New Questions and Answers

Q. Is elect capitalized in president-elect (in running text, when preceding the person’s name)? That is, should one write “President-Elect Donald Trump” or “President-elect Donald Trump”?

A. Since Chicago style lowercases “president Barack Obama,” we would also lowercase “president-elect Donald Trump.” When the title is used as an honorific (in place of Mr. with a surname), however, we would uppercase: “President Obama” and “President-Elect Trump.”

Q. My coworkers and I are debating what exactly is meant by the word isolated in section 9.21 (“isolated references to amounts of money are spelled out for whole numbers of one hundred or less”). One opinion is that two or more references to amounts of money in one sentence no longer qualify as isolated, as in “He had $0.21 and she had $21.00.” The other opinion is that one sentence containing two or more references to amounts of money could still qualify as isolated if the surrounding text does not mention money, as in “He had twenty-one cents and she had twenty-one dollars” in a passage contrasting the two people personally with no other reference to money. Could you please settle our debate?

A. By isolated references, we mean references not grouped in a table, list, financial report, equation, tax form, or budget. We mean numbers that come up in a generally nonnumeric context, such as a novel or a history textbook or a blog post about the election—even if there are more than two amounts of money in such a context. Even if there are more than three. Heck—even if there are more than four.

The idea is to spell out amounts of money unless they become hard to read or compare, or too many to keep track of. Because the choice between numerals and words requires judgment, it would be counterproductive to make a rule about it. The CMOS standard you seek is not a magic number of references but simply the writer’s common sense.

Q. Can a citation be too long? And how do you know if it is?

A. If you run out of paper? If your computer crashes? (Is this a trick question?) A citation is probably too long if it looks silly or contains more information than necessary. You are probably the best judge of this.

Q. I am looking to know the proper style for when I start my paper with a block quote. This quote is not integrated into the text. It is simply there in lieu of an introductory paragraph at the very, very beginning of my paper. I have thoroughly gone through the manual and cannot find an example or advice for what to do in this instance.

A. This sounds like an epigraph, which may be set off like a block quote, without quotation marks, and with the author’s name immediately following. You can find advice on formatting epigraphs at CMOS 1.36, 1.48, and 13.34.

Q. Authors younger than myself have recently included the following phrase in their writing: “If you think that, you’ve got another thing coming.” I’ve tried to point out the illogic of “another thing,” but I’m met with baffled looks. An informal poll shows me that nearly everyone today believes the expression is “another thing coming.” A rock band seems to have compounded the problem by using this phrase in one of their hit songs. I’ve gotten firm resistance when suggesting that the phrase be rendered “another think coming.” At what point does a mondegreen supersede the original phrase and become the accepted norm? Is it time for me to “stet” and move on?

A. It’s not time yet. Most published books continue to use think (keep an eye on this Ngram). As long as you can google the phrase and read posts saying that think is correct, you’re on firm ground. Eventually, when online articles start using the think version as an example of pedantic nonsense, you’ll know it’s time to cave.

Q. Should professor be capitalized in this sentence? “He studied at Yale University and went on to become a professor.”

A. No. Because professor is a common noun, lowercase it just as you would if this Yale student went on to become a movie star, a chef, or a dog walker.

Q. I recently started working for an institution founded on the values of the Sisters of Mercy. I am working on our magazine, and I’d truly appreciate your skilled recommendation on whether or not to capitalize the word mercy in various tricky/gray areas. For example, we know mercy should be lowercase when used in the generic sense, as in “he begged for mercy” or “at the mercy of the court,” and capitalized when used in a proper name, as in Mount Mercy University or Mercy Hospital. The trick is in situations like “a mercy education,” “a mercy institution,” or “providing mercy care.” We are looking through many guides and checking with other mercy institutions to figure out best practice, but I would love a CMOS ruling!

A. You could try mentally substituting the name Sisters of Mercy when considering whether you mean the institution and its specific tenets or the more generic (lowercased) term. If it makes sense to use Sisters of Mercy, uppercase Mercy. For instance, does “mercy care” involve specific practices outlined by the Sisters of Mercy, or is it a kind of merciful care that anyone could provide?

You and your team see gray areas because you conflate your institution’s name and brand with one of its values. Anyone outside your perspective can easily see that “a mercy education” makes little sense. A professional editor could help you and your team put together a style guide with sample sentences and guidelines.

Q. Hello, I’m looking for clarification for 10.34. Are you recommending 123 MAIN ST STE 456 for envelopes but 123 Main St., Ste. 456 for running text, etc.? (And if capitalizing the envelopes, would the entire address be capitalized?)

A. As we say at 10.34, spell out the terms in running text: I live at 123 Main Street, Suite 456. (Please see 10.35 as well). As for addressing envelopes, CMOS does not presume to override US Postal Service instructions. If you want your mail delivered, you’d better abandon Chicago style.

Q. Is the use of semicolons in the following series warranted (i.e., when the commas appear in the last member of the series and there’s no real threat of misreading)? It just looks weird to me: They were hunter-gatherers who sustained themselves by hunting; fishing; and gathering roots, berries, and various wild plants. 

A. You are right! The semicolons are pointless and counterproductive. They should be changed to commas. 

Q. I’m confused about the word neither. Is it plural or singular? How should the following sentence be written? Neither of them (likes/like) to travel. 

A. Neither is properly singular (neither A nor B is attending), but when used with a prepositional phrase that has a plural object (like “of them”), it is often made plural (neither of them like to travel). Strict grammarians would call the plural usage an error. You can read more in a dictionary, under the word neither:

Q. When writing a paper, do you footnote information that you have learned in multiple sources?

A. If what you learned is common knowledge, then there’s no need to cite sources, but if it’s something that most people would need to look up or that different sources treat differently, then you should identify which sources you used. Obviously, this calls for judgment and partly depends on who your readers are and what you can expect them to know. For help with student papers, please see our free Student pages.

Q. Can CMOS weigh in on the pluralization of trademarked materials? We have an internal debate over “iPhone 7s” versus “iPhones 7.”

A. “iPhone 7s” is the default; use “iPhones 7” only for phones belonging to attorneys-general and mothers-in-law.

December Q&A

Q. I’m wondering how to style a webinar series name and the title of an episode in that series. Should the series name be italicized and the episode title be in quotes?

A. CMOS is silent, but your suggestion is one possibility. Or you could make the series title roman like book series titles and titles of academic courses.

Q. In a table, where would you put the row for Miscellaneous or Other if it has numbers large enough that if the rows were ordered by size, it would appear as row 2 or 3?

Event type















A. Since other implies “not important enough to identify more explicitly,” that line should go at the bottom of the table. And when a miscellaneous category accounts for so large a part of the data, it should be explained in a note.

Q. These two examples are given in CMOS section 6.77: “My name is Phyllis; that’s p-h-y-l-l-i-s.” “A proficient signer can fingerspell C-O-L-O-R-A-D-O in less than two seconds.” Why are the separated letters caps in one example but lowercase in the other?

A. Because both ways are commonly used, and both work well!

Q. I came across the following footnote in a scientific table: “[A] cohort born ≤ 2010, [B] cohort born ≥ 2011.” Is this an acceptable use of the ≤ and ≥ symbols?

A. Maybe not. You’re safer writing “in or before” and “in or after.”

Q. I have run across this type of construction frequently in a fiction manuscript I’m editing. It feels somehow wrong, but I can’t find any reason why it should be. “Next to the door stood a single guard, an ugly aardvark that was staring at the ground and didn’t see them approach.” A colon instead of the comma would feel better, but is that an unnecessary change? (And colons look rather formal in fictional narratives.)

A. The sentence is fine. (Grammatically, at least.) The comma shows apposition.

Q. Is the verb number correct in the following sentence? (I believe that are should be changed to is, but my French coeditor disagrees.) “A case in point are the representatives associated with the 1977 exhibition in New York.” Many thanks!

A. You’re right: the subject of the sentence, case, is singular. Nonetheless, when one out of two editors thinks a construction is wrong, it’s begging for a rewrite—lest half your readers also think it’s wrong. You can switch subject and complement easily: The representatives . . . are a case in point.

Q. I am wondering why one needs to provide the URL for a journal or newspaper if one consults it online, but not the name of the library, say, if one consults it in print form? Typically everything about the articles is the same, and so the place where one found them should be irrelevant. Indeed, if I understand the logic, if one downloaded the PDF of a book, one would need to provide the URL, but if one made a PDF of a book and then read that, one wouldn’t have to. What am I missing?

A. The problem is that electronic editions of an article aren’t always the same. Writers or editors may tinker with them, adding updates and corrections. In contrast, a specific impression of a printed book or article will be the same as other physical copies of that impression. For now, the best way for a reader to know exactly which version of an electronic document was consulted (and to be able to find it) is to have the DOI or URL.

Q. I am drafting an editorial statement for a journal that adheres to CMOS and I’m not sure how to sign it. What is the proper capitalization of my title, co-Editor-in-Chief? Should it be “Jane Doe, co-Editor-in-Chief” or “Jane Doe, Co-editor-in-chief” or no capitalization at all? Does co- adhere to CMOS, or should our editorial leadership be simply “Editors-in-Chief” (and in that case, how would each editor refer to her individual title)?

A. It’s up to your journal what names to give its leaders, but in the absence of other instructions in CMOS, we follow Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, which spells your terms “editor in chief” and “coeditor.” It’s customary to cap a title in a display line—in this case, Editor in Chief or Coeditor in Chief. (Chicago’s guidelines for lowercasing are meant to apply to running text, not display type.) Please see sections 8.18–19 for general rules on capitalizing titles and offices.

Q. I’m new at this and want to learn all I can. Should there be a comma after Perhaps in the following sentence? “Perhaps I would never have had the opportunity for an education.”

A. A comma has the power to make readers pause, so first try reading the sentence out loud to see whether a pause would be problematic. CMOS 6.36 says that short adverbial introductory phrases are normally fine without a comma, and that seems to be the case in your sentence. Anytime you decide you do want a pause, consider whether you actually need something stronger than a comma, such as a period or dash.

Q. A sentence in a manuscript: In a landmark collection of essays, The Division of the Kingdoms: Shakespeare’s Two Versions of “King Lear,” a range of scholars made the case . . . The book title is of course in italics—but then how does one treat that comma after Lear, and then the quote mark after the comma? Would the comma be in roman, and then the quote mark in italics?

A. This situation is a sticky wicket. The quotation marks must be italic, since they are both part of an italic book title. But the comma doesn’t belong to the title. According to Chicago’s preference for putting punctuation into the same font as the “surrounding text” (6.5), the comma would be roman. But this comma is “surrounded” by italics! If only we could use “logical punctuation,” whereby the comma would go outside the quotation marks, to render the issue moot. But that would be un-American. Editors here disagree on the best solution, so style the comma as you wish with the hope that its tiny size will allow readers to ignore it.

Q. I am writing a fictional piece that includes a discussion of the Fujita scale of tornado intensities. I am trying to write “318 miles an hour, the top wind speed of an F5 tornado.” I know the Manual wants most numbers spelled out up through 999, but writing “three-hundred-eighteen miles an hour” just doesn’t look right.

A. Actually, the Manual spells out nonround numbers only through one hundred, so “318 miles an hour” is fine Chicago style. Please see sections 9.2–7 for the general rules on spelling out numbers.

Q. This question/answer appeared in the November Q&A:

Q. Which is the proper spelling of a generic age: 30s and 40s or 30’s and 40’s?

A. Chicago’s preferred style is thirties and forties, but if you need to use numerals, we recommend leaving out the apostrophes.

The answer states “we recommend leaving out the apostrophes.” Recommend means to advise, appearing to state that there is a choice, yet in the question, surely the apostrophes are incorrect according to the rule of grammar? Thank you, and by the way, what has happened to the fun quips that used to appear in the Q&A answers?

A. The apostrophes aren’t actually incorrect; they’re commonly used. Oxford Dictionaries specifically allows apostrophes for the plurals of single numerals (e.g., 7’s). But they aren’t Chicago style, and we recommend omitting them in the plurals of numbers written as numerals. As for the fun quips, we are professionals here; we can’t just sit around quipping all the time. (But if you’re desperate, you can find a few here.)