Usage and Grammar

Q. Hello, arbiters of messy prose. In a scholarly work on global labor conditions, plural-singular nonagreement involving the word “ability” occurs about fifty times, as in “Rules regarding paid leave affected families’ ability to earn a living.” My instinct is to change “ability” to “abilities” in this and similar cases, but is it really necessary? Thanks!

Q. In the latest Q&A on your website, I noted that an answer contained the word “lowercased.” Is this really a verb or another example of a noun erroneously transformed into a verb? I cannot imagine that you would make such an error, but I have never heard that verb before!

Q. I am working on a book that is more of an information-type book. The author consistently used “it’s,” “I’m,” “I’ve,” “don’t,” “doesn’t,” etc., throughout the entire thing. I went through with the spelling check (I’m using Microsoft Word), and it suggested changing them to “it is,” “I am,” “I have,” etc. I do not think that one should use the abbreviated version. For one, it doesn’t save any space and appears rather unprofessionally written. This will be a published book. Is there a definitive rule on this or is it simply up to the writer/editor on how these words should be used?

Q. Does one “maximize the total cost of ownership” or “minimize the total cost of ownership”? This phrase is going to be our service’s tagline so we need to get it right.

Q. Don’t you think it is improper to use both Porsche and Jimmy Choo as proper nouns (instead of proper adjectives) in a Q&A about proper writing technique?

Q. In the sentence “I thought more people would be interested in knowing what happened to XXX, but I see that his fate, his life, doesn’t seem to bring folks together the way the water did,” would you use “don’t” instead of “doesn’t”? Or does that comma after “his life” keep the verb singular? The author will not tolerate the insertion of “and” between “his life” and “his fate.”

Q. Hello, CMOS Gurus—I cannot seem to locate the rule that proves (or disproves, I guess) the following to be correct: More than 28 million pounds of scrap is reclaimed every year. I thought that units of measurement or money took a singular verb, not plural (such as, three million dollars is a lot, or five miles is a long way). Are there other quantities that this applies to (such as years)? Or am I wrong entirely and should all three of my examples above take a plural verb? —A stumped copyeditor

Q. Dear CMOS Editor: In my technical publications work group, we have a difference in approach about using the verbs “to type” and “to enter” when instructing a reader to provide data to a computer screen interface. “Typed” data is “entered” to the computer by clicking a named control button such as “OK.” Should a reader be instructed “Type your password and click OK” or “Enter your password and click OK”? The Microsoft Manual of Style indicates that “enter” should not be used as a synonym for “type.” I would appreciate the editing perspective of CMOS.

Q. Oath of Office. Who was grammatically correct, President Obama or Chief Justice Roberts? Should faithfully as an adverb come at the end of the sentence or after execute? Or is the oath correctly written with faithfully as an adjective before execute?

Q. My daughter is filling out a college application that tells her to “write a brief answer (150 words or less) to both of the following questions.” The two questions are unrelated. We’re wondering whether to read that as “write 150 or less on each of the questions” or “write 150 words or less on both questions together.”