Since emotionality is derived from emotional, it seems to me that it might convey an excessively emotional state rather than feeling. Kindly advise.

A. A quick Internet search reveals that emotionality is a term used by psychologists. If the manuscript is in that area, the term could well be accurate and appropriate. It would be wise to query the author before changing anything; with a little more research you might save yourself the embarrassment of querying a basic term.

Q. Do you have a policy about this pet peeve of mine? I think it is fine to write something like “My office hours are 10–11 AM,” but it really seems wrong when the en-dash is used in place of the word and or to. How can we make the world stop writing “My office hours are from 10–11 AM” or “My office hours are between 10–11 AM”?

A. We do have such a policy! (Please see CMOS 6.78.) Unfortunately, we have no way to make the world follow it.

Q. Colleagues have asserted that the definite article is never used with a comparative and that the use of a definite article requires the superlative. Consequently, even in comparing two items, they’d use the superlative with the definite article: “That is the biggest house.” “That is a better car.” I’ve asserted that, in comparing only two items, one uses the comparative: “That is the bigger house.” “That is the better car.” Who is right?

A. There are two statements at issue: (1) that the definite article is never used with a comparative, which is wrong; (2) that when comparing only two items one uses the comparative, which is right—but not exclusively so. It’s idiomatic to use the superlative when comparing only two items. Sometimes forcing the comparative just makes you sound pedantic. You can read Grammar Girl on the subject here.

Q. When citing lines of dialogue in films and movies in the notes and bibliography system specifically, is it enough to cite only the name of the film in the footnote for a shortened citation? Or would it be in the author’s interest to include a time stamp (HH:MM:SS)? It seems that this would better reflect the citation style of articles in books wherein the shortened citation also includes a page reference. Thank you.

A. When you are trying to decide what to include in a citation, it’s less important to think about whether the styling is going to look like other citations than about what information is helpful to readers. Page numbers are included in citations because it’s difficult to locate a passage without them. Time stamps are similarly helpful: they save a reader literally hours of searching through a movie looking for the quoted material. So yes, include a time stamp when you cite a specific frame or bit of dialogue from a movie.

Q. What is the protocol for alphabetizing a band name that includes a proper name? For example, Dave Matthews Band, or Les Claypool’s Frog Brigade? In both cases, the name is of someone in the band. Is the protocol different if the proper name is of someone not in the band?

A. The name of a band is like the name of a company, so begin with the first letter of the first word (aside from articles like The). When alphabetizing, try to think like someone who is going to be using the list. Basing alphabetization on something like whether a name belongs to someone in the band would not be helpful. First, a reader would never guess that you were using that organizing principle, and second, even if you noted it at the top of the list, a reader might not know which names belong to band members.

Q. If a writer presents a compound formed with a prefix that does not appear in Merriam-Webster’s, should it be hyphenated? Or is it OK to “create” a word by closing it up (if it doesn’t look too weird)? Of course I can’t think of any examples at the moment, but this comes up occasionally and I am often not sure how to proceed.

A. It’s not just OK—it’s necessary that editors and writers negotiate these things intelligently. Even if the compound does appear in M-W, dictionaries don’t always agree on the spelling of compounds. You should be open to your writer’s wanting it a different way. The author may be following a usage in his or her field that diverges from what’s in the dictionary. It’s why you keep a style sheet.

Q. What is the rule regarding quotations within parentheses within sentences—and, additionally, multisentence quotations in same? I know that this is correct: You’ll never catch him working out (repetitions? routine? forget it). But is this correct? You’ll never catch him working out (“No reps and routines for me. I can’t stand them.”).

A. Putting more than one complete sentence in parentheses in the middle of another sentence doesn’t work. We don’t recommend it! If the quotation is from a written source, the original punctuation must be preserved, but if you are quoting something spoken, you can change the period to a semicolon or dash and omit the ending period. Please see CMOS 6.13.

Q. When listing page reference numbers for image credits at the back of a book, should the vertical list of page numbers default to the left or to the right? E.g., if page number 9 appears above page number 16, would the 9 appear above the 1 or above the 6? If page number 85 appears above page number 123, would the 8 appear above the 1 or above the 2 of 123?

A. You will find this done every which way. Generally, the right-alignment of numbers in a vertical list is important only when the numbers are quantities that might be tallied, such as in a table column. If the numbers include a decimal point, they may be aligned on the point instead of on the rightmost digit. When the numbers are enumerators, alignment is an aesthetic issue that is usually decided by a graphic designer.

Q. I’m working on a manuscript in which I cite an assignment I gave my students as well as various pieces of writing (and other documents) they produced in response to it. None of this material is available in any archive (besides my filing cabinet). Would you recommend using the CMOS guidelines for unpublished manuscripts for citation? Or do I acknowledge the “archival limits” in the text and, perhaps, use a footnote to tell readers to contact me if they’re curious?

A. A footnote would be appropriate. Not every student assignment merits the label “unpublished manuscript.” A note could explain that copies of all the student work cited are in the author’s possession.

Q. I have been debating with my copyeditor guidelines concerning commas and dates. We consulted 6.45 on the topic but we still differ in opinion. I prefer “In the summer of 1812 General Hagerthy moved his troops” versus “In the summer of 1812, General Hagerthy moved his troops.” “Early in 1946 an opportunity came for my cousin” versus “Early in 1946, an opportunity came for my cousin.” I argue that a comma after the year is not needed. Gurus of style, please opine who is correct.

A. Rejoice: everyone is correct. Higher authorities are not interested in legislating commas to this degree. Peace.