New Questions and Answers

Q. Why, in many book titles that include ranges of years, is Chicago style for inclusive numbers not followed? As I understand it, Chicago style is to elide the first two digits of the four-digit second number if they are the same as the first two in the first number of the range. The publisher I work for, like many others, follows that rule in general text. But consider, for instance, the subtitle “Self-Portrait of an Actress, 1920–1956.” Do most readers prefer to see titles with ranges of years styled like this one? 

A. You’re correct about Chicago’s style for inclusive dates when a writer chooses to abbreviate them, but CMOS is also fine with spelling them out. In fact, paragraph 9.64 says, “In book titles it is customary but not obligatory to repeat all digits.”

Q. Does The Chicago Manual of Style include guidelines regarding the maximum number of lines in a paragraph?

A. Nope. Some teachers assign an exact number of sentences per paragraph (or a minimum and maximum) as a way to help students think about organizing their work, but as writers become more experienced, they learn how to use a variety of sentence and paragraph lengths effectively.

Q. Regarding the update to 6.42 about capitalizing a direct question midsentence: Does it apply to a sentence like this? “With all of X’s resources, why [lowercase w] had her cell phone not been fixed?” This type of sentence seems different to me than the examples given in 6.42, but I can’t explain why. Does the new rule apply? Should it be “With all of X’s resources, Why [uppercase W] had her cell phone not been fixed”?

A. Your sentence is different from those at 6.42 because it’s not a direct question included within a sentence. Rather, your entire sentence is a direct question. If your sentence/question were part of another sentence, then the first word would be capped. “She wondered, With all of X’s resources, why had her cell phone still not been fixed?” (Note that the first word of your direct question is With.)

Q. I am wondering if you can help settle a dispute. A friend of mine recently asked me to copyedit her work and we came to a point of disagreement. She wrote a sentence like the following: “A former public school teacher, I know the importance of providing adequate funding.” I argued that the sentence should start “As a former,” while she was adamant that her original sentence was grammatically correct. Is her construction appropriate, even if it is not ideal? Can you help put this question to rest?

A. Your friend’s sentence is a grammatically correct use of apposition, but most readers will stumble, expecting to read “A former public school teacher VERB HERE.” Why pull the rug out from under the reader and then try to defend the wording because it’s “grammatically correct”? You are right to change it.

Q. When would you use brackets instead of sic to correct a quotation? For example, if the original quote was “Increased cost are bad,” would you write “Increased cost[s] are bad” or “Increased cost [sic] are bad”? If it was a spoken quote (as opposed to written), would you just silently correct it?

A. The best use of sic (Latin for “thus” or “so”) after an error in a quotation of speech or text is when the passage is under scrutiny for a scholarly purpose and it’s important to point out a particular flaw or problem in the original because it’s relevant to the discussion. For example, if your original had said “Decreased costs are bad,” when it seems clear that the opposite was intended, sic would come in handy, followed by an explanation of why you suspect it’s an error. In this case, it would be dangerous to simply correct it (silently or transparently) unless you were able to consult with the writer, because the meaning is drastically changed.

Outside academe sic may be viewed as impolite. Louis Menand called it a “damning interpolation, combining ordinary, garden-variety contempt with pedantic condescension.” Resist using sic to flag an innocuous typo in a quotation (“Ha—look at this error I caught!”). Sic can also flag something that looks wrong but isn’t, and thus it may be used to sneer at readers (“Although this may look ungrammatical to those of you who don’t know any better, it’s actually correct”).

Making a correction in square brackets (cost[s]) is somewhat less aggressive than deploying a sic. A rule of thumb is to silently correct typos like the one you quote unless your judgment tells you either to be transparent or not to meddle.

Q. Dear CMOS, I’m confused by the online encyclopedia entry examples in 14.234. Why does the Masolo example include an open date (1997–) while the Middleton does not? Many thanks for your help! 

A. The Masolo citation is of an online publication that began in 1997 and continues to be updated, whereas the Middleton citation is from a printed book that came out in 2004  (thus no updating). As a courtesy, the Middleton citation provides a link to the online version as well:

Masolo, Dismas. “African Sage Philosophy.” In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University, 1997–. Article published February 14, 2006; last modified February 22, 2016. http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2016/entries/african-sage/.

Middleton, Richard. “Lennon, John Ono (1940–1980).” In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, 2004; online ed., 2011. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/31351.

Q: How often is the online edition of CMOS updated? 

A. Your question is frequently asked and is answered on the Manual’s FAQ page:

The editorial guidelines presented in the 17th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style will remain consistent throughout the life of the edition and in all formats in which the Manual is published. In other words, no changes in styles or rules will be made to the current edition, either in print or online.

Moreover, the content of the Manual online is intended to be identical to the content of the printed book. Occasionally, however, a typographical correction or other minor clarification is needed. Such errors will be corrected online as soon as they are discovered and will also be corrected in subsequent impressions of the printed book.

Q. I have an ongoing discussion with an author I edit. She’ll often begin a sentence with being that, and I change it to because, depending, of course, on the context. She feels I’m wrong to substitute because for being that. What do you say?

A. Being that is considered dialectal rather than standard English. In a novel it would be OK, especially in dialogue, but in formal contexts many readers will regard it as ungrammatical. You can check a dictionary for advice on usages like this. At Merriam-Webster.com, you can read about being that under being (conjunction).

Q. Will you provide examples of what is considered “humanistic” versus “scientific or statistical” when addressing the use of the symbol % or the word percent

A. In academe, the humanities include subjects like modern and classical languages, geography, linguistics, literature, history, law, philosophy, archaeology, religion, ethics, history, and criticism. Science and statistical fields include mathematics, engineering, statistics, computer science, biology, chemistry, accounting, medicine, and sociology. There are no strict lines. General writing in a technical field (such as a feature on astrophysics written for a popular magazine) might feature a nontechnical writing style. Any content that includes a lot of numbers and percentages is a good candidate for using the % symbol instead of writing percent over and over.

Q. Can you inform me how you would recommend writing out “10:05 a.m.” if an author is very set on using words rather than numerals? 

A. Certainly. You can write “five past ten in the morning,” for instance. There are various ways to write times of day. Please see CMOS 9.37 (“Numerals versus Words for Time of Day”) for more suggestions. Please note that it’s conventional to use numerals for odd times like 10:05, however. Spelling out is usually reserved for the hour, half hour, and quarter hour.

Q. What does it mean when the name of a person is presented in all caps?

A. On an office door, nothing. On a birthday cake, probably nothing. In a sentence like “NAME IN ALL CAPS is very important and powerful,” it could mean that the person is very important and powerful, or it might only mean that they wish they were.

August Q&A

Q. I’ve noticed that print and e-book versions of the same title sometimes have different dates of publication; how should this be dealt with in bibliographic entries? If I were quoting from such a work, I would provide the publication date of whichever version, print or digital, I had consulted, but what about a reference that’s intended only to point the reader toward a certain resource (“for more on this topic, see Smith 2018”)? In that case, should preference be given to the earlier date over the later? To the print version over the digital?

A. Cite the year of whichever edition you choose to recommend. For e-books, include the format (Kindle, iBooks, etc.). You can see examples in our Quick Citation Guide, under “E-book > Reference-List Entries.”

Q. I wanted to ask if the word golly is used in the Chicago style guide. Thank you.

A. Yes, it is. Please see CMOS 5.216 (“Exclamations”). (Tip: You can find a word in CMOS by typing it into the search box.)

Q. I am working on a research paper for an upper-level anthropology class and could not find the correct method for citing a quote that contains several in-text citations. How do I address the in-text citations?

A. Include them in your quotation. Please see CMOS 13.7: “Parenthetical text references in the original should be retained.”

Q. Hi, CMOS staff. My question itself concerns two Q&A entries. In the first one, it looks as though a department name, even when part of a long corporate title, gets capped: “Mary Smith, director of Human Resources.” In the second one, though, it appears that if an otherwise would-be-capped department is a part of the title, it too gets lowercased: “Jordan Smith is assistant secretary of bureaucracy and obfuscation.” I’m editing a book that is constantly shifting its capitalization patterns for these departments (such as “chair of the Department of Physiology and Neuroscience” and “the head of the emergency department”), and I’m having a hard time determining which way to jump, because the advice in these Q&A entries seems to be contradictory. Could anyone shed some light on this for me?

A. The two answers might seem contradictory because neither mentions that departments may be referred to generically by lowercasing them. “Chair of the department of physiology and neuroscience” could be written by someone who either doesn’t know the official name of the department or knows that the official name is the Bedecker Department of Physiology and the Neurosciences.

Q. I am a copyeditor for a tiny scientific journal. I was given the following sentence: It is intriguing to note that BE has 18- to 33-fold the analgesic potency of morphine. I felt that this was incorrect and should have been changed to “18 to 33 times the analgesic potency” or “an 18- to 33-fold greater analgesic potency.” My editor overruled me by telling me that in scientific writing this is acceptable. I believe he is being confused by the fact that dictionaries give times as the definition of -fold (the true meaning of -fold is quite debatable, but that is not my question). I can’t seem to find a good reference for correct usage in this case. 

A. Careful writers and editors avoid the use of -fold precisely for this reason: it’s ambiguous. From Scientific Style and Format (12.3.3, “-Fold, Factor, and Times”):

Weak
the volume increase was 3-fold [was the final volume 3 times as high as the initial volume, or was the size of the increase 3 times the initial value?]

Unambiguous
the final volume was 3 times the initial volume
the final volume was 300% of the initial volume
the final volume was 3 times the initial volume of 10 mL

Q. I’ve been having a discussion about the use of the term “water-resistant.” Chicago style dictates the use of a hyphen in such a compound only when it precedes a noun. However, the term is recognized by the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

A. You’re lucky—you can’t go wrong! If you value consistency, make a note of which one you choose. Keep in mind that when such adjectival compounds follow the noun they modify, hyphenation is usually unnecessary, even for those that are hyphenated in Webster’s (such as well-read or ill-humored).

Q. I am editing a short-story anthology. One of the submissions contains this phrase: “barb wire fence.” My instinct tells me that a hyphen is needed between the first two words, yet I cannot locate an example from a reliable source. What do you recommend, please?

A. Merriam-Webster.com lists barbwire as one word. (Barbed wire is the main entry there; barbed-wire fence is an alternative to barbwire fence.)

Q. Dear CMOS, I’m having a disagreement with an editor about hyphenation in one of my soon-to-be-published short stories. I hate the idea of one of my stories seeing print with a grammatical error. I’m in desperate need of an official CMOS ruling, just to make sure we get this right! The section in question is as follows: “Most people only know the one reality they’ve lived. You’re getting front-row seats to three more.” Should “front-row seats” be hyphenated in this instance?

A. Yes. Please see CMOS 7.85:

When compound modifiers (also called phrasal adjectives) such as high-profile or book-length precede a noun, hyphenation usually lends clarity. With the exception of proper nouns (such as United States) and compounds formed by an adverb ending in ly plus an adjective (see 7.86), it is never incorrect to hyphenate adjectival compounds before a noun. When such compounds follow the noun they modify, hyphenation is usually unnecessary, even for adjectival compounds that are hyphenated in Webster’s (such as well-read or ill-humored).

Thus “seats in the front row” but “front-row seats.”

Q. Throughout CMOS, as well as in Webster’s, I see that some guidelines or spellings apply to “formal” writing and others to “informal” writing. How do you define formal and informal writing?

A. A writer’s choices determine whether a document is formal or informal. The use of slang, abbreviations, nonstandard grammar, lots of exclamation points, and a chatty tone are marks of informality. Passive verbs, big words, antiquated expressions, and correct or even stilted grammar signal formality. Most of us are comfortable somewhere in between. Some examples:

  • Usually formal: dissertations, grant proposals, term papers, legal documents, job applications, financial reports, wedding invitations
  • Usually informal: texts, grocery lists, personal letters and emails, personal blog posts
  • Formal or informal: books, newspaper articles, professional blog posts, work emails and letters, advertisements

Q. Does CMOS have an official position on hyphenating “the then” when used to indicate something or someone’s former status?

A. Since then is just an adjective like any other adjective, there’s no need for a hyphen.

  • the current secretary of state
  • the previous secretary of state
  • the then secretary of state

Q. How would you treat “over apologize” in this sentence? “Be careful not to over apologize.”

A. Over is a prefix in that case, so close it up: “Be careful not to overapologize.” Please see CMOS 7.89, section 4 (“Words Formed with Prefixes”), under the prefix over.

Q. When referencing government reports with no author, is the author the country or the department? I have always used the department; however, our university style guide based on CMOS says to use the country. For example, Australia, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry . . . 

A. It’s not a good idea to make a hard-and-fast rule, because your decision should fit your document. If your work is purely about Australia and no other country, it would be more useful to readers to begin with the department than to have dozens of entries beginning with Australia. If your work is more global in nature, however, readers might appreciate being able to locate the Australia references in a batch.

Q. From your July Q&A: “Comprehensive tip sheets for setting up a paper are available for free at the Turabian.org website.” Really? “For free”? Free here is an adverb modifying the verbal phrase “are available,” not a noun, and cannot be the object of the preposition for.

A. Uh-oh. Somebody had better tell Merriam-Webster!