Usage and Grammar

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.

Q. What is an acceptable way to refer to myself in a Chicago-style paper? I have always been told not to use “I”: “I disagree with Dr. Fream’s conclusion.” In the past I have been told that I should refer to myself as “this author”: “This author disagrees with Dr. Fream’s conclusion.” An English-teacher friend of mine, in checking one of my papers, stated that she believes the use of “this author” is in error.

Q. An author has insisted on placing a “sic” after quoting authors who use “him” or “himself” to refer in general to persons rather than using gender-inclusive language. We think this is a bit pretentious and that the quoted material should stand on its own. Do the wise editors have any advice?

Q. I have learnt that it is wrong to make adjectives out of verbs. Please advise if “increased” is used correctly in the following sentence: Increased competition from international players interested in India is a key downside risk. I refer to Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary.