New Questions and Answers

Q. I was horrified to see that you endorsed using an apostrophe before the s to form plurals! “To aid comprehension, lowercase letters form the plural with an apostrophe and an s (compare ‘two as in llama’ with ‘two a’s in llama’)” (CMOS 7.15). I protest. An apostrophe conveys possession, or a contraction. It should never be used in this context. Please advise where this misbegotten rule came from.

A. The nice thing about using an apostrophe to help form a plural is that it does it so well; you’d never know that it was born under questionable circumstances, or that it doesn’t have a right to play that role. You’ll find it in Shakespeare: “By my life this is my Ladies hand: these bee her very C’s, her V’s, and her T’s, and thus makes shee her great P’s. It is in contempt of question her hand” (Twelfth Night, act 2, scene 5 [1st folio, 1623]; and note the absence of an apostrophe, and the plural ending, in the possessive “Ladies”). In its first eleven editions, CMOS advised writing “the three R’s,” after which it became “the three Rs.” But the intent of the rule has remained the same: use an apostrophe wherever it is needed to prevent a misreading. And as anyone who got A’s in chemistry (or knows their Agatha Christie) might tell you, sometimes an apostrophe can spell the difference between a letter grade and a poison.

Q. Do you capitalize graduating classes? For example, is it “Class of 2020” or “class of 2020”?

A. We prefer lowercase: “class of 2020.” You’ll see an example at CMOS 9.30, which includes “the class of ’06” as an example demonstrating the proper use of the apostrophe. The original class of ’06 at the University of Chicago was graduating when the first edition of the Manual referred to “the class of ’96” (in paragraph 147, also to show the proper use of the apostrophe)—meaning the class of 1896, not 1996. So this is not a new preference.

Q. Hi there! In my research I often use the phrase “Israeli-based company,” and colleagues always push back, suggesting that “Israel-based company” sounds more correct. I’ve found references suggesting I’m right but would love confirmation (or correction!) from the good folks at Chicago. Many thanks.

A. In conflicts between logic and idiom, idiom sometimes wins. Logically, a company based in Israel is an Israel-based company. On the other hand, we usually refer to a company’s Israeli headquarters, not its Israel headquarters. Not that the latter form is wrong; a noun can be used attributively—that is, as an adjective but with no change in form—for any reason. We see this in the name “Canada goose,” for the common wild goose Branta canadensis. But that term is a relative outlier. With countries it’s natural to use the adjective form before the noun (the Canada goose is, generically speaking, a Canadian goose). With cities, on the other hand, the adjective form is rare: we refer to a company’s Tel Aviv headquarters, not its Tel Avivian headquarters (to use the accepted demonym). So when we talk about Canadian-style pizza (whatever that is) but Chicago-style commas, we’re expressing a preference for idiom over logic. But Israel isn’t Canada, and usage varies. If you look at Google’s Ngram Viewer, you’ll see that whereas “Canadian-based company” is more common in published (and usually edited) books than “Canada-based company” by a factor of more than two to one, “Israeli-based company” doesn’t even register. In sum, your colleagues would seem to have both logic and usage on their side, but Canada would probably welcome you.

Q. My publisher prefers that AD come before the year (as in “AD 99”), but would the same rule apply to centuries? That is, should it be “first century AD” or “AD first century”?

A. The abbreviation AD stands for anno Domini, Latin for “in the year of the Lord,” so the order AD 99 is required for proper syntax: “in the year 99” makes sense; “99 in the year” does not. BC, which means “before Christ” (the English-language complement to AD), naturally follows the year: 99 [years] BC. The problem with AD and centuries is that they don’t mix: “in the year of the Lord first century” and “first century in the year of the Lord” both fail the test. Not to worry. English and Latin were never meant to coexist, and “the first century AD” is a perfectly acceptable way of referring to “the first century after the year 1 BC” (there is no year zero). (The alternative, “the AD first century,” doesn’t quite work.) Some writers use CE ([of the] Common Era) and BCE (before the Common Era), both of which follow the year, but the older abbreviations have persisted and are more likely to be understood by readers. See CMOS 9.34 for some additional considerations.

Q. It’s 2020. Can we please stop using a hyphen in “dropdown”?

A. According to the Apple Style Guide (dated December 2019), the term shouldn’t be used at all:

drop-down menu. Don’t use; use menu.

The Microsoft Writing Style Guide allows it, but only for an audience that includes developers:

It’s OK to use drop-down as an adjective in content for developers if you need to describe the type of UI item or how it works.

Apparently the user interface works by a sort of magic whose secrets are revealed only to magicians. Part of that magic may have something to do with the hyphen in “drop-down,” so it’s probably best not to meddle. On the other hand, Merriam-Webster lists “drop-down” and “dropdown” as equal variants for the noun form (the adjective form is always hyphenated), so maybe there’s hope for you. Just don’t tell Microsoft: according to the Microsoft guide, the noun form is verboten.

Q. In a book compiling chapters written by multiple authors, if I want to cite a chapter written by one or more authors who are also editors of the whole book, do I have to repeat their names?

A. Yes, you should repeat their names. For example, the following bibliography entry will make it clear that Gordon H. Chang is both the sole author of the chapter and one of the editors of the book.

Chang, Gordon H. “Chinese Railroad Workers and the US Transcontinental Railroad in Global Perspective.” In The Chinese and the Iron Road: Building the Transcontinental Railroad, edited by Gordon H. Chang and Shelley Fisher Fishkin, with Hilton Obenzinger and Roland Hsu, 27–41. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2019.

You might avoid repetition by using only the surname on second mention of a contributor (“edited by Chang and Shelley Fisher Fishkin”), but only if space is an issue. The additional contributors Obenzinger and Hsu appear on the title page; listing them is optional (see CMOS 14.105).

Q. Does Chicago prefer “COVID-19” or “Covid-19”?

A. We prefer all-caps “COVID-19.” To find out why, please see “Styling COVID-19 and Related Terms” at CMOS Shop Talk.

April Q&A

Q. I saw someone sharing a post recently stating that you now support two spaces after a period, falling in line with AP style. Is this correct?

A. Don’t believe everything you read. Neither Chicago nor AP nor any other style that we know of—including APA, as of the seventh edition of its style manual, published in late 2019—recommends more than one space after a period. See our post on this subject and its long history at CMOS Shop Talk.

Q. What is the correct capitalization of “Zoom” and its derivatives when it refers to the essential meeting software that we are all using during the coronavirus pandemic? I’m certain that it is capitalized as a noun—e.g., “I have a Zoom conference at 3:00 p.m.” What about when it’s used as a verb—e.g., “People are zooming/Zooming into online classes all day long.” Thank you!

A. Zoom is a brand name, so you’re right, it gets a capital Z in both noun and attributive forms. (An attributive noun functions like an adjective, as in your “Zoom conference” example.) Capitalization is also appropriate for brand names that have become synonymous with a category, like Band-Aid, Coke, Hula-Hoop, Jet Ski, Xerox, and Zamboni. Those terms are all listed in Merriam-Webster as capitalized trademarks. And though it may seem normal to refer to a hula-hoop or a jet ski in casual prose or creative writing, it’s never wrong to capitalize a brand name.

Verbs are a different story. Some brands immediately enter the lexicon as verbs, and verbs like to be lowercase. Merriam-Webster’s entry for Google, which is limited to the verb form, lists lowercase and capitalized versions as equal variants: “google or Google,” “googled or Googled,” “googling or Googling,” and “googles or Googles.” Ditto Auto-Tune (“auto-tune or Auto-Tune,” etc.). The somewhat older verb “xerox” doesn’t even get a capitalized variant.

But unlike “xerox” or “google” or “auto-tune,” “zoom” has a day job as an ordinary verb. Even if it does enter the dictionary in its trademarked sense, it may be a good idea to retain the capital letter for the sake of clarity. For now at least, prefer “Zooming” over “zooming.”

Q. Can Chicago please provide clarification on hyphenation when “high school” is used as an adjective? For instance, do you prefer “middle and high school students” or “middle- and high-school students”? Why? One never sees “high-school curriculum” or “high-school classroom” in educational writing, but I don’t fully understand how the rules are applied toward permanent compounds used as adjectives in CMOS. Thank you!

A. It wouldn’t be incorrect to write “middle- and high-school students.” But both “middle school” and “high school” are listed in Merriam-Webster as unhyphenated noun phrases; when they are used attributively, they can remain unhyphenated.

In general, any compound that’s rarely hyphenated in real life can remain unhyphenated as a phrasal adjective if the meaning remains clear without the hyphen. This goes double for any compound that’s listed in a dictionary without the hyphen. So write “middle and high school students.”

On the other hand, if a compound is listed in the dictionary as a hyphenated phrasal adjective, Chicago style gives you permission to drop the hyphen in most cases when the compound follows the noun that it modifies (see CMOS 7.85). For example, a high-strung high school student would be, according to Chicago style, high strung (contra Merriam-Webster).

For specific examples and common exceptions, consult our hyphenation table at CMOS 7.89. If you’re still in doubt, hyphenate before the noun but not after.

Q. Elsewhere in the Q&A you wrote, “The day I was introduced to the The was the day I learned that irony was finished.” This is just wrong and makes no sense whatsoever. To call The The “the The” is absolutely wrong. Further, The Who should be “The Who.” It’s a proper name, and “the Who” is just wrong. Fix this.

A. Some writers would also prefer The Rolling Stones and The Beatles and The Pointer Sisters—and The Grateful Dead and The Mothers of Invention. And maybe even The University of Chicago Press and The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Consistently applied, those look fine, but they’re not Chicago style.

Instead, we treat the definite article as a generic bit of syntax that’s required for some band names and organizations but not for others (Santana, for example). If we extend this logic to the The and the Who, we do so in the spirit of fairness and regardless of official usage—which can be difficult to determine.

But we see your point. Some of the more cleverly nondescript one-word band names risk getting lost outside the context of an album cover without a little help from their editorial friends. So you have our permission to write The The and The Who—and The Band, for that matter. Our rules are not laws. They are meant to be adjusted for the unusual case or to suit a particular context. And that’s The Truth.

Q. I know that CMOS and the APA manual [the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association] differ in their citation styles, but I’m curious: How do you feel about a new guideline in the seventh edition of the APA manual omitting the place of publication in book citations? Is this a style decision you would likely replicate in future editions of CMOS?

A. Several major style guides have dropped this requirement in recent editions. First it was the MLA Handbook (8th ed., Modern Language Association, 2016), then APA’s Publication Manual (7th ed., late 2019), and most recently the AMA Manual of Style (11th ed., American Medical Association, 2020).

Not requiring the place of publication in a source citation can help not only authors but also editors, who sometimes spend valuable time verifying this detail using WorldCat and other resources. And we agree that the name of the publisher and date of publication alone are usually sufficient for the purposes of finding a book.

If Chicago were to follow this trend, however, we would want to make the place of publication an optional element.

For books published by a university press, the name of the institution is tantamount to its location. It doesn’t really matter where Harvard or UC Berkeley publishes its books. So the name of the university press would be sufficient in most cases.

But for books published by independent or international publishers outside the English-language publishing nexus of New York and London, a location can provide valuable cultural context for readers assessing the scope of an author’s research.

Cole, Teju. Every Day Is for the Thief. Abuja, Nigeria: Cassava Republic Press, 2007.

And for books published before 1900, the city is usually more important than the name of the long-defunct publisher or printer. Our current recommendation—according to which you can include only the city for pre-1900 works (CMOS 14.128)—is unlikely to change.

In sum, Chicago will no doubt continue to show how to style the place of publication in a citation for a book even if it becomes an optional element. Stay tuned.

Q. Does CMOS weigh in on whether email subject lines should be capitalized in sentence style or headline style?

A. Great question! CMOS doesn’t cover email subject lines, but if we did we’d make a distinction between personal email messages, on the one hand, and formal announcements or mailings, on the other.

For personal messages (even if they’re related to work), sentence style would usually be appropriate. Not only will sentence style come across as less formal than headline style, but it will save the sender the trouble of determining which words get capitalized and which do not.

Subject: Last year’s Halloween party

Formal messages sent out by an organization, on the other hand, may be subject to the same editorial scrutiny that a press release or similar document might get. In that case, Chicago’s version of headline style would be appropriate for organizations that otherwise follow Chicago style (see paragraph 8.159 for the principles of headline-style capitalization).

Subject: Supporting Our Community through the Coronavirus Crisis

Note that not all styles apply headline-style capitalization in the same way. For example, whereas Chicago and MLA lowercase all prepositions in a title (including “through” in the example above), APA and AP capitalize all words of four letters or more. AP further distinguishes between titles mentioned in text and headlines for news stories, prescribing sentence style for the latter. So be sure to review your organization’s style before applying it to formal email subject lines.

Q. Isn’t it redundant to have an “MBA in business administration”? I thought it was a mistake at first, but a lot of people use this—and perhaps it really is the degree name—but it just seems weird . . . “master of business administration in business administration”?

A. Having an MBA in business administration does sound a little like using a PIN number at an ATM machine to get money to repair your broken LCD display so you can read about RAS syndrome on Wikipedia over a cup of chai tea. But if your colleague has an MBA in marketing or finance, you may want to make your own concentration in business administration explicit. It’s probably best, therefore, to ask before editing out the apparent redundancy.