New Questions and Answers

Q. Hello! I work as a proofreader in retail, and we often use “on sale” in headlines. I’m not sure if “on” is acting as a preposition or an adverb, therefore I’m not sure if it should be capitalized in a headline like this: “Now on Sale.” Thank you!

A. In “on sale,” on is a preposition and sale is its object. The expression itself is a phrasal adjective. Your headline is shorthand for “This Item Is Now on Sale” (or “These Items Are Now on Sale”)—in which the phrase “on Sale” modifies the understood item (or items). Chicago’s exceptions to its rules for headline-style capitalization do not extend to the use of prepositions in phrasal adjectives (except in common Latin phrases like “de facto”). So to follow Chicago style, write “Now on Sale.” See CMOS 8.159.

Q. Is the hyphenation in the following sentence incorrect, or is it just not Chicago style? “He had only two seasons with twenty-or-more homers.” Thanks for another great year of Q&A!

A. The hyphens in “twenty-or-more homers” are contrary to Chicago style and also incorrect. The phrase “twenty or more” describes two separate quantities; hyphens would illogically suggest a single quantity of “twenty-or-more.” On the other hand, hyphens are helpful (and strictly Chicago style) in a phrase such as “two twenty-or-more-homer seasons”—though “two seasons with twenty or more homers” is easier to read.

Q. I just bought the 17th edition. Do you know where I can find out what typeface the text is set in?

A. If you turn to the very last page of text, following the index, you will see that the print edition of the Manual is composed (or typeset) in Lyon and Atlas Grotesk. Lyon, which has serifs, is used for most of the text aside from run-in paragraph subheads and certain illustrations. (The statement at the end of the book about design and production is called a colophon; see CMOS 1.67.) To complement the look of the printed book, CMOS Online (including the Q&A!) uses a version of Lyon designed for the screen.

Q. In your hyphenation table (CMOS 7.89), why is “mid-twentieth” in “mid-twentieth century” hyphenated? Shouldn’t it be closed up as “midtwentieth century” or have an en dash instead of a hyphen?

A. That’s a good question! The fourteenth edition (1993) did advise an en dash: “mid–twentieth century.” But we decided as of the fifteenth (2003) that this was just too fussy. The hyphenated form lends itself better to compound modifiers, as in “mid-twentieth-century furniture.” So when the less common noun phrase is used, we prefer to retain the hyphen: “mid-twentieth century.” A similar logic has discouraged us from advising “midtwentieth century”—though we do recommend “midcentury.”

Q. Would you ever use “styleguide” as a single word?

A. Probably only in a hashtag—#StyleGuide or #styleguide (hashtags aren’t case sensitive, and Chicago style allows for either). Guide, unlike book, doesn’t tend to form one word unless it’s at the beginning. So style guide but stylebook and guidebook. For answers to questions like this one, Merriam-Webster is our go-to guide.

Q. Where does an emoji go in a sentence? Before or after the period? ✏️ Having a tough time deciding 🤔.

A. An emoji that applies to a sentence as a whole might logically follow the period or other terminal punctuation. Let’s coin a term and call this a sentence emoji. 😉 Then, by a similar logic, emoji applying to a word or a phrase could immediately follow that word or phrase, before any mark of punctuation 🔍, like that. Emoji standing in for words, like this picture of a 🐈—well, you get the idea. But like if you’re texting? Most of this logic goes out the window (along with the punctuation). Love your emoji btw!

Q. Doesn’t “The US is the second-largest carbon dioxide emitter after China” make it sound like the US is actually the third-largest carbon dioxide emitter? I see these formulations, which include [number] plus [superlative] and a direct comparison, often, and they seem confusing. Wouldn’t it make more sense to say “The US is the largest carbon dioxide emitter after China” or “The US is the second-largest carbon dioxide emitter; China is the largest”?

A. You’re right: if you think about it for more than three or four seconds, that sentence is less than perfectly unambiguous. But no one would describe the third-largest emitter as the second-largest emitter after the second-largest emitter! This is an example of a convenient and harmless shorthand—where “after” means something like “trailing only.” And it’s a helpful shorthand: not only is it concise, but it also prevents the momentary ambiguity inherent in your first solution (“The US is the largest carbon dioxide emitter . . .”). Note that a comma, though typically omitted from “nth-largest . . . after . . .” constructions, would provide useful clarification before the prepositional phrase “after China”; before the participial phrase “trailing only China,” such a comma would be required (see CMOS 6.30).

Q. Do you recommend using en dashes and em dashes in tweets? Or hyphens?

A. There are no obvious reasons not to use en dashes and em dashes in tweets aside from the extra effort they require to enter properly. To get either of them from a virtual keyboard, try holding down the hyphen to see more options (including en and em dashes); on physical keyboards, you’ll need a keyboard shortcut (e.g., Alt+0150 and Alt+0151 using the numeric keypad in Windows or Option-Hyphen and Option-Shift-Hyphen on a Mac). Or you can copy and paste from a word processor. But don’t feel obligated. If you’re in a hurry—or if it’s just not your style—you can use a hyphen (-) where an en dash (–) might be best, or two hyphens (--) or a space-hyphen-space ( - ) instead of a true em dash (—).

Q. When is a line space in text (pause) used?

A. A blank line usually signals any break that is stronger than a paragraph but not strong enough to warrant a subhead. In novels and other creative works, such breaks may signal a new narrative voice or a change of location or a leap in time (either forward or backward). There’s no limit to how they can be used, but a good editor will point out breaks that seem arbitrary or distracting. You will also need to be prepared for the fact that a blank line occurring at the end of a page may not read as a break; asterisks or a similar device may be needed. See CMOS 1.58.

January Q&A

Q. I’m troubled by this sentence: “She combed her hair, brushed her teeth, and was putting on her lipstick when the phone rang.” I think it should be reworded since the list does not have parallel construction. My friend disagrees. Is it correct as is, or is there a simple fix?

A. You are correct. In a series of verb phrases, any auxiliary verb must apply equally to all of the phrases. So that “was”—an auxiliary verb that helps to create the past-progressive tense—is a problem. You can fix it by adding a conjunction to break up the series: “She combed her hair and brushed her teeth and was putting on her lipstick when the phone rang.” CMOS 5.245 covers this issue (minus the lipstick). For more on progressive tenses, see 5.135.

Q. Sometimes I have a hard time distinguishing between a predicate adjective and a past-tense verb being used in a passive-voice construction. For example, in “this dish was leftover,” is “leftover” an adjective, or should it be “was left over,” with “left” being a verb and “over” being an adverb?

A. That’s tricky because “leftover” is both a noun and an adjective. The noun, which is usually plural, would require an article in the singular: a leftover. So the dish was either a leftover (sing. noun) or it was left over (the phrasal verb from which the noun and adjective are derived). Either one will work. It might also be described as a dish of leftovers (pl. noun). But the adjective form really only works before the noun: this leftover dish.

Q. In the following sentence, “Ships arriving in Venice from infected ports were required to sit at anchor for forty days before landing,” is the word “landing” a verb form, or a verbal (gerund)? Why?

A. In your example, “landing” is a gerund—a present participle used as a noun. Note that it’s the object of the preposition “before”; only a noun (or a noun phrase) can be the object of a preposition. You can also compare “landing” to the other present participle in your example, “arriving,” which is used not as a noun but as an adjective: the participial phrase “arriving in Venice from infected ports” modifies the noun “Ships.” So “arriving” is a participle but not a gerund. For more on participles and gerunds, see CMOS 5.110–16.

Q. What is correct style: “X and Y axes” or “X- and Y-axes”?

A. In the context of the Cartesian coordinate system, the hyphens are conventional: “X-axis and Y-axis” or “X- and Y-axes.” But unless the axes have been specifically labeled with capital letters, they are usually referred to as the x- and y-axes. In nonmathematical contexts (e.g., to refer to a simple chart or graph), the hyphens are often omitted, as in “x and y axes,” which has the advantage of not requiring a suspended hyphen. Consider your context and be consistent. For suspended hyphens, see CMOS 7.88; for math, see chapter 12.

Q. What combination of hyphens or en dashes is used to punctuate “a four hundred year old shipwreck”?

A. Please, no en dashes! Write “a four-hundred-year-old shipwreck.” When it comes to compound modifiers, en dashes are useful mainly for expressions that include a compound term that’s always left open: “World War II–era shipwrecks.” In your example, there’s no reason “four hundred” can’t be hyphenated and joined to the rest of the modifying phrase by another hyphen; only rarely, if ever, should a compound contain a mix of hyphens and en dashes. See CMOS 6.80 for more details.

Q. Hello, No hyphen after a number and before the word “percent”; that’s the rule, per Chicago. But if part of a longer modifier, would the following be correct? Mike said, “A 15-to-20-percent-a-year increase in sales is what’s expected.” Thank you.

A. That’s tricky, but it doesn’t need to be. Just change “a-year” to “yearly” or “annual” (and edit out the redundant “what’s” while you’re at it). Now you have “a 15 to 20 percent annual increase in sales is expected.” Or you could use an en dash in place of “to”: “a 15–20 percent annual increase . . .” (see our hyphenation guide, under “number + percent”).

Q. Hi, Should the “th” in “49th parallel” be superscript? Thanks.

A. Chicago style is “49th parallel” (or “forty-ninth parallel,” as advocated in CMOS 8.47, if you are spelling out numbers one through one hundred). If you use Microsoft Word, you will get “49th parallel” by default. To change this behavior, go to Options > Proofing > AutoCorrect to turn off the superscript setting for ordinals in AutoFormat and AutoFormat As You Type. Or you can type Ctrl+Z (Command-Z on a Mac) to undo the “correction” each time you type an ordinal.

Q. I cannot find any advice in section 6.99 about how to handle completion of abridged matter when providing the missing letters in brackets. For instance, if the original has “P. Jarnach,” should one write “P.[hilipp] Jarnach” or “P[hilipp] Jarnach”? In other words, should one keep or drop the period? My practice has always been to omit it because it is obvious that there was one and because keeping it would look crowded.

A. In clarifying quoted text, brackets can be used not only to comment on the original text but also to replace it. In this case, the period in the original literally stands for the rest of the abbreviated name and can be replaced (so “P.” becomes “P[hilipp]”). Another option would be to supply the name after the initial, leaving the initial and period intact: “P. [Philipp] Jarnach.” But your practice of replacing the period is more elegant and gets Chicago’s seal of approval. You’ll find an example of this usage at CMOS 14.74.

Q. Dear Editor, I was wondering if you could help me with a style query. I am copyediting a 10-chapter document on fish. The author has asked me to include the scientific name in parentheses after the common name of fish species. It seems to me that repeating this each time the fish is mentioned would make the text bulky (the names are repeated often in each section). Can we mention the scientific name of the fish in parentheses just once in each chapter, or should we keep repeating this style after each species is noted? I hope I’m being clear. . . . Many thanks for your advice on this!

A. Just once is enough. According to Scientific Style and Format (published by the University of Chicago Press and, like CMOS, available online), “If the organism is widely known by a vernacular name, this may be used if, at the first reference to the organism, the vernacular name is presented in clear association with the Latin name.” See SSF, section