Grammar Shrammer, It Matters More than Ever

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

I’m taking a break this day after Thanksgiving to spend time with family, so here is an older post that bears repeating. Why? Because editorial departments at a number of publishing houses have been reduced and less time can be devoted to making your manuscript as perfect as possible.

Ruth Goring, editor at the University of Chicago Press, led a workshop at the EPA Convention (2011) on changes in The Chicago Manual of Style: 16th Edition (CMS). Why is this topic so important that an entire workshop was dedicated to it?  It may take only a few grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors in the business portion of your proposal to render it dead on arrival, that is, before an editor or agent ever reaches the manuscript. Conversely, following the latest style guidelines communicates you are a professional, committed to your craft.

The guiding force in making changes in this new edition was consistency. And several additions were made that revolve around electronic issues. With this in mind, I’m going to highlight some of the more notable changes in the 16th Edition in a simple list by their numerical address. Disclaimer: This is not a complete list; you’ll have to purchase the book or subscribe to the online version for that. But you can save the following quick list for easy reference.

CMS 16 Edition Changes

6.119      Commas following other punctuation marks are now allowed.

7.16, 17, or 18    Possessives. To maintain consistency, it was decided that possessives of all names, including names like Jesus and Moses, will end in ‘s (Jesus’s, Moses’s).

7.76     Website is now one word (website), and worldwide web is capitalized (Worldwide Web).

8.136   Rulings for styling websites. Roman for name of organization (; italic for title of book (

8.159   Ordinals and compound numbers. When the first word needs to be capitalized (as in the beginning of a sentence), both words are capitalized (First Century, One-Fourth).

8.55     When referring to a specific mountain, river, street, etc., both/all words are capitalized (Chicago River, Illinois River, Blue Ridge Mountains).

8.153   Brand names don’t need to follow standard capitalization style (ebay, iPod).

8.157   Principles of headline style capitalization. Lower-case prepositions regardless of length or importance (A River Runs through It).

Chapter 5: the grammar chapter:

5.9 (and 5.220)     Mass nouns followed by a prepositional phrase. The definite or indefinite article preceding a mass noun + prepositional phrase indicates if the mass noun or the number of the noun in the prepositional phrase controls the verb form. If a definite article (the) precedes, the mass noun controls, and usually a singular verb is used (the quantity of coins saved this year has increased.) If an indefinite article (a or an) precedes, then the number of the noun in the prepositional phrase controls (a small percentage of coins are added each month.)

14.7  Access dates. Access dates are now allowed if no publication date is available.

5.220  There is a great list of word combinations to watch out for. Example: close proximity. This is noted as redundant.

2.133  Checklist for proofing electronic publications. Also includes how to communicate those proofing changes on an electronic file.

11.2  Extended introduction to unicoding (for international characters across electronic platforms.)

15.2  Uniform treatment in author date references and notes and bibliography. CMS now recommends a uniform treatment for the main elements of citation. Use authors’ full names rather than initials. Headline style capitalization for titles or works are now identical in the author-date system.

Here are three references you might find helpful to have in your library:

  1. The Editorium. A company that sells macros.  You can purchase “File Cleaner,” which cleans up punctuation and simple grammar errors. Purchase a yearly subscription for $30.
  2. Guidelines for Author Permissions and Fair Use, Chapter 4 in the print version of CMS, 16th Edition or the online edition.
  3. Go to to get Manuscript Preparation Guidelines (also includes author permission guidelines).

The CMS editors aren’t rigid about following their style. Each publishing house has its own adapted style guide, which the editors won’t expect new authors to know. But that’s a reason to follow the CMS for proposals and manuscripts because it’s a universal starting point.

Which of these items was most helpful? Most surprising?

24 Responses

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  1. Sarah Thomas says:

    I’ve adjusted to one space after periods. I’ve gotten used to using a serial comma. But the extra “s” in the possesive is just killing me. Jesus’s? Aaaagh.

  2. Tiana Smith says:

    Woah! The possessive S at the end of names with S’s I had no idea about. It makes sense to me that they would simplify that rule, but, still …

  3. Jenny Leo says:

    I’m floored by the extra S in the possessive two. Looks excessive to me, like hissing.

    I’m glad of “website” because I’ve been doing it that way all along and don’t like being corrected/edited to the clumsy-looking “Web site.”

    Thanks for these updates, Mary. Have fun with the fam!

  4. Jenny Leo says:

    I mean, the possessive *TOO*. Oy.

  5. The extra S’s…S-i?…will drive me INSANE.

    Maybe it’s a Canadian thing, but I’ve never heard of two spaces after a period.

    Now now, no ribbing!
    Remember, I have access to Dairy Milk chocolate.

    • Peter DeHaan says:

      Jennifer, you might be too young.

      I learned to type on a manual typewriter more than a few years ago. The rule was always two spaces to end a sentence.

      When I decided to retrain myself for a single space, I was shocked that it only took two days to break a 40-year habit.

  6. Rachelle M says:

    The only reason I can think of for the s’s is to simplyfy find/replace scenarios, especially when character names are changed. That way when Thomas’s shirts become Joseph’s shirts, they won’t appear as Joseph’ shirts. It must be simpler to re-train all the humans than to program the computers to understand the difference.

  7. I’m another bandwagonner on the s’s change. Wow. Question – is it going to be red-penned the old way? Does this mean that we MUST change it? Or is it acceptable either way?

    You also listed that commas are now allowed after other punctuation. Again – does that mean it’s a flexible rule? It’s allowed, but not required? Changing rules. Argh.

    But good to know.


  8. Jenny Tavernier says:

    This was excellent!
    …Although I am late to table, reading it for the first time. The “s” will drive me nuts, but I can live. What I found validating was that I have been noticing that I had already changed my writing styles recently, re: many of the above, because they just didn’t look/read write anymore – as it proves that my osmosis utensil is still working.
    …Now if I can only remember the difference in spelling and punctuating of English English, vs. American English. (With thanks to Eats, Shoots And Leaves, for drawing my attention to why I often unconsciously incorporated both.)
    …Time to re-invest in a style update, and I give thanks for the 26 alphabet letters remaining the same…so far…lol!

  9. This one bothered me a lot:

    8.159 Ordinals and compound numbers. When the first word needs to be capitalized (as in the beginning of a sentence), both words are capitalized (First Century, One-Fourth).

    I just don’t think I can bring myself to comply with it.

  10. Thanks for the post, Mary. As a copy editor, I’m stunned by the change to allow a comma along with another punctuation mark. I see that in my work occasionally and always think how ridiculous it looks. Also, the lowercase initial letter of prepositions in title no matter the length makes no sense, IMO. Most non-professionals will think that a typo, mainly because they don’t know the rules in the first place. Let’s face it; there really are an enormous quantity of style rules, which, for the most part, only professionals will know. Actually, now that I think about it, even professionals don’t know or care about them, which is quite obvious by merely picking up most any book and scanning a few chapters. Comma splices are rampant. Well, you didn’t ask for an essay, did you?”,” so I close by referring to my former comments for my choice of CMS changes that seem odd.

  11. Peter DeHaan says:

    When my son-in-law to be held his high school graduation party, he put a sign in front of his house that read “Chris’s Party.”

    His English teacher commended him for it.

  12. One of my beta readers pointed out the new rule on ‘s and I shuddered! As an author, I wanted to change the two names in my book that ended with an s, that way I wouldn’t have to bring myself to type s’s! 🙂 Thank you for the updates, Mary. I agree, it is a good place to start, even if each publisher has their own style.

  13. Sharyn Kopf says:

    To be honest, several of these changes annoy me and I wonder who’s making these decisions. The ‘s rule, lower casing all prepositions regardless of length, capitalizing ordinals & compound numbers when they start a sentence. And I think the only purpose of the mass noun/prep phrase rule is to add to the confusion.

    I so wish publishers would start following AP rules and forget about Chicago. Much simpler and, best of all, AP realizes the uselessness of the Oxford comma.

  14. Larry Clayton says:

    And here’s one that caught me. The First Voyage of C. Columbus is no longer the First Voyage, but the plain old first voyage. The knocking down of the iconic Discoverer, or, probably, discoverer.