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Punctuating Style in CMOS 17: What’s New with Colons, Commas, Dashes, and Slashes

This article originally appeared in Copyediting newsletter, which explains the low word-to-humor ratio, and is reproduced with permission from the Pilcrow Group.

Since breaking news of the 17th edition, out in September, The University of Chicago Press has revealed some major revisions to The Chicago Manual of Style. Among the previews: lowercasing internet, dropping the hyphen in email, adding alt text to the manual for accessibility, improving keywords for searchability, expanding source citations to cover social media, and accepting themself to refer to a singular antecedent (as in they bought themself a book on quotations). Punctuation guidelines have also undergone a few tweaks, and though not nearly as controversial as going from e-mail to email, the following updates introduce new rules or clarify old ones for added finesse and flexibility.

Colons

  • When introducing a list or series, the words preceding the colon no longer need to be a grammatically complete sentence if the verb is understood: New: metadata, abstracts, and keywords.

Commas

  • Reword the sentence when the serial comma causes ambiguity. When the serial comma might be misread as framing an appositive, one solution is to repeat the conjunction: Instead of she drove her wife, the teacher, and her mother, use she drove her wife and the teacher and her mother.
  • Use a comma after “etc.,” “et al.,” and “and so forth” only if required by the surrounding text. Instead of setting these terms off with a pair of commas according to the previous recommendation, treat them as equivalent to the final element in a series: The editor donated a dozen outdated reference books (without removing dog-ears, pencil marks, sticky notes, etc. from the pages).
  • Capitalize the first word of a direct question not enclosed in quotation marks when it follows a comma. Another departure from previous editions, this guideline makes this category of question analogous to a direct quotation: He wondered, Should I track changes?
  • It’s not necessary to precede the adverbs “too” and “either” with a comma when used in the sense of “also” at the end of a sentence. They couldn’t make the deadline either. The printer was down too.
  • In correspondence, a greeting containing a direct address requires two punctuations: a comma in the direct address and a colon or comma after the greeting.

Welcome, readers: . . .
Hi, Laura, . . .

But in casual correspondence, the direct-address comma is often omitted.

Hi Erin, . . .

Em Dashes

  • In printed publications, break the line after an em dash, not before. But when another punctuation mark immediately follows the dash, like in this example, keep the elements together:

“I’m saving my edits before I—”
the student said as the computer froze.

En Dashes

  • In printed publications, break the line after an en dash, not before. But if it pushes a single character to the next line, such as part of a number range or a score, keep the elements together.
  • An en dash with a space before and after may be used instead of an em dash in running text. Primarily a British style, an en dash as em dash is preferred by many U.S. publishers and writers.

Slashes

  • In printed publications, break the line after a slash, not before. But if it pushes a single character to the next line (such as when it is part of a two-year span) or splits a fraction, keep the elements together. This new rule doesn’t apply to poetry line breaks (break before or after) or URLs (break before).

Multiple Punctuation Marks

  • Except in formal prose, a question mark can be combined with an exclamation point to “express excitement or disbelief.” Are we another step closer to adopting the interrobang?!

Visit CMOS Shop Talk for Chicago style–related news, advice, and quizzes.

 

Compounds Ending with a Preposition or Adverb: Open, Hyphenated, or Solid?

It seems as if I’m always rifling through my reference books to check whether a compound is open, hyphenated, or solid in a particular style. Movie goer, movie-goer, or moviegoer? There is no consistency, no logic apparent to the naked mind . . . or is there?

Nope. Not much. Sorry for getting your hopes up. Where a compound term lands in its journey toward becoming one word is arbitrary with a capital F-U.

Where a compound term lands in its journey toward becoming one word is arbitrary with a capital F-U.

In this post, I will discuss compound terms ending with a preposition or adverb (e.g., -in/-out, -up/-down, -on/-off, -over) and, of course, which version The Associated Press Stylebook and The Chicago Manual of Style prefer. If you love lists, I’m sharing one compiled in a so-far-successful bid to avoid organ herniation from hoisting those heavy books. In short, I will run down my run-down rundown. (Note to self: Raise standard for items on my “Things to Say” bucket list.)

Looking for Patterns

First, I analyzed my list of compound nouns and compound adjectives (aka phrasal adjectives and compound modifiers) for logical patterns. I pondered questions such as, if the first element ends in a vowel and the second element begins with a vowel, are they always joined by a hyphen to keep the vowels separate and the compound readable? Then, I had a gluten-free cookie and watched some TV. Really, there is no logic. Drive-in and trade-off . . . but lineup and takeover. See?

Chalk it up to popular whim. According to CMOS 7.79, “With frequent use, open or hyphenated compounds tend to become closed (‘on line’ to ‘on-line’ to ‘online’). Chicago’s general adherence to Webster’s does not preclude occasional exceptions when the closed spellings have become widely preferred by writers (e.g., ‘website’) and pronunciation and readability are not at stake.”

According to the AP stylebook (“hyphen entry), “Use of the hyphen is far from standardized. It is optional in most cases, a matter of taste, judgment and style sense.”

Really, there is no logic. Drive-in and trade-off . . . but lineup and takeover. See?

And then they both go on and on about how to wield a hyphen. Let me break it down for you . . .

Reference Preference

Look words up in the following order. (Online dictionaries are listed at the end of the post.)

AP:

  1. AP Stylebook Online.
  2. The Associated Press Stylebook (“dictionaries” entry).
  3. Webster’s New World College Dictionary: Use the first spelling if more than one spelling is listed in the same entry. Use the spelling in the entry with a full definition if there is more than one entry. (See “dictionaries” entry.)
  4. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (“dictionaries” entry).
  5. Use hyphens to avoid confusion or to join words to form a single idea. Avoid duplicated vowels and tripled consonants. (See “hyphen” entry.)

Special notes:

  • Precede -in with a hyphen (see “-in” entry). Exception: login.
  • Hyphenate compounds ending in -down, -off, -out, -over, and -up if not found in the AP stylebook or Webster’s New World College Dictionary. Exception: charge off.

Really special note:

  • These exceptions are not acknowledged by AP, but you do the math.

Chicago:

  1. The Chicago Manual of Style (7.77–85).
  2. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary: Use the first spelling listed, even for equal variants (7.1).
  3. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (7.1).
  4. American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, or other standard dictionary (7.1).
  5. If an example or analogy cannot be found in the above, hyphenate sparingly and only to enhance readability (7.85).

Special notes:

  • The Chicago Manual of Style is not set up like The Associated Press Stylebook, meaning it doesn’t contain, as AP puts it in its table of contents, “an A to Z listing of guides to capitalization, abbreviation, spelling, numerals and usage.” But you knew that.
  • The Chicago Manual of Style Online‘s forum and Chicago Style Q&A may use spellings which differ from those on my chart, but their authority does not override the sources prescribed in CMOS.

Often, you can identify a compound noun (ending with a preposition or adverb) from its non-compound form . . . by the way the first element is stressed.

Extra Credit: Stress Patterns in Pronunciation

Often, you can identify a compound noun (ending with a preposition or adverb) from its non-compound form (usually verb but not always) by the way the first element is stressed. You can hear the equal stress on the words make up in “Let’s kiss and make up.” Compare this to the heavier stress on make when you say “Let’s kiss and share makeup.”

More examples of stress on the first part of a compound noun (also examples of a stressful weekend): meltdown, blackout, hangover. Exception: time-out (equal stress on both elements).

Examples of equal stress on both elements of a phrasal adjective: far-off, washed-up, worn-out. Exception: wake-up (stress on first element).

I try to stick to style and avoid talking straight-up grammar, because there are so many blogs out there for that—plus I might make stuff up, like “Nounify the verbular gerundity”—but, yes, use two words when any of these play the part of a phrase consisting of a verb, noun, adjective, or participle plus a preposition or adverb. Crap, I just lost 95 percent of my readers.

  • I had a meltdown when I watched the ice cream melt down my arm.
  • I black out when there is a blackout.
  • I felt a black cloud hang over me while I had a hangover.
  • I took some time out for a timeout.

Using This Compounds List

    • Deviations by the AP stylebook from its official dictionary, Webster’s New World College Dictionary, have been noted in the “Notes and Exceptions” column.
    • The words in the “AP Style” column can be found in the AP stylebook under those word entries in the “Stylebook” section unless indicated otherwise in the “Notes and Exceptions” column.
    • It’s interesting to note that both Chicago and AP use Webster’s Third New International Dictionary as a secondary source, after their dictionaries of choice. It retails for $129, but it’s $75 on Amazon. Knock yourself out.
Note: Most of the compound terms are nouns and adjectives; exceptions have been indicated.

 

AP Style Chicago Style Notes and Exceptions
backup
blackout
blastoff
breakdown
break-in
breakup
brownout
buildup
buyout • AP book: see “leveraged buyout”
call-up
carry-on
carry-over carryover
cave-in
changeover
change-up changeup
charge off charge-off • Note: two words
• AP dictionary: no entry
check-in • AP dictionary: no entry
checkout
checkup
cleanup
close-up
cop-out
countdown
cover-up • AP dictionary: coverup
crackup crack-up
crossover
cutoff
drive-in
dropout
fade-out
fallout
far-off (adj.)
flameout
flare-up
follow-up
frame-up
grown-up
hands-off (adj.)
hangover
hang-up
head-on (adj., adv.)
hideout • AP online: hideout
• AP book: hide-out
(see “-out”)
• AP dictionary: hide-out
holdover
holdup
layoff
letup
liftoff
lineup
login log-in • Note: Closed compound contradicts AP’s hyphenated compound style for all -in constructions (see “-in”).
• AP dictionary: no entry
logoff • AP dictionary: no entry
• Chicago dictionary: no entry
logon log-on • AP dictionary: no entry
makeup
mashup • AP book: see entry in “Social Media Guidelines” section
• AP dictionary: no entry
• Chicago dictionary: no entry
meltdown • AP book: see “nuclear terminology”
mix-up
mock-up
mop-up
pat-down • AP dictionary: no entry
• Chicago dictionary: no entry
pickup
pileup
playoff play-off
pullout
pullup pull-up • AP dictionary: pull-up
pushup push-up • AP dictionary: push-up
putout
rip-off
rollover
roundup
rundown rundown (n.),

run-down (adj.)

• AP dictionary: rundown (n.), run-down (adj.)
sellout
send-off
setup
shake-up
shape-up
shoutout shout-out • Note: only listed on AP Stylebook Online
• AP dictionary: no entry
showoff show-off
shutdown
shut-in
shut-off shutoff
shutout
sign-up • AP dictionary: no entry
sit-down
sit-in
situp sit-up • AP dictionary: sit-up
slowdown
smashup
speedup
spinoff spin-off
stand-in
standoff
standout
startup start-up • AP dictionary: start-up
stopover
takeoff
takeout takeout (n.),

take-out (adj.)

takeover
takeup take-up
thumbs-down • AP dictionary: no entry
thumbs-up • AP dictionary: no entry
tie-in
tie-up
timeout time-out • Note: AP says that this is an exception to the dictionary, but they match.
tipoff tip-off • AP dictionary: tipoff for basketball term meaning “jump ball”; otherwise,tip-off
trade-in
trade-off
tryout
tuneup tune-up
wake-up (adj.)
walk-in
walkout
walkover
walk-up
washed-up (adj.)
washout
windup
workout
worn-out (adj.)
write-down
write-in

 

Thanks for making it to the end! If you can find a way to turn this into a drinking game, then give me a heads-up.

Online Dictionaries

 

Apostrophe-S vs. Apostrophe: Forming Possessives of Words Ending in S (or an S Sound)

I’m going to focus on the difference between how The Associated Press Stylebook and The Chicago Manual of Style handle possessives for words ending in s or an s sound. In short, is it Carlos’ stylebook or Carlos’s stylebook?

Both AP and Chicago styles take pronunciation into account, handling new syllables formed by back-to-back sibilants in their own way. The style that many of us are accustomed to—simply adding an apostrophe after the s (e.g., moss’ growth) regardless of how the words sound—is a “formerly more common” alternative practice, according to Chicago, one which it does not recommend. But just between you and me, you can use this shoot-from-the-hip style in personal e-mail, where you are also free to forgo capitalization completely. (This may or may not be a test.)

Whereas quote marks can face left or right, apostrophes only face one way.

The punctuation mark that most often gets mixed up with the apostrophe, by my estimation, is the single quotation mark. If smart (or curly) quote marks are toggled on, beware of employing a beginning single quote mark (6-shaped) to do the job of an apostrophe (9-shaped): Whereas quote marks can face left or right, apostrophes only face one way. (Tip: Remember the mark in don’t, or think of a backwards c.) Prepare to battle text-editing software which defaults to a beginning single quote mark when you begin a paragraph with an apostrophe or key it in after a space, such as for ’80s, ’tis, ’cause, or rock ’n’ roll (apostrophes, all of them).

General Rules for Forming Possessives

Plural Common Nouns Ending in S

AP and Chicago: Add an apostrophe—jinx!

  • the students’ questions
  • the teachers’ headaches

Singular Common Nouns Ending in S

AP: Add apostrophe-s unless the next word begins with s.

Chicago: Add apostrophe-s.

  • the duchess’s hat
  • the duchess’s style

Proper Nouns Ending in S

AP: Add an apostrophe.

  • Charlaine Harris’ books
  • the Joneses’ competition

Chicago: Add apostrophe-s if singular, and add an apostrophe if plural.

  • Socrates’s tea
  • the Obamas’ garden
  • Les’s moor

Nouns Plural in Form, Singular in Meaning

AP and Chicago: Add an apostrophe.

  • the series’ actors
  • the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ history

Special Case: Nouns Ending in an Unpronounced S

AP: Add an apostrophe.

  • Descartes’ thoughts

Chicago: Add apostrophe-s.

  • Camus’s existence
  • the debris’s cloud

Special Case: Singular Common Nouns Ending in S or an S Sound, Followed by a Word Beginning With S

AP: Add apostrophe.

  • for appearance’ sake
  • for conscience’ sake
  • for goodness’ sake

Chicago: Add an apostrophe if the word ends in s; otherwise, add apostrophe-s.

  • for appearance’s sake
  • for conscience’s sake
  • for goodness’ sake

Proper nouns ending in s follow previously stated styles (e.g., for Jesus’s sake in Chicago style).

Exception: Company Names With Apostrophe-S

AP: Use as is.

  • McDonald’s profits (not McDonald’s’ profits)

So, to answer the question posed in the beginning (Carlos’ stylebook or Carlos’s stylebook?), the first is in AP style, the second is in Chicago style. Let’s hope that Carlos picked the right stylebook.

Sources

  • AP, 2011: “apostrophe”; “Ask the Editor
  • CMOS, 16th edition: possessives, 7.15-21

Slashes: Uses and Restrictions

Misunderstood. Abused. Ignored.

No, not me. Well, maybe that, too, but I’m referring to the beleaguered slash, which you may know as a diagonal, virgule, solidus, slant, stroke, oblique stroke, separatrix, shilling mark, or forward slash (that low-self-esteem retronym which seeks to distinguish the slash [/] from the backslash [\]).

With this many names and almost as many roles—like providing alternatives, adding, abbreviating, separating, joining—the slash is like the understudy who also prints the flyers and strikes the set with the stagehands. Even so, The Associated Press Stylebook chose to exclude the slash from the “Punctuation” section, acknowledging it with a thirty-word chin nod in the main section instead. (It could be worse: The en dash was completely forsaken.)

[In AP style,] slashes are acceptable only in certain phrases and “special situations,” such as with fractions.

It may surprise you to learn that the most common usage of the slash, as a signifier of alternatives/options/choices, has been barred in AP style; slashes are acceptable only in certain phrases and “special situations,” such as with fractions. A heavy user of slashes and other intoxicating punctuation such as semicolons, I do admit to relying upon them to organize the contents of my brain when I’m in a hurry. And why not? They’re free, and I can use the time I’m saving for more important tasks, like chewing properly.

Slashes: Differences Between AP and Chicago Style

AP: We never said that slashes are tacky or that using them is lazy, but we’re cool with those inferences. Here are the acceptable uses.

  • With fractions
  • Between lines of quoted poetry
  • In Internet addresses (URLs) and pathnames
  • In descriptive phrases such as 24/7 or 9/11
  • In the signoff (credit) in photo captions

AP doesn’t explain this, but in the stylebook, the slash is also used in abbreviations such as TCP/IP and NAA/IPTC.

In the 14th edition (1993) of The Chicago Manual of Style, the slash was listed under “solidus” and was summed up in one paragraph. Cute, right? It didn’t make the first edition, in 1906, but that was a two-hundred-page baby compared to today’s thousand-page sumo wrestler.

Chicago: We love our versatile little friend. Here are some of its uses.

  • With fractions
  • Between lines of quoted poetry
  • In Internet addresses (URLs) and pathnames
  • To signify or or and/or
  • With two-year spans, e.g., 1991/92 (instead of an en dash)
  • With dates (informal), e.g., 6/1/11
  • In abbreviations, e.g., $7/hour (instead of per) and c/o (instead of a period)

So that’s the nitty-gritty of slashes and style.

When in doubt, ditch the spaces and you’ll be right most of the time.

Now, let’s talk about how to render a slash in certain contexts to improve readability, which is, after all, the heart of copyediting. (Or the lungs. Some vital organ.) Non-editors tend to either compulsively add spaces around all slashes or close them all up. When in doubt, ditch the spaces and you’ll be right most of the time; however, Chicago has an option for handling open compounds (two or more words separated by a space, e.g., copy editor) that offers more flexibility and clarity—totally worth memorizing. More on that coming up.

General Rule for Using Spaces With Slashes

In most cases, there are no spaces on either side of the slash. This is especially true for unique (read: inflexible) constructions such as directory paths and filenames, where our use of the slash is driven by requirement, not style.

Brief rant: There’s a rogue slash style making the rounds, usually on résumés, for some reason: no space before the slash but one after. I’m not impressed by this. It’s a red flag that points to poor decision-making more than anything else; even if executed consistently, it isn’t a style which showcases a copy editor’s skills. Rather, it may expose them as a street editor (as in any schmoe off the street). Not that I don’t appreciate this heads-up.

Exception: Quoted Poetry

AP: To show line breaks when quoting poetry in running text, use a slash between the lines, with a space before and after the slashes.

Chicago: Ditto. And when quoting more than one stanza in running text, insert two slashes [//] between the stanzas.

Although Chicago discusses this explicitly, AP actually doesn’t say anything about putting spaces around slashes for quoting poetry—only that slashes can be used to denote “the ends of a line in quoted poetry.” Good enough for me!

Exception: Open Compounds

Chicago: If one or both of the terms separated by the slash consist of two or more words, a space before and after the slash may aid comprehension.

This option really appeals to me, because it helps to visually group an open compound, making it clear that words beyond the ones immediately surrounding the slash are part of the thoughts being weighed.

The 15th edition had prescribed a thin space before and after; in the 16th edition, we’ve graduated to a full space, certainly a more realistic option for writers, editors, and typesetters. (Spacing slashes was not even addressed in the 14th edition.) I applaud this move towards simplicity and am looking forward to a thinner edition in CMOS’ next incarnation. Well, I can dream, at least.

I applaud this move towards simplicity and am looking forward to a thinner edition in CMOS’ next incarnation.

Sources

  • AP, 2011: “slash” and “Internet”; “Photo Captions” section
  • CMOS, 16th edition: slashes, 6.103-110; periods with abbreviations, 10.4; running in more than one stanza of poetry, 13.32

Em Dashes and Ellipses: Closed or Spaced Out?

You might be wondering why I’ve paired the em dash with the ellipsis. Doesn’t the em dash usually get grouped with the en dash and the hyphen? Or, less commonly, with the comma, the colon, and the parenthesis? Sure . . . but those set you up for a discussion on usage, not style. (Please consult your favorite grammar book or blog for notes on usage.) If you look at these marks with style in mind, the ellipsis is most similar to the em dash.

If you look at these marks with style in mind, the ellipsis is most similar to the em dash.

This is the basic difference in how ellipses are rendered in AP style and Chicago style:

AP (p. 369): An ellipsis consists of three periods, with a space before and after.

  • Hey, guys … what’re you all laughing about? Are you gonna eat that?

Chicago (13.48): An ellipsis consists of three spaced periods, with a space before and after.

  • Love is . . . retweeting.

So AP’s ellipsis is three dots shoved together, Chicago’s ellipsis is spaced out, and they both like spaces around the dots. Got it. A complication arises when people insist on using the ellipsis closed (i.e., without spaces between the dots). In that case, I recommend that you omit the space on both sides when attempting to follow Chicago style; this will match Chicago’s spacing preference for the em dash.

So AP’s ellipsis is three dots shoved together, Chicago’s ellipsis is spaced out, and they both like spaces around the dots. Got it.

I do hope that I’m the only one who works with account executives who make editorial decisions based on how pretty something looks rather than how much sense it makes. If not, let’s start a support group. We can sit around, looking forlorn but hopeful. The group will be called Hyphens Are Not Ugly.

There’s a part in The Chicago Manual of Style (13.48) which says that you, the writer, can use the three-dot glyph provided in word processors (Option-; or Alt-0133), but we, the editors, are just going to change it to the properly spaced version—with nonbreaking spaces between each period, of course. Nice. Likewise, if the author types two hyphens to represent an em dash, the double hyphen will be converted to a proper em dash. It’s quite janitorial in nature, but I suppose much of editing is.

If you begin a line with an em dash or ellipsis, the only reason you would insert a space before is to drive your editor nuts.

This is the basic difference in how em dashes are rendered in AP style and Chicago style:

AP (p. 368): An em dash, like an ellipsis, has a space before and after, except when used to introduce items in a vertical list.

  • When she called her cats — Chardonnay, Patron and Guinness — the neighbors came running.

Chicago (2.13): An em dash has no space before or after, unless you’re doing some fancy word-replacing maneuvers with a 2-em dash.

  • Glitter, felt, yarn, and buttons—his kitchen looked as if a clown had exploded.
  • Miss S—— killed Professor P—— with a candlestick in the study.

If you begin a line with an em dash or ellipsis, the only reason you would insert a space before is to drive your editor nuts.

It’s easy to remember which gets what space where if you make a connection between the style’s intent and the resulting style.

It’s easy to remember which gets what space where if you make a connection between the style’s intent and the resulting style. (See “Different Goals, Different Styles: Why AP and Chicago Are Not Friends.”) If AP style governs journalism, expect it to be condensed (hence the three unspaced dots for the ellipsis) and easily broken across two lines (via a space before and after the em dash and the ellipsis) to accommodate the space limitations and fast turnaround.

An enthusiastic subscriber to the four-dot-method ellipsis style (Chicago, 13.51), I was thrilled when I saw the period-plus-ellipsis construction in the copy the client provided. This is extremely rare in advertising; well, good grammar is extremely rare. Then, immediately, it was followed by sentences containing five dots and then eight dots. Then fourteen.

I burn through red pens quickly.