New Questions and Answers

Q. George Wilkens is a character in my novel. (Yes, I know I should have named him something without an “s” as the last letter!) My question is, Which is correct: “George Wilkens’s house” or “George Wilkens’ house”? After a study of several different sections of CMOS, I think that the former is correct. Can you verify that for me? Thanks.

A. You are right. Chicago adds an apostrophe and an s to form the possessive of most singular nouns, including singular nouns that end in s—a rule that extends to proper names. Plural nouns, including plural names, add an apostrophe only. (See CMOS 7.16 and 7.17.) To clarify these rules, let’s compare two different Georges, one who spells his last name with an s and one who doesn’t:

George Wilkens: George Wilkens’s house [singular possessive]; the house where the Wilkens family lives; the Wilkenses’ house [plural possessive; Wilkenses is the plural of Wilkens]

George Wilken: George Wilken’s house [singular possessive]; the house where the Wilken family lives; the Wilkens’ house [plural possessive; Wilkens is the plural of Wilken]

Though Chicago’s rules are logical on paper, a name like Wilkens—which looks and sounds like a plural—can be confusing no matter how it’s treated. To avoid complicating things even more, maybe don’t give George a French pal named Georges (the possessive of which would be Georges’s; see CMOS 7.18).

Q. AP style dictates that blonde (with an e) should be used only as a noun and I believe only for a female subject. Blond should be used as a noun for male subjects and as an adjective for both. I cannot find any reference in CMOS, but Merriam-Webster lists both spellings as variants for both nouns and adjectives. Is that Chicago’s position?

A. First, note that the AP Stylebook updated its advice in 2020, when its entry for “blond, blonde” was replaced with an entry for “blond” under “gender-neutral language.” (Subscribers to the AP Stylebook online can discover this by searching for “blond.”) The new entry continues to advise using blond for the adjective regardless of gender (the feminine e ending is from the French). But it advises against using either blond or blonde as a noun except in a direct quotation, advice that applies equally to brunette (which, however, is rarely spelled brunet).

Though CMOS doesn’t cover this topic, we like AP’s new guidance, which discourages writing that would reduce people to physical characteristics or gender stereotypes (as in a phrase like “the blonde in the front row”).

As for Merriam-Webster, Chicago usually prefers first-listed spellings over any variants; blond is the first-listed spelling for both the adjective and noun forms, so that’s what we’d prefer. The entry for “blond” in Merriam-Webster doesn’t currently (as of June 1, 2021) include a usage warning (cf. “broad,” which Merriam-Webster labels “slang, often offensive” as a synonym for “woman”). But AP’s advice suggests that it is best to be cautious when using either spelling as a noun.

Q. I am confused why the last entry in figure 15.1 in CMOS (for De Graaf) lists the page range for the chapter at the beginning, rather than at the end, immediately before the place of publication. Is it because this sample reference list has its own house style for this kind of reference? If so, it would make more sense to me if your sample reference lists hewed to your own advice for structuring references. Maybe most readers don’t look at the examples so closely, but I find them useful sometimes. Or maybe I’m just missing something.

A. You’re not missing anything. Most of the numbered figures in CMOS reproduce examples from the real world. We do this not to illustrate strict Chicago style but rather to show how Chicago style has been applied in a variety of publications. And though we do occasionally modify a detail in a figure to conform to the applicable rule in CMOS, we leave the original in place for any departures that seem arbitrary—as in the placement of page ranges in the figure you cite or, as in figure 14.8, the use of the day-month-year date form.

It is helpful, however, to be reminded that our readers may use these examples more literally, as a way to look up a point of Chicago style. Thanks to your question and similar questions from others, we will be sure to clarify the purpose of these figures in future editions of CMOS (e.g., with captions that point out the stylistic variations)—or to provide figures that are more strictly in line with the advice and examples in the numbered paragraphs.

Q. More and more journals publish articles first online before the print edition. In some cases, the online version is published one or more years before the print version. For author-date, do we include both dates (i.e., [2020] 2021), or do we ignore the year of the online version?

A. For the citation, use the date of the numbered journal issue rather than the date the article was originally published online, unless the article has not yet been assigned to a numbered issue. For example, here’s a reference list entry and parenthetical citation for an article in Freshwater Science that was received by the journal on June 17, 2019, accepted for publication on December 4, 2020, and published ahead of print on April 16, 2021—but not yet assigned to an issue:

Savoy, Philip, Emily Bernhardt, Lily Kirk, Matthew J. Cohen, and James B. Heffernan. 2021. “A Seasonally Dynamic Model of Light at the Stream Surface.” Freshwater Science. Published ahead of print, April 16.

(Savoy et al. 2021)

Here’s an article received by that same journal on December 8, 2019, accepted on August 3, 2020, published online on February 12, 2021, and assigned to a numbered issue for March 2021:

Vanlandingham, Amanda L., Richard H. Walker, Adam Alford, and Sally A. Entrekin. 2021. “Intermittency Mediates Macroinvertebrate and Crayfish Effects on Leaf Breakdown in Temperate Headwater Streams.” Freshwater Science 40, no. 1 (March): 21–38.

(Vanlandingham et al. 2021)

Note that many journal publishers include the dates of receipt, acceptance, and online (or ahead-of-print) publication as part of the record for an article once it’s been assigned a place in a numbered issue. If any of those dates are relevant, they can be discussed or noted in the text. The citation, on the other hand, will be most useful if it points to the numbered issue. For preprints, which are cited separately, see CMOS 14.173.

Q. When using a picture of an item in a museum’s collection, how would one appropriately give credit and cite the work? For instance, a Japanese censer with no known sculptor or year of creation.

A. When citing an item in a museum collection, it is usually enough simply to describe it either in a caption or in the text and give credit to the museum. Museum websites usually do most of the work for you. For example, here’s a public-domain image from the website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

Borrowing from the museum’s information for the image (which does not cite a creator), your caption might read as follows:

Japanese censer, 19th century (Edo period), stoneware with inlaid design (Yatsushiro ware), 8.3 × 11.1 × 5.7 cm (ht. × rim diam. × foot diam.), Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In the text your description would be more straightforward: “The censer, a nineteenth-century example from the Edo period (1615–1868) in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, . . .” If the lack of a known creator is relevant to the discussion, that can also be mentioned. Artworks don’t usually need to be included in a bibliography, but if you were to include them for any reason, the entry for this one could be listed under the description of the work:

Japanese censer. 19th century. Stoneware with inlaid design (Yatsushiro ware), 8.3 × 11.1 × 5.7 cm (ht. × rim diam. × foot diam.). Metropolitan Museum of Art.

For additional examples, see CMOS 14.235. Note that images that are not in the public domain may require permission before they can be reproduced in your work (see CMOS 4.95–105).

Q. Is this use of the passive voice correct? “The restaurant’s excellent dinners had been being prepared by Chef Bob for many years.”

A. Not quite. Passive voice can be a good way to emphasize the results (excellent dinners) rather than the action that produced them (Chef Bob’s preparation). But as the grammatically redundant “had been being” reveals, there’s no such thing as a passive form of the past-perfect progressive tense—that is, the verb tense that describes an ongoing action that occurred in the past but ended at some definite point (also in the past), whether specified or implied.

To correct the grammar of your example, you’d have to switch to the past-progressive tense:

The restaurant’s excellent dinners were being prepared by Chef Bob for many years.

Or, as the better option, you could use the past-perfect tense alone:

The restaurant’s excellent dinners had been prepared by Chef Bob for many years.

The past-perfect may be the better option, but neither of those choices captures the sense of the past-perfect progressive. To use that, you’ll have to switch to the active voice:

Chef Bob had been preparing the restaurant’s excellent dinners for many years.

For a review of progressive tenses, see CMOS 5.135.

Q. Editing a golf book manuscript. Most golf books I see when referring to a golf hole write it as “the 5th hole” or “the 18th hole”—not “the fifth hole” or “the eighteenth hole.” I assume that is correct according to CMOS? Please advise.

A. CMOS normally spells out numbers up to one hundred, cardinals and ordinals alike (i.e., “five” and “fifth”; “eighteen” and “eighteenth”). But we recognize that in some contexts numerals are preferred (e.g., “page 5” and “5th ed.”). If that’s the case in golf, you have our permission to comply. But consider also the advantages of referring to, for example, a “par 4 fifth hole,” where a mix of numerals and words might be helpful. And note that the fabled nineteenth hole is often so spelled. Whatever you decide, let consistency and clarity be your guide.

May Q&A

Q. I know an en dash separates sports scores, representing the word “to” (e.g., “the Lions won 34–6”), but what about win/loss records? In this case one would say, for example, “They ended the season with a record of 10 and 4.” So should this be expressed with an en dash or a hyphen? 10-4 or 10–4?

A. Though it’s not strictly a range, a 10–4 record expresses a comparison, as in “ten wins compared to four losses.” This makes records analogous to scores; a score of 34–6 could be restated as “thirty-four points compared to six.” So use an en dash for both.

Write “win–loss record” with an en dash too. Though the forward slash in your question makes a lot of sense—it suggests alternatives, as in “wins, on the one hand, and losses, on the other”—an en dash in “win–loss” will be consistent with its parallel use in expressions like “10–4.”

Finally, it should be noted that sports scores and records have appeared far more often with hyphens than with en dashes in published sources. That’s what you’ll find in the AP Stylebook, the primary guide for many sports reporters. The Associated Press, like many of the news sources it serves, doesn’t use en dashes. If you’re a fan of the en dash, score one for Chicago over AP.

Q. I work as an editor, and we use CMOS as our primary source. My boss recently told me to hyphenate “machine-scored” in “the items were machine-scored,” because of a rule she cited about compounds formed with a verb. I can’t find a rule like this in CMOS. Is the hyphen Chicago style?

A. Chicago doesn’t require a hyphen in “machine scored” unless it serves as a modifier before a noun (e.g., “a machine-scored test”); after a noun, as in your example, the hyphen would be omitted. See the hyphenation guide, section 2, “noun + participle” (at CMOS 7.89). Compare “air-conditioned,” which is hyphenated in all positions, and “handcrafted,” which is always closed. Those terms derive from the verbs “air-condition” and “handcraft,” respectively, which are listed as such in Merriam-Webster (see also “phrases, verbal” in section 2 of the guide in CMOS).

The verb “machine score,” on the other hand, isn’t in Merriam-Webster. But that doesn’t mean your organization can’t choose to hyphenate it as a matter of house style. If you do—a decision that might make sense, for example, as the style for a company that routinely scores standardized tests and therefore uses the term more often than the average writer or publisher—then hyphenate it as a verb and as an adjective, in all positions in a sentence. For the noun, you could use “air conditioner” and “air-conditioning” as your models, leaving only “machine scorer” open.

Q. What is the CMOS ruling on the following: “esports” or “eSports”? Are esports games (e.g., Call of Duty: Warzone) italicized or put in quotes? Or neither?

A. Chicago style would call for “e-sports,” with a hyphen, usage that extends to all other e-words with the exception of “email” and any trade names like “eBay” that don’t use a hyphen. The title of a video game, whether or not it is considered an e-sport, and whether it’s the name of the series or an individual game in that series, would be in italics: Call of Duty: Warzone, the Call of Duty series. For hyphens, see CMOS 7.89 (section 3, under “e”); for video games, see CMOS 8.190.

Q. Hi. A fiction author of ours hates the word that and often replaces it with a comma. For example: “The interior was so dark, she made out only shadowy shapes.” And “Her eyes fell on a cup, and a memory rose up with such clarity, she released a little gasp.” In such cases, we might offer her suggestions to rephrase, but would you let the commas stand? Or would you consider these sentences to have comma splices? This comes up a lot in fiction with other authors, too, so we’d love to hear your opinion! Thanks.

A. Your author’s style seems fine to us. The word that—whether as a relative pronoun or, as in your examples, as a subordinating conjunction—is often omitted. Relative pronoun: “The room [that] I entered was shadowy.” Subordinating conjunction: “I was so hungry [that] I nearly fainted.”

In the first case, a comma in place of that would be clearly wrong; commas never set off a restrictive relative clause (called a contact clause when the relative pronoun is omitted). But a comma in the second example might add a bit of clarity, especially if the clauses were longer and you didn’t have the option of retaining that.

Nor would we necessarily consider your sentences as having comma splices; they’re more like compound sentences with elided conjunctions. If you’re consistent with your author’s prose and suggest rephrasing wherever clarity is at stake, her style will begin to seem natural, allowing the story to take center stage.

Q. Hi. In Chicago Style, are “T” and “F” acceptable for “True” and “False”? The document is simple questions with T and F answers.

A. If you mean capital letters T and F without periods, then yes. Chicago style requires periods with initials in names—as in “F. Scott Fitzgerald” and “T. S. Eliot”—but not with other types of capitalized initialisms (most of which include at least two letters, as in “US”; see CMOS 10.4). And though the abbreviations for t defined as “true” and for f defined as “false” are lowercase as main entries in Merriam-Webster—where other meanings range from “metric ton” to “folio” and “full”—a “Kids Definition” farther down the page for each entry capitalizes T and F to mean “true” and “false,” suggesting their common use in quizzes and tests. For spelling out abbreviations on first use, see CMOS 10.3.

Q. Should the apostrophe in an italicized word in possessive plural form be italicized? Example: If I italicize the possessive form of the word pirates, would the apostrophe also be italicized?

A. That depends. If you’re referring to the plural possessive form of the word pirates as a word, then italicize the whole thing, including the apostrophe: pirates’. But if you’re using italics for emphasis, leave the apostrophe in regular text. For example, “It was the pirates’ ship, not mine, that sank.”

The difference, however, between ’ and will go unnoticed by most readers—even those of us who scrutinize such things for a living—so let’s switch to the singular to confirm our choices. To refer to the possessive pirate’s as a word, you’d put the whole thing in italics (as it is styled in this sentence). But for emphasis—that is, to single out the pirate’s ship as opposed to some other ship—italics are best reserved for pirate alone (as styled in this sentence, between the dashes). Even in the singular, this is an extremely fine distinction that will go unnoticed by many. But it recognizes that the possessive ending can be considered independently of the word to which it attaches, as “belonging to” would be in “the ship belonging to the pirate.” That final period, in case you’re wondering, isn’t in italics.

For italics for emphasis, see CMOS 7.50; for words used as words, see CMOS 7.63.

Q. How does one handle terms such as “Big Ag”?

A. “Big Ag” isn’t yet in any dictionary we’ve checked, but the OED includes a subentry under “big (adj. and adv.)” for terms like “big agriculture, big oil, big tobacco, etc.” That entry refers to entries for “big business” and “big pharma,” the former of which would seem to be the model for the other “big” terms (in its sense of “large commercial organizations, now esp. multinational corporations, collectively”).

Merriam-Webster Unabridged includes an entry for “Big Pharma,” capital B and P, with lowercase “big pharma” listed as a less common variant. And though usage varies—as illustrated by the examples cited in the OED—initial capitals, whose primary feature is their Large Size, work well for these terms. So “Big Ag” looks good to us.