New Questions and Answers

Q. In fiction, when a character reads off a hotel room number, would it be in numbers or spelled out? “Room 305, down the hall.” Or “Room three oh five, down the hall.”

Q. I’m currently editing a novel and having difficulty discerning whether Chicago would spell out temperatures or use numerals. CMOS 9.13 offers this example of the general rule for physical quantities: “Within fifteen minutes the temperature dropped twenty degrees.” But elsewhere in the Manual you use numerals: “the phrase freezing point denotes 32 degrees Fahrenheit or 0 degrees Celsius” (CMOS 5.250, under “connote; denote”) and “consisting of two geometric angles that, added together, take up 90 degrees” (CMOS 5.250, under “compliment; complement”). Could you please offer clear simple guidance as to how temperatures should appear in fiction? Thanks!

A. There are at least two principles at work in these two questions.

First, though numbers are often spelled out in dialogue (to help readers understand how they would be spoken), that doesn’t mean numerals are never used. Fictional room 305 would almost never be encountered in the real world as “room three oh five” or “room three hundred five” (or “three hundred and five”), least of all on an actual hotel room door. So “room 305” is the best option, even in dialogue; it’s how room numbers are known.

The second principle is precision. Passing mentions of temperatures, whether in dialogue or narration, would be spelled out in Chicago style: “Brrr, it must be ten degrees below zero out here!” (or “Brrr, it must be ten below out here!”). But freezing points and geometric angles represent exact measurements, and numerals are often the best way of communicating these in ordinary prose.

In dialogue, however, spelling out exact quantities suggests a different kind of precision—another meaning of spell out is to make something clear—so words would work at least as well as numerals:

“Freezing point is zero degrees Celsius,” he announced.

“I can draw a perfect forty-five-degree angle,” she bragged.

You might make an exception, however, if the character is referring to an actual numeral somewhere:

“The thermometer says 32 degrees,” I said, squinting at the display.

That “32” might help the reader imagine the scene, making the dialogue seem more realistic (much as writing “305” in the previous example would).

So numerals can work in dialogue for expressions that would always be written with numerals or when a character is referring to actual numerals; otherwise, it’s usually best to spell them out. In narrative, Chicago’s general rules for numbers apply—subject to editorial discretion. For more on this topic, see “Numbers in Creative Writing” at CMOS Shop Talk.

Q. Current guidelines on French capitalization in CMOS are mostly directed at an all-French context. In the case of an English text with a heavy dose of French proper names, it feels a bit awkward to leave the first word in a name such as “théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin” with a lowercase t. What does the University of Chicago Press do in these cases?

A. The advice in Chicago is supposed to highlight conventions that can be retained when importing bits of French into an English-language context, and capitalization is one of these conventions. But an initial article like le or la is most often changed to an English the, so to use your example, we’d refer to the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin (starting the name with a capital T) even if, in a French context, it might be referred to as le théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin (the theater’s website, however, capitalizes that first t).

To take another example, you might refer in English to the Bibliothèque nationale de France or, for short, the Bibliothèque nationale, both of which reflect French capitalization (which is evident in the abbreviation BnF, with a lowercase n). That would normally be Chicago style—that is, we’d retain the lowercase n in English. But it would arguably be clearer to refer to the Bibliothèque Nationale, with a capital N, so that readers unfamiliar with French capitalization would understand where the name begins and ends. Some editors depart from Chicago style for such terms (and apply English-style caps, a.k.a. headline style or title case) for this very reason.

Note, however, that for the title of a book or article or other work, which would normally be set off from the surrounding text by quotation marks or italics, French capitalization would always be retained (see CMOS 11.27). But for the name of a theater or a library or the like, you could make some exceptions for the sake of your readers.

Q. Where should a “praise for . . .” page be located in a novel? Thank you.

A. Praise pages, or brief excerpts from published reviews in support of a book—often a paperback edition of a book first published in hardcover—are usually printed on the opening pages, before the half-title page. Such pages are generally unnumbered, but they count in the overall roman-numeral pagination at the beginning of the book.

Q. Often lately, in drafts I’m editing as well as in emails from colleagues, I’ve seen “below” as an adjective—for instance, “the below example.” This looks and sounds wrong to me. To my further dismay, I just noticed it in an example in my agency’s writing guidance (which I’m partly responsible for updating). CMOS 5.250 doesn’t address this matter, but when I searched the Manual for “the below,” there were no results. Merriam-Webster lists “below” as an adjective and shows it being used before a noun (“the below list”)—but I’ve been told Merriam-Webster presents common usage rather than good usage. The American Heritage Dictionary, which I understand is more prescriptive, lists “below” only as an adverb or preposition. Before I do battle about “below” in our writing guidance, I’d like to know your opinion. Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

A. We agree that “the example below” would generally be preferable to “the below example”; the absence of below as an adjective in at least one major dictionary is a good piece of evidence in favor of such a preference. The OED provides more evidence in your favor. That dictionary includes the adjectival sense, but with this label: “rare in comparison with ABOVE adj.” And it defines both below and above as adjectives only in the sense of “below-mentioned” and “above-mentioned” (or “-listed,” “-described,” etc.).

This accords with how below and above as adjectives are both defined in Merriam-Webster, so we can conclude that they’re a sort of shorthand for adjectival compounds like “below-mentioned” and “above-mentioned”—in which below and above, it should be noted, function not as adjectives but as adverbs that modify the participle mentioned.

(The words below and above are also used in this way as nouns—as in “refer to the below” or “none of the above.” Both the OED and Merriam-Webster include entries for these terms as nouns, and the OED makes the same note as it does for the adjective that below is rare in this sense relative to above.)

Why below seems less comfortable than above as an adjective (or as a noun) is a matter for linguists. In the meantime, you might insist that “the below example” is an uncommon usage that’s likely to strike the wrong note for at least some readers, as it did for you. Fortunately, it’s an easy problem to fix (i.e., simply move “below” so that it follows the noun).

(Feel free to cite the answer above if it will help you to make your case.)

Q. What margins should I use?

A. One-inch margins all around is a typical default setting for manuscripts, whether you’re using 8.5 × 11–inch or A4 paper, except for any headers and footers, which are typically half an inch from the edge of the page. One inch is equivalent to 2.54 centimeters or 6 picas; half an inch would be 1.27 cm or 3 picas. That’s what a US English installation of MS Word shows when the measurement options under File > Options > Advanced > Display are changed from inches to centimeters or picas, respectively.

These default settings are fine to use in most cases. But if you’re writing for a publisher, consult your publisher’s guidelines (and see “How to Format a Novel for Submission” at CMOS Shop Talk). If you’re writing a dissertation or thesis or other type of paper for school, consult our paper-formatting tip sheets, which are modeled on the examples in Kate L. Turabian’s A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations (9th ed.).

Q. When citing the recto and verso side of a folio page, I was curious as to which abbreviation was correct: fol. 1r–v, or fols. 1r–v. I had presumed it was the former because one folio has a recto and verso side, but I found a lot of precedent for the plural in publications from the University of Chicago Press and other reputable academic presses (including Cambridge and Oxford). Is one of these options preferred, or are both correct? Thanks for your help with this.

A. The word folio in the context of book pages refers to the leaf of paper, including both sides, so you’re right that “fol. 1r–v” would make sense. But folio can also mean “page,” so “fols. 1r–v” could also make sense. If we had to side with one, however, it would be the singular. The plural would then be reserved for multiple leaves:

fol. 1r (the recto of folio 1, or one page)

fol. 1r–v (the recto and verso of folio 1, or two pages)

fols. 1r–2v (the recto and verso sides of folios 1 and 2, or four pages)

For an example of this usage, see the annotations for this ninth-century parchment manuscript at the Bodleian Library. And though you’ve found examples out there that depart from this usage, a Google search comparing “fol. 1r–v” with “fols. 1r–v” (and the like, with 2r–v, 3r–v, etc.) suggests that the singular is significantly more common.

May Q&A

Q. Hello. I am alphabetizing something according to the word-by-word system and am curious about whether conjunctions are taken into account. Or are they disregarded as they would be at the beginning of an entry? For example, would the correct alphabetical order be (1) animal experiments, (2) animal and human bond (conjunction ignored), or (1) animal and human bond, (2) animal experiments (conjunction considered)? Thanks for your assistance.

A. In Chicago style, any word occurring in the middle of an entry, including a conjunction, counts in alphabetization (whether word by word or letter by letter), so your second ordering is correct (the a in “and” precedes the e in “experiments”). A conjunction would also count at the beginning of an entry, with one notable exception: index subentries. For example, here’s what an entry for “hyphenation” might look like in a book index:

hyphenation: of compound modifiers, 147; and line breaks, 108; in Microsoft Word, 148

Not only is “and” ignored in the second subentry, but so are “of” and “in” in the first and third subentries; like conjunctions, prepositions are ignored at the beginning of index subentries, as are articles (see CMOS 16.68). But at the beginning of main index entries—and, by extension, any ordinary list—only articles (a, an, and the) are ignored. To make it easier for readers to find things, entries with articles are inverted:

“And I Love Her” (Beatles)
“Day in the Life, A” (Beatles)
Invisible Man (Ellison)
Invisible Man, The (Wells)
On the Origin of Species (Darwin)
Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas (Raff)

Note that the “And” in the first item counts; if it didn’t, “And I Love Her” would be listed second. Note also that if you were to disregard “On the,” Darwin would follow Raff. See also CMOS 16.56 and 16.144.

Q. In the following sentence, should the word “point” be singular or plural? “The type should be no larger than 11 point.”

A. It should be “points,” plural, but it would become singular “point” if used as a modifier:

the type is 11 points
11-point type

All this changes if you use an abbreviation:

the type is 11 pt.
11 pt. type

Not only is “pt.” preferred for both singular and plural, but “11 pt. type” has no hyphen. For the first convention, see CMOS 10.65. For the second, see the hyphenation guide at CMOS 7.89, section 1, “number + abbreviation.”

Q. Can the running heads in a multivolume set of books be the title of that particular volume rather than the overall title of all the volumes in the set?

A. Yes. Where running heads are concerned, there are few rules per se, only some useful conventions that depend on the book: “The choice of running heads . . . is governed chiefly by the structure and nature of the book” (see CMOS 1.12, which lists some common configurations). Consider the reader, and if your choice makes more sense than the alternatives, run with it.

Q. When an author publishes a work that violates Chicago’s headline capitalization style, should we convert the citation to Chicago style or leave it as the author designated? Is this discussed anywhere in CMOS?

A. It’s not uncommon for the title of a book, article, or other work to use a capitalization style that’s different from the one recommended by Chicago. In (almost) all cases, Chicago style (or whatever style you follow) would take precedence when such a title is mentioned in the text. Most advise applying some variation of headline style (a.k.a. title case).

For example, both the cover and title page for Finding Me, the memoir by Viola Davis (HarperOne, 2022), feature all caps: FINDING ME. Chicago style, as we’ve just seen, would apply title case (and italics).

Or there’s The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor—the Truth and the Turmoil, by Tina Brown (Crown, 2022). On that book’s cover and title page, the main title is in all caps, and the subtitle is in title case. There’s no colon between title and subtitle. Chicago style imposes title case for the main title and adds a colon (see CMOS 8.165).

Not that we’d never make an exception. For example, Chicago style would normally call for Star Trek: Into Darkness as the title of that 2013 film. Both the movie posters and the title screen itself feature all-caps “STAR TREK” on its own line; “INTO DARKNESS” is on the line below that, in a type size that differentiates it from the line above. CMOS would therefore treat “Star Trek” as the main title and “Into Darkness” as the subtitle—adding a colon between the two.

But we know that—after much debate—the world seems to have settled on Star Trek Into Darkness (capital I, no colon). The preposition “into” wouldn’t normally merit a capital I without the colon, and the absence of a colon does seem a little odd, but we’d allow both exceptions in the spirit of maintaining intergalactic harmony.

Q. In CMOS 9.48, on numbered places of worship, shouldn’t the example “Twenty-First Church of Christ” read as “Twenty-first Church of Christ”? Why is the second number uppercase?

A. The word “first” in “twenty-first” is an adjective, so it gets a capital F as the second part of a hyphenated compound in the name of an organization or the title of a work—or in a street name or whatever else would normally be capitalized. See CMOS 8.161, which also says specifically to capitalize the second element in a hyphenated spelled-out number. This advice was new to the 16th ed. (2010); until then, CMOS would have advised “Twenty-first,” but our editors agreed that the convention for lowercase wasn’t strong enough to continue to allow for an exception to the rule about adjectives. “Twenty-first” isn’t wrong, then, but it’s no longer Chicago style.

Q. When the word “coke” is used as a generic term to refer to any kind of soda, should it be capitalized?

A. The word “Coke” is a trademark, and it’s a noun—so it doesn’t fit the pattern of a wildly successful trademarked name that acquires a generic (lowercase) sense as a verb in common usage (e.g., Google > googled). It’s best therefore either to capitalize it or to use a generic word like “soda” or “cola,” depending on which is meant (apparently, it can vary by region).

If you’re writing or editing a novel, you might consider another alternative. For example, you could use context to let the reader know that the speaker doesn’t literally mean Coca-Cola:

“I’ll have a Coke,” he said. They served only Pepsi, but he wasn’t the type to make such distinctions.

Or, yes, you could lowercase the term and hope readers will understand that a lowercase c means the term is being used generically. But unless your style is to lowercase things that are normally capped, “Coke” with a capital C is still probably the best option. For more on this issue, see “Can I Put an iPhone in My Novel?” at CMOS Shop Talk.

Q. I have a question about author-date citation style in a sentence that mentions both the author’s name and the title of the work in question: “As philosopher Helen Small argues in The Long Life, there is a general ‘hiddenness’ of aging and becoming older in the history of Western philosophy.” Is it necessary to include a narrative citation here—“As philosopher Helen Small (2007) argues . . .”—or is the sentence as it originally stands enough?

A. The parenthetical date signals to readers that they will find more bibliographic details in the reference list. But there is some flexibility in author-date style. If you wish to avoid the awkwardness of appearing to attach a date to a person rather than a source, it’s acceptable to move the date to follow the title: “As philosopher Helen Small argues in The Long Life (2007), . . .” Likewise, a date alone may follow a quotation if the author has been identified in the lead-in to the quoted text. See also CMOS 15.26.