New Questions and Answers

Q. Do you capitalize the preposition for in headline-capitalization style in this case: “XYZ: what is it good for?” Lowercase or uppercase? Thanks a lot!

A. The last word is capitalized in a Chicago-style headline-capped title, regardless of syntax: “XYZ: What Is It Good For?” Please see CMOS 8.159 (point 1) for this rule.

Q. What is the proper way to write Dr. Tom Smith Jr., M.D.?

A. Use MD or Dr., but not both. Please see CMOS 10.16 and 10.19. Some style guides use periods in M.D. and put a comma before Jr., but Chicago prefers the following forms:

Tom Smith Jr., MD
Dr. Tom Smith Jr.

Q. I am copyediting a nonfiction manuscript that contains citations of online news articles. We are hoping to use footnotes rather than endnotes for this book, and the URLs are very long and ungainly. The author’s proposed solution is to include only the web address for the news site’s home page and not the full article URL. I think it would be better to use a service to shorten these so that we can list a (currently) working URL for each specific article without taking up two or three lines of space for each one. Do you have any opinions on whether this is a sound practice or have any other suggestions for this kind of problem?

A. The author’s solution is preferable to URLs shortened by a third-party service, which aren’t always reliable or lasting. Please see CMOS 14.10 for detailed advice about shortening URLs. You might be able to clean up the complex URLs for individual articles by lopping off most of the gobbledygook. (Try it!) Or navigate to the page some other way and see whether the URL is tidier than the one provided.

Q. I write and edit reports for an environmental firm, and we frequently cite publications that are published by government organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency. These publications almost always include the authors’ names. We use the author-date system for citations. When referring to EPA publications in the text of a report, I typically word the text such that both EPA and the correct author-date text citation are mentioned (e.g., “As recommended by EPA guidance [Puls and Barcelona 1996], sampling . . .”). The project manager for one of the reports I’m working on has requested that we use the publishing organization name (or acronym) instead of the authors’ names in the in-text citations (e.g., use “EPA 1996” instead of “Puls and Barcelona 1996”) and then use a cross-reference in the references section to point to the correct citation based on the authors’ names. Is this appropriate? Her reasoning is that “EPA 1996” will be more recognizable to the reader than the authors’ names. I could not find a similar question in the Q&A, but if I missed one, please let me know!

A. Your manager’s system is a bit cruel, sending readers on a two-hop trip to the correct reference, in service of a spurious goal, since readers don’t normally need the names in author-date citations to be “recognizable.” Although CMOS allows an organization to serve as author when there is no author (see 15.37), when there are actual authors, it’s right to cite them.

Q. If the title of a magazine article contains the word now, as in “And Now Gay Rights,” should it be alphabetized under N?

A. Conjunctions count when alphabetizing titles; that title would go under A for And.

Q. Is it necessary to continue repeating the auxiliary had after its first instantiation when writing a complex sentence with some of the verbs in the pluperfect: “She had taken many rides in the train and [had] seen many sights, sights that [had] awakened her curiosity, but what [had] most intrigued her . . .”? If not, it seems the reader would have an ambiguous idea about where the event is situated in time.

A. This is a thorny issue, especially for fiction writers. Mignon Fogarty wrote a good post about it at Grammar Girl. The idea is to mix it up a little instead of repeating had a million times. Doing it gracefully and avoiding ambiguity requires some skill, but when it’s done well, readers get the idea.

Q. I have always thought that the only time one uses capitalization after a semicolon is when it is followed by a proper noun (or a word like I). As a mathematics editor, I’ve encountered capitalization after a semicolon with two different publishers (“No; Possible answer: they can find . . .”).  I’ve searched for an answer in CMS but no luck.

A. CMOS probably doesn’t cover this because it’s never come up before! Uppercasing after a semicolon in running text (other than a proper name) is likely to look like an error.

Q. My proofreader says that the verb needs to be singular in this caption, but that reads as incorrect to me. Can you instruct me or give me bragging rights (not that I would ever brag, of course)? “Ann Smith, one of seven alumni who talks about leadership.”

A. Those seven alumni who talk about leadership are plural, so the verb should be plural as well. Ann Smith will have to get her own verb. (But please be nice to your proofreader!)

Q. I was wondering: in an academic book is there a reason to put something in a bibliography and not in an endnote? If there is a reason, what is it? What references go in the endnotes then? Is a bibliography needed?

A. A bibliography is optional if the endnotes contain full citations. But some writers use a bibliography to include materials used in researching the document whether they are cited in the notes or not. It can also include suggested readings. You can find answers to related questions at the CMOS Shop Talk blog; scroll down to “Chicago Style Basics.”

Q. Which of the following is correct or preferred? I’m guessing it’s the first option. I’m working on a very important, time-sensitive document, and everything has to be correct according to CMOS.

She’s number one in my book.
She’s number 1 in my book.
She’s No. 1 in my book.
She’s no. 1 in my book.

A. All of those stylings are widely accepted. The default Chicago style for numbers one through ten is to spell them out, so “number one” works well. In certain contexts (such as referring to a list), you might opt for “number 1,” based on Chicago style for “page 1”, “table 1,” and other such expressions.

Q. What is Chicago style counsel for using empty brackets when attempting to fit a quotation syntactically into a sentence? The Bluebook permits empty brackets to indicate “the omission of letters from a common root word”—for example, “judgment[]” (77). Does Chicago follow this? And if not, how does Chicago handle such cases where, for instance, an original approached needs to be made approach?

A. In Chicago style, brackets can signal substitutions as well as insertions. To change approached to approach within a quotation, the word approach goes into the brackets. If it’s important for readers to know whether the bracketed material is an edit or an insertion, consider paraphrasing or explaining instead of altering the quote. Please see CMOS 6.99.

Q. How does Chicago style handle capitalization of add-on questions such as the following? “May I have a cookie? two cookies? four cookies?” Should the latter two questions start with a lowercase letter?

A. CMOS doesn’t cover this issue per se, but it incidentally shows an example at 5.229: “Which is better? And why?” In that case CMOS chose capital letters, perhaps because the add-on question can be seen as beginning a new sentence. You could view “Two cookies?” as an elision of “May I have two cookies?” and therefore as the beginning of a new sentence, or you could choose to view your add-ons as sentence-ending fragments, so that lowercasing is justifiable.

Q. Regarding the use of and in a short parenthetical list, here is an example: “channels that confer sensitivity to heat (TrpV1, TrpM2, TrpM3).” My project manager thinks there is a need to place and between the last two items in the parens. I know of no such rule and cannot think of a reason why the word would be necessary (other than the customer is always right). Any insights on this minor dilemma?

A. English isn’t as bossy as a lot of people believe. There’s no rule that a series must include and. When someone makes up a rule, don’t fall for it! Reply, “Ah—I didn’t know that rule! Could you please tell me where I can find it?”

October Q&A

Q. I belong to an editing group. In these two sentences, we believe the commas belong. Is there a name/description for this or a rule you can direct us to? “It’s what makes a barn, a barn.” “Whatever will be, will be.” That comma.

A. The closest rule seems to be the one at CMOS 6.55, described as “commas between homonyms” and offering examples like “Whatever is, is good.”

Q. Dear CMOS, would you please clarify 8.191 in the following example? I understand that Wikipedia should be roman, because it was never available in print. I also understand that The Chicago Manual of Style Online should be in italics, because there are both print and online editions. However, in practice, I find myself with sentences like this, which look “wrong”: “Comparing Music Index and RILM Abstracts with Music Periodical Index for music education topics is challenging.” In this example, which is coming up a lot in a book chapter I’m writing, would you italicize all three? And then, for consistency, would you italicize all three even when they are not together?

A. When similar online references are grouped together like that, it’s a service to readers to treat them all the same. Normally that would mean using roman type, since the majority of websites have no printed counterpart, but if most of the website titles in your book are italic, you could go with that.

Q. I am trying to document a long-standing journal which has undergone numerous title changes and publication sites. What title should I use for the multiple journal entries in the bibliography: the current title for all the entries or the title that was in use at the time of the issue publication? I have verified with the publisher that all the title variations (and differing places of publication) do indeed belong to the same journal. The changes are not extreme: no subtitle to a rather generic title or various subtitles attached to the generic main title.

A. List the journal titles as they were at the time of publication, and explain the variation in a headnote or footnote or annotation to the entries. The city of publication is not normally part of a journal citation, so you needn’t worry about that.

Q. In reply to the question of whether it should be “the Rangers hockey game” or “the Rangers’ hockey game,” you basically said that both are acceptable but the former is slightly preferred. I’d like to point out two things that make the former even more preferable. (1) The Rangers play more than one hockey game (and more than one per season), so you can never attend the Rangers hockey game, but only a Rangers hockey game. (2) A hockey game isn’t really a possession of the Rangers like their rink, but is rather an event (something incorporeal) that is merely highly associated with the Rangers, and whose association with the Rangers is only 50 percent (the other 50 percent of the association is with the opposing team).

A. Thank you for these thoughts! Let me point out a few things in reply. (1) Of course you can attend “the Rangers hockey game.” If I say, “Last night we went to the Rangers hockey game,” I’m referring to the game that was held last night. (2) The genitive indicated by apostrophe + s serves many purposes besides literal possession. Please see CMOS 5.20 for examples. (3) You might have misread our answer; in fact, CMOS 7.27 says, “If in doubt, choose the plural possessive.”

Q. How do you cite a speech that is out of copyright?

A. Cite it as you would any other speech. (Copyright information is not normally included in citations.) You can find examples of citations of speeches at CMOS 14.217 and 14.267.

Q. One of your inquirers included the sentence “Most people only know the one reality they’ve lived.” (This was not the subject of the person’s inquiry, which was well answered.) Should it not be “Most people know only the one reality”? “Most people only know” would imply they know it, but do not appreciate it, do not embrace it, do not examine it, etc. “Most people know only the one reality” would imply that they know the one reality but not others, almost certainly what the writer intended.

A. Your phrasing is technically correct, but Chicago only mildly disapproves of misplacing only—especially in informal contexts like the Q&A—because that’s the way people talk, and the meaning is almost always clear regardless. (Please see CMOS 5.186.) says: “After 200 years of preachment the following observations may be made: the position of only in standard spoken English is not fixed, since ambiguity is avoided through sentence stress; in casual prose that keeps close to the rhythms of speech only is often placed where it would be in speech; and in edited and more formal prose only tends to be placed immediately before the word or words it modifies.”

Q. I work at an arts organization that has two artistic directors. Should I refer to them as “co-artistic directors” or “artistic co-directors”?

A. Co–artistic directors. Otherwise they sound like directors who are artistic. (Chicago style would make that hyphen an en dash, by the way, but that may be too much to ask of an organization with two artistic directors.)

Q. What is the difference between Garner’s Modern English Usage, Garner’s Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation, and The Chicago Manual of Style?

A. Fortunately, Bryan Garner explains in this post at the CMOS Shop Talk blog.

Q. Should the possessive form of Los Angeles include the extra s? As a Spanish term, the city’s name is a singular noun, plural in form, but if we consider it fully anglicized, does it then count as a regular singular? Or does the plural form carry through?

A. It’s true that city names that include a plural word in English can drop the extra s when forming the possessive: Twin Groves’ population. But city names are by default singular (Twin Groves is a small city), and a guideline for styling non-English names in English should not depend on a writer’s knowledge of their meaning in the original language. Thus the possessive of Los Angeles in Chicago style follows the guidelines for singular possessives in English: Los Angeles’s.

Q. For catalog copy, how would I write inches symbols with a period at the end of a sentence? (The client wants symbols rather than to spell out inches. That is nondebatable.)

5'' × 4''.
5'' × 4.''

The client says it’s the latter. I say NO WAY. I think the hash marks are not to be confused with an end-quote mark. Please!!! Please!!! Can someone help me out here?

A. Hang on! We’re coming! You are right: quotation marks are irrelevant. The inches symbol must be closed up to the number, which puts the period at the very end, after the entire expression: 4″ × 5″. Also, please note that the symbol for inches is the double prime (″), not double quotation marks  (”) or straight quotation marks (") or (gasp!) two single quotation marks in a row ('').

Q. When I see the sign OVERSIZE LOAD on the back of trucks, it feels grammatically incorrect. Shouldn’t it be OVERSIZED LOAD or OVER-SIZED LOAD? Please tell me so I can either smirk when I see this sign or apologize to my family.

A. It’s always wise to consult an authority before smirking. In CMOS you can find over listed with other prefixes at 7.89, section 4, where you’ll see it without a hyphen: overmagnified, overshoes, etc. The main entry at is “oversize (or oversized).”