Usage and Grammar

Q. I keep encountering authors who insist on using the word “Yay!” It isn’t in the dictionary. What is the best substitute word, besides “Yes!”?

Q. I was recently confronted with the question a versus an. We used a; he insisted it should be an. In the 15th edition, in section 15.9, it shows that “when an abbreviation follows an indefinite article, the choice of a or an is determined by the way the abbreviation would be read aloud.” In the examples used, it shows “an NBA coach.” Why would you not use a there? “An National Basketball Association coach” doesn’t seem correct to me.

Q. Can we now use the pronoun “who” in reference to animals and things? If so, is this black and white or are there guidelines to follow? Surely, we cannot say, “The vase who was given to me by May,” right? In the 15th edition, the rule was clear: “Who refers only to a person.” However, in the 16th edition, it is now rephrased: “Who . . . normally refers to a person.” We checked Merriam-Webster as well, and true enough, they also said that “who” can be used in reference to animals and things.

Q. Does the phrase “all caps” take a singular or plural verb? Is it “All caps aren’t legible” or “All caps isn’t legible”? Does the result change if the phrase is written as “all capital letters” as in “All capital letters aren’t legible” versus “All capital letters isn’t legible”? I realize that the best solution may be to reword the sentence, but I’m also wondering whether you view the phrase as singular or plural.

Q. I am editing online assessment for K–12. Writers keep using “Click OK when you’re done.” It doesn’t sound grammatically correct, but I can’t find any rule to the contrary. I’ve been changing it to “when you finish.” However, writers persist in using “when you’re done.” Is this grammatically correct?

Q. I recently edited a brochure that explained services that are friendly to both individuals and families. There was some debate as to whether the services should be described as “individual-/family-friendly” or as “individual/family-friendly.” Which construction makes more sense?

Q. I usually put a comma in the opening salutation of an email—“Hi, Megan”—and this always pleases Megan, a journalist, who believes email salutations should follow the rules of dialogue punctuation. But when I write to Ruth, a physical therapist, I revert to “Hi Ruth,” honoring Ruth’s opinion that a comma after “Hi” in an email looks nerdy. Are Megan and I correct? Is Ruth on to something? Valuing my friendship with each, should I continue to respect the opinions of both?

Q. We are editing a book on global climate change to be published in the United States. What is the convention regarding using metric terms in US books? Should the US equivalents appear along with the metric? Or should all measures be converted to US? If we do convert, should we spell out the English measures?

Q. For more than two decades I have taught and insisted that editors view “on the one hand” as joining with “on the other hand.” Both should be present and what follows each should be parallel. CMOS does not acknowledge that need. In fact, the book constantly uses “on the other hand” without “on the one hand.” How can you have an “other” without the “one”?

Q. I’m troubled by the growing use of syntax such as “The writer William Styron lived in Paris.” My suggestion is that Mr. Styron was likely to have had many roles in life but that the sentence structure indicates him to have been only a writer. This first became noticeable in the New York Times and later in the New Yorker and now elsewhere. I would be comfortable with “William Styron, the writer, went shopping.” To my eyes, that is less restrictive in his lifestyle because, for example, we know that whatever he did, he also shopped.