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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.


  • 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.


  • 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to the previous recommendation, treat them as equivalent to the final element in a series: The editor donated a dozen outdated reference books (without removing dog-ears, pencil marks, sticky notes, etc.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.


  • 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.


Titles: Quote Marks, Italics, Underlining, or Naked?

Remember the days when your manual typewriter didn’t have a key for the number 1, so you used a lowercase letter L instead? And to type an exclamation point, you typed an apostrophe first, backspaced, and then typed a period beneath it? Sure you do, punk.

Clarification: I’m not that old; my high school was poor. We pasted our newspaper dummies together with wax and made type changes with a dull razor.

Well, we don’t type that way anymore, because technology has blessed us with 1s and !s on our keyboards. Likewise, because we are capable of rendering type in italics, you underline titles only when writing them by hand or using software that doesn’t italicize. As long as you remember that underlining equals italics and to never underline when you can italicize, you’re good.

You can get pretty far by following the “Big/heavy equals italics” (like books) and “Small/light equals quotes” (like poems) generalizations.

As for enclosing titles in quotation marks or italicizing them, you can get pretty far by following the “Big/heavy equals italics” (like books) and “Small/light equals quotes” (like poems) generalizations, but Associated Press style doesn’t italicize nothin’ and Chicago style has layers of specificity and if-then statements. Fun!

Because the Associated Press stylebook is not indexed and the manual for Chicago style covers title style in several sections (intermixed with name style and capitalization style), some title styles may have been inadvertently omitted due to oblivion on my part. Please send me a note if any oversight makes you twitch.

It’s all arbitrary, so go for clarity and sustainability.

Following is the breakdown between AP style and Chicago style. This is intended as a quick rundown or cheat sheet; for examples of each, please refer to the pages and sections indicated. “Neither” means that the usual headline-style (or title-style) caps still apply, but the title/name is naked as far as quotes and italics are concerned. (Capitalization for titles will be covered in a future blog entry.)

Note: Use Command-F or Ctrl-F to perform searches.


Titles for . . . AP Chicago
Albums Quotes (p. 62) Italics (8.192)
Almanacs Neither (p. 62)
Apps Neither (p. 62), e.g., Facebook, Foursquare Italics (8.193)
Art Quotes (p. 62) Italics (8.193)
Articles Quotes (8.175)
Bible Neither (p. 62)
Blog entries Quotes (8.187)
Blogs Italics (8.187)
Books Quotes (p. 62)—but the Bible and catalogs of reference material use neither Italics (8.166)—but book series and editions use neither (8.174)
Cartoons Italics (8.194)
Catalogs Neither (p. 62)
Chapters Quotes (8.175)
Classical music, nicknames Quotes (p. 63)
Classical music, identified by sequence Neither (p. 63)
Columns (in periodicals) Neither (8.175, 14.205)
Comic strips Italics (8.194)
Computer games and computer-game apps Quotes (p. 62), e.g., “Farmville” Italics (Chicago Style Q&A)
Computer software Neither for software such as WordPerfect or Windows (p. 62)
Conferences Neither (8.69)—unless it has “status,” then use quotes
Departments (in periodicals) Neither (8.175, 14.202)
Dictionaries Neither (p. 62)
Directories Neither (p. 62)
Drawings Italics (8.193)
Encyclopedias Neither (p. 62)
Essays Quotes (8.175)
Exhibitions (large) Neither (8.195)
Exhibitions (small) Italics (8.195)
Fairs (large) Neither (8.195)
Fairs (small) Italics (8.195)
Gazetteers Neither (p. 62)
Handbooks Neither (p. 62)
Journals Italics (8.166)—unless part of name of award, organization, etc. (8.170)
Lecture series Neither (8.86)
Lectures (individual) Quotes (p. 62) Quotes (8.86)
Magazines Neither (p. 159) Italics (8.166)—unless part of name of award, organization, etc. (8.170)
Meetings Neither (8.69)—unless it has “status,” then use quotes
Movies Quotes (p. 62) Italics (8.185)
Newspapers Italics (8.166)—unless part of name of award, organization, etc. (8.170)
Operas Quotes (p. 62) Italics (8.189)—for long musical compositions or instrumental works, see 8.189-8.190
Paintings Italics (8.193)
Pamphlets Italics (8.193)
Periodicals Italics (8.166), unless part of name of award, organization, etc. (8.170)
Photographs Italics (8.193)
Plays Quotes (p. 62) Italics (8.181)
Podcast episodes Quotes (8.187)
Podcasts Italics (8.187)
Poems Quotes (p. 62) Quotes (8.179)—unless book length, then treated as book (italics)
Radio episodes (in series) Quotes (8.185)
Radio programs and series Quotes (p. 62) Italics (8.185)
Reports Italics (8.193)
Short stories Quotes (8.175)
Songs Quotes (p. 62) Quotes (8.189)
Speeches Quotes (p. 62) Neither (8.75)—unless it has “status,” then use quotes.
Statues Italics (8.193)
Television episodes (in series) Quotes (8.185)
Television programs and series Quotes (p. 62) Italics (8.185)
Unpublished works Quotes (8.184)
Video blogs Italics (8.187)
Video-blog episodes Quotes (8.187)
Web pages and sections Quotes (8.186)
Websites Neither (8.186)

When it gets confusing, just remember these golden rules of copyediting:

  1. Whatever you choose, be consistent.
  2. But beware of having a tin ear.
  3. It’s all arbitrary, so go for clarity and sustainability.

Good luck.

The Serial Comma: Lovers and Haters

Ah, the serial comma: to do or not to do. In this example, which is correct?

  • I like to pet kittens, puppies and bunnies.
  • I like to pet kittens, puppies, and bunnies.

Before fists start flying, let me say that, in my experience, there’s a clear divide between two camps regarding use of a comma before the conjunction in a series of three or more items. “Highbrow” publications in one corner and, in the comma-hating corner, newspapers and most of my friends.

There’s a clear divide between two camps.

I reviewed a not-random sample of literature to prove my point, and here are the results:

Serial comma:

No serial comma:

Variety made up its own language—excuse me, slanguage—so maybe it made up its own rules for punctuation as well. And we wonder why there are so many errors in ad copy.

AP’s stance is to omit the serial comma except when it prevents misreading, and Chicago’s stance is to always include it—for the same reason.

Here’s what AP and Chicago have to say.

AP (p. 366): What? A comma where? No. Absolutely not. Well, sometimes.

  • I like to pet kittens, puppies and bunnies.
  • I had orange juice, toast, and yam and kegs for breakfast.

(This is the cruelty-free version of AP’s classic “ham and eggs” example.)

Chicago (6.18): Hells, yeah! Bring it.

  • I like to pet porcupines, pufferfish, and cacti.
  • I had rocks, glass shards, and sticks and stones for breakfast.

In short, AP’s stance is to omit the serial comma except when it prevents misreading, and Chicago’s stance is to always include it—for the same reason. Chicago, being twice as long as AP, has twice as much to say on this subject and offers several more variations of proper serial-comma usage on which the AP is mum (6.18–6.21).