New Questions and Answers

Q. Dear Sir/Madam, Is the article of the country Gambia capitalized or not? Is it “The Gambia” or “the Gambia”? The information regarding this question is conflicting. Thank you!

A. CMOS usually treats an initial the before the name of a country or other such entity as part of the surrounding text (see CMOS 8.45). Some countries get an article but others do not, usually as a matter of common usage (e.g., the United States of America, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, but Costa Rica, Estonia, and China).

It’s rare, on the other hand, for an initial “the” to be considered a formal part of a geographic name. Among cities, there’s The Hague (in the Netherlands) and The Dalles (in Oregon) and names like Los Angeles and Las Vegas that include a Spanish definite article. Among the world’s countries as they are known in English, there are only three with an initial “the”: El Salvador, The Bahamas, and The Gambia (see this list from Britannica).

The article in a name like El Salvador (Spanish for “the savior”), like the articles in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, generally remains capitalized in an English-language context. (If The Hague retains its capital T, that’s almost certainly because the name is translated from the Dutch Den Haag.) As for The Gambia and The Bahamas, the capital T in those two names apparently reflects the usage in the respective constitutions of those two countries (see the Comparative Constitutions Project). And that’s how Britannica styles those names (see the entries for “The Bahamas” and “The Gambia”).

Meanwhile, the entries in Merriam-Webster list “Gambia or the Gambia” and “Bahamas or the Bahamas or The Bahamas”—suggesting not only that usage varies but that a lowercase t may be more common when the article is used with either name. And though an editor applying Chicago style would ordinarily defer to Merriam-Webster (and choose lowercase), you can cite Britannica if your preference is for The Gambia. Just be sure to switch to lowercase when the article belongs to the surrounding text, as in “the Gambia River” or “the Gambian coast.”

Q. I am editing an online book for a legal nonprofit. The editors cite some of the material as being reprinted with the author’s permission. Because the book is online, is “republished” the correct term versus “reprinted”?

A. Either “reprinted” or “republished” will get the point across. But the word “reprinted” suggests paper, whereas “republished” is best applied to an entire work. If you want a more suitable term—one that’s both commonly understood and medium independent—try “reproduced.”

Q. I have run across the phrase “comprised of” multiple times in a book I’m editing. Depending on context, Google Docs wants me to use “composed” or “consisting” or “comprises” or whatever fits. I know M-W says that while the phrase is not technically incorrect, it does sometimes receive scrutiny. Does CMOS have an official standpoint on its use? Thanks!

A. See CMOS 5.250, under “comprise; compose”: “Use with care. To comprise is ‘to consist of, to include’ {the whole comprises the parts}. To compose is ‘to make up, to form the substance of something’ {the parts compose the whole}. The phrase is comprised of, though increasingly common, remains nonstandard. Instead, try is composed of or consists of.” Another option: “is made up of.”

Some of the decisions an editor makes will always be directed at other editors—or at readers who think like editors. “Comprise” is one of those words that, if you misuse it, risks drawing the attention of anyone who pays close attention to dictionaries and usage manuals (not to mention whatever their screens are telling them). So take the hint from Google and revise to avoid “comprised of”—except, for example, in a direct quotation or as an example of dialogue that reflects how many people actually use the term.

Q. Is the word “to” capitalized in a title or heading when used as part of an infinitive verb?

A. Whoever decided that “to” should be considered part of the infinitive verb form in English has caused more trouble than such a small word is worth (see “infinitives, split”). It certainly doesn’t merit capitalization in titles. The first eleven editions of CMOS said to capitalize all “important” words in a title: “nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, verbs, first words, and last words.” Starting with the twelfth edition, that advice was expanded to clarify that “verbs” did not extend to the “to” in infinitives, which should remain lowercase in titles (see CMOS 8.169 in the current, or seventeenth, edition). So,

Born to Run (where “to” marks the infinitive)

“Midnight Train to Georgia” (where “to” is a preposition)

But, when “to” is the first or last word,

To Kill a Mockingbird (infinitive marker)

To the Lighthouse (preposition)

“If You Asked Me To” (infinitive marker [verb implied])

Exceptions in the middle of a title would be rare. Here’s one, in the title of an article from volume 2012 of the journal Supreme Court Review:

“ ‘To Regulate,’ Not ‘To Prohibit’: Limiting the Commerce Power”

CMOS doesn’t cover that scenario. (If we did, we might say to capitalize the first and last words in a quoted phrase within a title.) Rarer still would be a title that featured “to” as an adverb—as in the phrase “come to” in the sense of “regain consciousness.” You’ll have to take our word for it that we’d capitalize the T in that case.

Q. An academic friend does not use a space following a comma,as this demonstrates. Is this “acceptable” or common? Certainly I can’t see that usage in CMOS.

A. We admire the economy of such a habit, but we can’t endorse it. Not that there isn’t a precedent for such usage. As recently as the nineteenth century, spaces before commas were common, at least in French. Guide pratique du compositeur d’imprimerie, a manual on typesetting by the printer Théotiste Lefèvre that was first published in 1855, reveals as much in a footnote that appears in a section on English composition:

Detail from page 182 of Guide pratique du compositeur d’imprimerie, by Théotiste Lefevre (1855). From a section on English composition.

That first line of text (in a detail from page 182) says that in English practice there’s no space between a comma (“virgule” in French) and the word that it’s next to (i.e., the word that it follows). Footnote number 3 steps in to allow M. Lefèvre to observe that not only is this unfortunate (“vicieux” is as bad as it sounds), but worse, it’s happening more and more in French works.

In Lefèvre’s book, space appears before commas, with two exceptions: (a) where the line of type is too crowded to allow for any and (b) next to r’s, v’s, and y’s. The latter were exempt, “parce que ces trois lettres portent un blanc suffisamment fort par en bas” (i.e., those three letters already leave enough space along the baseline; see Lefèvre, p. 30).

Go back even earlier in time, and the practice was to remove the space after the comma also—à la your academic friend—but only to accommodate very tight lines of justified text. In English, such commas with no space before or after can be seen in the earliest printings of the King James Bible (1611). This same usage could be seen at about the same time in Spanish in the novel Don Quixote (1605 for the first volume).

Back to the present: nobody puts spaces before commas in published prose anymore, and there are only two common scenarios in which the space after the comma is customarily omitted: next to a closing quotation mark, “like this,” and between digits in numbers like 1,132.

Q. CMOS 10.39 says this: “Where space restrictions require that the names of months be abbreviated, one of the following systems is often used.” How do you suggest one defines “space restrictions”?

A. Tables can be a challenge to format; abbreviations are generally useful there. And in footnotes and bibliographies and other places where sources are cited, abbreviations are customary for certain commonly used words, though Chicago doesn’t require them for months (some styles, however, do). Outside of those contexts, abbreviations are usually unnecessary—that is, until you run out of space (e.g., in the running heads for a printed book).

Q. Can an ellipsis be used instead of a period at the end of a complete sentence?

A. Yes, it can . . . But keep in mind that there are at least two ways to use an ellipsis. In the first of these, an ellipsis represents a lapse of some sort—for example, a faltering, a trailing off, or a pause. For that kind of ellipsis, use only three dots wherever the ellipsis occurs (as at the start of this answer).

But when the dots represent an omission within a quotation, retain a period at the end of a grammatically complete sentence. Put this period before the ellipsis, even if that’s not where the sentence ends in the original source: “Vanity and pride are different things. . . . Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us” (Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice).

December Q&A

Q. My sister-in-law recently claimed that the card we get from the DMV that allows us to legally drive is supposed to be referred to as a “driver license” instead of a “driver’s license.” I would love to hear your input as this has been bothering me for a few weeks now!

A. In about thirty US states, from Alabama to Nevada to Wyoming, the term printed on the license itself is “driver license.” In about twenty others, from Arkansas to Maryland to West Virginia, it’s “driver’s license.” (The term is usually, but not always, in all capital letters.) But according to the entry in Merriam-Webster, each of these would be a “driver’s license.”

Incidentally, the DMVs in some of the states that issue a “driver license” refer to it on their websites as a “driver’s license”—and vice versa. Our editors would default to “driver’s license” in each case—including for Indiana, where the card itself says “operator license.” This advice isn’t universal, however. In the UK, for example, it’s usually called a “driving licence”—according to Merriam Webster, the OED, and GOV.UK.

Q. Hi! I have a manuscript that mentions several Super Bowl games. I know AP style says pro football Super Bowls should be identified by the year, not the roman numerals (“1969 Super Bowl,” not “Super Bowl III”), but does Chicago have a guideline for the best way to identify the games? Is it wrong to use arabic numerals instead of roman? Thank you!

A. AP style makes sense for reporters, who often need to achieve clarity in the fewest possible words. And for those of us who haven’t memorized the chronological sequence of NFL championship games, “1969 Super Bowl” is more meaningful than “Super Bowl III.” However, both are correct, and you can use the latter when you’re not following AP style. As for the number, you could always refer to “the third Super Bowl,” but to reflect how the game is generally known, you wouldn’t write “Super Bowl 3”—in spite of what AP might say—any more than you would describe Joe Namath (the winning quarterback in that contest) as having worn number XII (or even number twelve) on his jersey. In other words, it’s Super Bowl III (and number 12).

Q. When writing a bibliography, is it acceptable for the entry to be split between pages? Or should I insert a page break before the entry to keep it all together?

A. Please, whatever you do, do not insert a page break before the entry; if you do, then any changes you make to the document before that page break could easily result in the page just before the manual break running short. In other words, the document will no longer automatically reflow across the page break at that point. (One of a copyeditor’s many jobs is to find and eliminate such problems.)

To prevent an entry from breaking across pages, the proper way to do it is to tell your word processor to keep those lines together. First, put your cursor in the entry. Then, in Microsoft Word, go to Paragraph > Line and Page Breaks and check the box next to “Keep lines together”:

The Line and Page Breaks tab in Microsoft Word’s Paragraph dialog box. Under Pagination, two boxes are checked: “Widow/Orphan control” and “Keep lines together.”

In Google Docs, the setting is under Format > Line & paragraph spacing > Keep lines together. By the way, it’s okay if a bibliography entry breaks across two pages. But note that widow/orphan control is on by default in both Word and Docs. That feature, by preventing the first or last line of a paragraph from being stranded at the bottom or top of a page, respectively, will also thereby prevent any paragraph of three lines or less—including a bibliography entry—from breaking over a page.

Q. I work on science textbooks and science trade books (I wonder why I’ve never needed to ask this question before) and have this question: Does one capitalize “sp.” (or “spp.”) in titles? For example: “Dinarda Spp.: The Sneaky Thief.” Unabbreviated, the word “species” would be capitalized. However, were it the actual species name, it would be lowercased. It does look odd capitalized, since it is never so in text, but I’m leaning toward capitalization as being correct. Possibly the answer to this question lies within (within CMOS, that is), but if so I’ve not been able to find it. What say you?

A. CMOS comes close to answering this question. According to paragraph 8.159, which outlines the principles of headline-style capitalization (a.k.a. title case), the second part of a species name is always lowercase in a title, even if it’s the last word in the title or subtitle. So,

Dinarda dentata: A Sneaky Thief”

and

Dinarda maerkelii: Another Sneaky Thief”

And though we don’t quite say this in CMOS, more than one species of the genus Dinarda would follow the same pattern, even when the abbreviation “spp.” (species, plural) stands in for the names:

Dinarda spp.: The Sneaky Thief”

In sum, use lowercase for “spp.” (and for the singular “sp.”) wherever it occurs in a title or heading. Thanks for giving us this opportunity to clarify our rule.

Q. In the phrase “today, tomorrow, & always” should the comma before the ampersand be removed?

A. Though the serial comma has officially been Chicago style since 1906 (when the first edition of the Manual was published), we prefer to omit it before an ampersand (see CMOS 6.21). The serial comma—the one before the conjunction in a series of three or more (it’s also known as the Oxford comma)—suggests thoroughness (some consider it to be unnecessary); the ampersand, by contrast, is an abbreviation (derived from the Latin word et, or “and”). The two together, then, make for an odd pairing of the thorough and the minimal. Either remove the comma or spell out the word “and.”

Q. How does one cite the place of publication of an older book issued in a city whose name or nation has since changed? For example, a book might describe itself on its title page as having been published in Pressburg (now Bratislava) or in Straßburg, Germany (now Strasbourg, France). Should I give the place as it existed when the book was published or as it exists now?

A. Record the place of publication as printed in the source itself. The cities you mention are still known in German as Pressburg and Straßburg, so the differences may depend not only on the date of publication but also on the language. If the name of the city as it is officially designated today is relevant in some way to your reason for citing it or might be helpful for your intended audience, you can add it (and any other relevant details) in square brackets: e.g., Pressburg [Bratislava]. But in most cases, the year of publication will supply sufficient context. See also CMOS 6.99 and 14.131.

Q. Dear Chicago editors: What should I do if my source appeared in a newspaper (which I cannot reach today), but is featured on a website? How can I give credit to both the paper and the website? The article is something I found on the website of Columbia journalism professor Samuel Freedman.

A. You would attribute the article to both. For example, here’s how you might cite the article “Don’t Reward Deceitful Writers” (as in a note):

1. Samuel G. Freedman, “Don’t Reward Deceitful Writers,” USA Today, March 24, 2004, on the author’s website, http://www.samuelfreedman.com/articles/ust03242004.html.

That should work for most purposes. But if your research depends on finding the original source—or if you’ve come across the article on some random site rather than, as in this case, a website hosted by the author—it’s best to track down the article itself. For example, if you have access to a library, you might find the article via one of the full-text databases from EBSCOhost:

1. Samuel G. Freedman, “Don’t Reward Deceitful Writers,” USA Today, March 24, 2004, EBSCOhost Newspaper Source.

Note that this citation differs from the automatically generated Chicago-style citation offered with the article by EBSCOhost, which renders it as follows:

Samuel G. Freedman. “Don’t Reward Deceitful Writers.” USA Today. Accessed December 3, 2021. https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nfh&AN=J0E355433453204&site=eds-live&scope=site

That citation isn’t a total loss, but it has some problems: (1) The author’s name would be inverted in a bibliography entry (Freedman, Samuel G.). (2) It’s missing the date of publication. (3) Chicago doesn’t require access dates for sources that include a date of publication. (4) The URL is not only littered with ugly syntax, but it’s unhelpful for anyone who isn’t logged into a network with access to EBSCOhost. (5) Finally, a formal bibliography entry isn’t necessarily required for a newspaper article cited in the text or in a note. See also CMOS 14.11 and 14.198.