Usage and Grammar

Q. I was taught to exclusively use third person in academic writing, especially in research papers. Now that I’m in university, I have seen increasing use of first person in essays and papers. I couldn’t find anything on this in CMOS or on the website. Is there any sort of guideline on when to use different perspectives? Or does choosing first, second, and third person in writing have little impact as long as a sense of professionalism is maintained?

Q. How do you form a possessive of a “one of the” phrase? For example, a shout belonging to “one of the guards.” Placing the apostrophe at the end of “guards” seems to make multiple guards possess the shout. “Guard’s” seems to make it one of the shouts of a single guard. But if there are multiple guards, and one is shouting . . . where does the apostrophe go?

Q. I’m pretty certain CMOS said to omit the “of” in month-year references (“he graduated in May 1999,” not “he graduated in May of 1999”), but I can’t for the life of me find this in the 17th edition. Is there a reason it is no longer covered? And do you have guidance?

Q. Many of my clients (graduate students and researchers) want to use the term “post COVID” to mean “after the COVID-19 pandemic,” as in “Returning from Remote Work post COVID.” I believe this would make “post” a preposition, and that’s not one of the parts of speech for “post” listed in Merriam-Webster. The dictionary gives examples of “post” as a prefix for verbs, nouns, and adjectives. So “post-COVID symptoms” is fine, of course. It appears that using “post COVID” to mean “after the pandemic” has become installed in our everyday language due to the familiarity of “post-COVID” as a compound adjective. That doesn’t mean it can be used as a preposition, does it? You couldn’t say, for example, “I’m going jogging post breakfast.” So I think “I’m going back to the gym post COVID” is equally incorrect. What is your take on this? Thank you very much!

Q. Does Chicago prefer “whosever” or “whoever’s”?

Q. Dear CMOS! I have a grammar question that has thrown our small department into a tizzy. In a sentence like “There are an even number of kittens on the veranda,” we are evenly split (pun intended!) as to whether “There are” is correct since there are a plural number of kittens or “There is” is correct because the number is (see? “is”) even. We’ve checked Garner’s entry for “number of,” which seems to throw down in favor of “there are,” but those of us in the “there is” contingent aren’t convinced. Any light the CMOS team can shed on this?

Q. Dear CMOS, As regards a foreign word that needs to remain in its original language in a lengthy comparative analysis, would you inflect this word so as to reflect its grammatical position in a sentence consistent with its inflection in the original language? The word at issue is Pflichtteilsberechtigter (roughly, a forced heir). In its original German, the singular of the word could be either Pflichtteilsberechtigte or Pflichtteilsberechtigter, depending on whether it is preceded, respectively, by a definite or an indefinite article. As a plural, it could be either Pflichtteilsberechtigten or Pflichtteilsberechtigte, depending on whether it is preceded, respectively, by a definite article or a zero article.

Consistent with German grammar, the word would be spelled/inflected as follows in these four sample sentences (the first two being singular usages and the second two plural usages): “A Pflichtteilsberechtigter enjoys special rights in German succession law. The Pflichtteilsberechtigte, the son of the deceased, sued the testamentary heir for a portion of the estate. Courts require Pflichtteilsberechtigte to submit certain forms. In the case at issue, the court required the Pflichtteilsberechtigten to first appear before a notary.”

Employing spellings consistent with German grammatical rules on inflection could potentially confuse readers unfamiliar with these rules (or leave them thinking the writer/editor has been careless!). But adopting a wholesale simplification (e.g., writing Pflichtteilsberechtigter whenever it is a singular usage and Pflichtteilsberechtigte whenever it is a plural usage and not further inflecting according to German grammar) could confuse—or at least annoy—those readers who will have an appreciation of German, which will likely be significant in this case. We look forward to any input you have to offer!

Q. A few of us are curious which is the correct wording of this sentence per CMOS guidelines: “They blotted out any distant landmark, enclosing Luke and I in a foreign landscape.” Should the words be “Luke and I” or “Luke and me”?

Q. Do you treat a species as singular or plural? For example, would you say “Sporosarcina pasteurii cause” or “causes”?

Q. If I were to address multiple friends, would it be more appropriate to begin with “Does any of y’all . . .” or “Do any of y’all . . .”? I would have thought the former was correct because “any” could be singular (as in “any one of my interlocutors”), but my partner thinks the latter is correct. I’m willing to be wrong, but I want to know why! Can CMOS weigh in?