Tag Archives: Chicago Manual of Style

Exclamations And Their Points

When I first started writing full time, I received a shock: all that I knew about punctuation wasn’t necessarily so. As an English teacher, I had approached punctuation in a clinical, analytical, black-and-white manner. There was a right way, called “standard” in the textbook, and a wrong way, referred to as “nonstandard.”

Then I discovered that writers working for newspapers used a different “style book” (and what was a “style book,” I wondered) from the one schools typically used. Fiction editors favored a third different style book. According to those guides, the “right” way wasn’t always right.

For example, from different writing instruction books such as Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King I learned that the fiction style books discouraged the use of the exclamation point. Discouraged it!

When I began my work as an editor, with the latest and greatest style book recommended for fiction, The Chicago Manual of Style, Fifteenth Edition, I found this statement about exclamation points: “An exclamation point (which should be used sparingly to be effective) marks an outcry or an emphatic or ironic comment” (6.76, emphasis mine).

The craft books explained the rationale. A good fiction writer chose words that conveyed emotion and didn’t need to rely on punctuation to tell the reader how to interpret the text.

I filed this piece of information away and proceeded to stop using exclamation points. Until one day I received a comment from a critique partner about the matter. My dialogue, she said, indicated great emotion, but the use of a comma instead of an exclamation point seemed to contradict the words.

She was right, I realized.

When in the writing world, I wondered, did “use sparingly” become “never use”?

Imagine my happiness when The Chicago Manual of Style tweeted the link to an article about the use of exclamation points: “The exclamation point revisited”. The author of this Chicago Tribune opinion piece, Nancy E. Anderson, experienced a similar exclamation-point journey to mine and has now made peace with its use, at least in more informal communication formats such as email.

I agree with Ms. Anderson and even think exclamation points may have a purpose in blog posts or comments. But one thing I’d like to hold to—that exclamation points don’t come in multiples (!!!), especially in fiction, even in YA fiction in which the characters and the readers might not be over fifteen (see the article mentioned above for the context to fully appreciate that line 😉 ).



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New Chicago Rules – Capitalization

A month ago I went over some of the punctuation rule changes listed in the latest edition of The Chicago Manual of Style, the preferred guide for fiction and for much commercial non-fiction.

There are some notable capitalization changes too.

1. Rather than capitalizing “web” Chicago now prefers the use of the lowercase for web, website, web page, and so on. However, World Wide Web is still capitalized, as is Internet.

2. Southern California has long been recognized as a particular region, requiring a capital S. In this new edition of Chicago, Northern California is now recognized in the same way, and therefore needs a capital N.

3. In proper nouns which include a general noun (Washington Blvd., Colorado River, the Rocky Mountains), the general noun is also capitalized. However, in the fifteenth edition of Chicago, that changed if the general noun was plural. No more. Now in the sixteenth edition, even general nouns that are plural are capitalized. For example, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans (rather than Atlantic and Pacific oceans), Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks, and Greenleaf and Whittier Avenues.

4. Brand names beginning with a lowercase letter, such as iPad, should now remain as is, even when beginning a sentence.

Example: iPads come in several sizes.

5. Capitalizing titles using headline style.

a. Capitalize the second element in a hyphenated number such as Twenty-Two, Fifty-One, or Eighty-Six.

b. Capitalize even the “short or unstressed” words; in other words, capitalize the articles a, an, the and all prepositions.

I admit this one makes a lot of sense. Uniformity is easier to remember and at least some word processing programs already make this sweeping capitalization in “title mode.” For me, however, it takes some getting used to. I often remember the new rule when I title my blog posts, for instance, then revert back to old habits when writing the content.

c. When a title includes quoted material, those words are now capitalized headline style, just like the rest of the title.

That’s it, I think. But I recommend becoming a fan of the Chicago Facebook page where you can receive brief rules tips regularly.

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New Chicago Rules

The Chicago Manual of Style, used widely by fiction writers and editors and by many working with non-fiction, recently came out with their newest edition—number sixteen.

The hardback guide isn’t cheap, though Amazon has reduced the price to something more manageable. However, an alternative to buying the book might be to access the online edition. The yearly individual subscription fee is still cheaper than the incredible Amazon discount (but then you won’t own the book).

As part of the freebies offered at the CMoS web site is a list of the most significant changes that occur in the sixteenth edition. Some affect authors preparing a manuscript for publication (others pertain more to Internet writing, magazine writing, or scholarly journals), so I plan to review those over the next few posts.

Today I’ll address punctuation changes.

1. Punctuation after a title. Most titles don’t contain end punctuation, but when a question mark or exclamation point comes at the end of a title, CMoS, edition sixteen, says essentially to ignore it and put whatever other punctuation the sentence requires in addition to the end mark contained in the title.

    Previously: His book, Are You Sure? was on the best-seller list for a month.

    Change: His book, Are You Sure?, was on the best-seller list for a month.

2. The use of the apostrophe in a “specialty plural.” I’m terming the plural of a word or phrase in quotation marks a “specialty plural.” The old rule said to use an apostrophe and add s to make such words or phrases plural. The new rule does away with the apostrophe.

    Previously: How many “specialty plurals” did she use?

    Change: How many “specialty plurals” did she use?

3. The use of an apostrophe when forming a possessive of a name ending in s though it is not pronounced. The changed rule says to form the possessive in the same way that possessives for other singular nouns are formed—by adding an apostrophe and s.

    Previously: Albert Camus’ novels expressed his philosophical views. (This punctuation was an option).

    Change: Albert Camus‘s novels expressed his philosophical views.

4. The use of an apostrophe when forming a possessive of a name ending with an “eez” sound. The rule change says to add an apostrophe and s in the usual way.

    Previously: Xerxes’ reputation preceded him.

    Change: Xerxes‘s reputation preceded him.

5. The use of a hyphen in a color compound before a noun. Like other compound adjectives, color words must now be hyphenated.

    Previously: The emerald green water was cool and inviting.

    Change: The emeraldgreen water was cool and inviting.

There are a couple specialty punctuation changes, too, but these are the ones a novelist or an author of commercial non-fiction will most likely need.


Filed under Punctuation, Resources, Writing Rules

Punctuation Pitfalls – The Comma, Part 3

Commas Used with Parenthetical Expressions.

I had no intention of staying away so long. Computer problems brought on my absence, then blogging about punctuation slid toward the bottom of the list of priorities as I scrambled to catch up.

I think that’s as it should be. Good punctuation does not make good writing. It only makes good writing clearer.

I want to pick up the instruction on comma use with one of the easier directives—easier, that is, until we get to the “except” part of the rule.

But here’s the essence: Use commas to separate non-essentials from the rest of the sentence. (The grammatical term is “parenthetical elements”). What do I mean by “non-essentials”? Interjections, like oh and indeed; transitions like however and therefore; and descriptive phrases like … well, I’ll need to give an example.

    The most tiresome, if not the most oft-repeated, argument is seldom persuasive.

In this sentence, if not the most oft-repeated does not add essential meaning. If the writer were to remove it, the sentence would still be complete and clear. Think of these kinds of phrases as bonus material—helpful, informative, but not part of the basic package.

I mentioned an exception, but that isn’t quite accurate. On rare occasions interjections or transitions may be essential, in which case, they do not fall under this non-essentials directive.

That may seem confusing if a writer is thinking that some words, by virtue of their part of speech, must be separated by commas from the rest of the sentence. However, if a person thinks of the function of the word in a particular sentence, there’s a bit of a judgment call, which can make comma use a little iffy.

Here’s an example of a necessary transition:

    Two workers didn’t finish and therefore received less pay.

The transition therefore serves as a necessary tie between the cause and the outcome and therefore does not require commas. (Just as the therefore in this sentence does not. 😀 )

Fortunately, as I stated above, these occasions are not frequent.

Probably the most helpful piece of information to remember is this from Chicago Manual of Style: “Commas set off [separate from the rest of the sentence] parenthetical elements if a slight break is intended.” (CMS, 6.30)

Now every writer should be able to identify the places he intends to create a slight break, shouldn’t he? 😉

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