Basics of writingEditing

Grammar and style tips for authors: Part 1—recent changes

From Rick:

Being an editor, it’s important that I keep up to date on the latest grammar and style changes in the language, particularly since it seems to be changing very rapidly.

There are two authoritative references that all writers should be following. The first is the Merriam-Webster dictionary. It’s free online, and you can subscribe to the expanded version with more information and examples. Most of you probably won’t need that. I used to subscribe, but I wasn’t using the extra features enough.

Other dictionaries are out there, but the M-W should be your primary authority, and only if it lacks a particular entry—which may happen with some modern slang expressions, or it hasn’t caught up with a recent change) should you rely on a different source. That said, however, if you want to use a variant word (like “cellphone” as one word) and another dictionary lists that as acceptable, you should feel comfortable with using that.

If you do this and use an outside editor to check your work, be sure to make your editor aware of your preferences in word choices. You should also keep a list (a style sheet, which I’ve talked about previously) that includes all variations in your manuscript both for your reference and for your editor to ensure consistency.

The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) is the second authoritative reference for writers. While not the only style guide out there, it’s considered the bible of the book publishing industry. Journalists use the AP Style Guide, and while most academic institutions and publications use the APA Style Guide from the American Psychological Association.

NOTE: For those who might be interested in how the APA Style Guide came about (and why the APA wrote it), its origin is stated on their website:

APA Style originated in 1929, when a group of psychologists, anthropologists, and business managers convened and sought to establish a simple set of procedures, or style rules, that would codify the many components of scientific writing to increase the ease of reading comprehension.”

You can read more about it at their website WHAT IS APA STYLE?

The reason I mention the AP and APA guides is so that you’ll be aware that other style guides exist. And I’ll tell you why in a moment. Most book publishers do follow the CMOS, but you may encounter publishers and freelance editors who deviate from the CMOS. Further, if you hire an outside editor for your work, you need to know which set of rules the editor is using because freelance editors may be involved in editing more than book manuscripts. Any editor that you’re paying for editing your novel should be using the CMOS for your work. Make it a point to ask, and if the editor doesn’t use it, balks, hasn’t heard of the CMOS (and doesn’t have a copy to refer to), then you should doubt the qualifications of that editor for editing your novel. As I said, the CMOS is pretty much the standard for books, and certainly for fiction. In fact, if your editor questions something you did and you based it on the CMOS, then you have a completely defensible position.

The reason for this set of posts is that over the past weekend I was checking on some capitalization rules as part of the revision to the upcoming 2nd edition of Punctuation for Fiction Writers, and I ran across a listing of “what’s new in the 17th edition of the CMOS that came out in 2017. Interested in how much had changed, I looked over the nine-page PDF file and realized that perhaps my 16th edition of the CMOS should be replaced.

If you’ve never seen the CMOS, it’s a rather intimidating volume of over 1000 pages, and it’s not exactly cheap with a $70 list price for the latest edition. I considered my purchasing options: buy it on Amazon for about $50, rent it for $32, or subscribe to the online version for $39/year. I don’t know why you’d want to rent a book like this instead of buying it since the rental is only good until the end of the school semester. If you were taking a writing class that used it, why wouldn’t you just buy it for $20 more and have it as a reference? I considered the online subscription, for a little more than a year of that, I could buy the book. So I did, and I can tax-deduct it as a business expense, which you can as well.

Should you purchase the CMOS? If you plan to write a lot and do most of your own editing and publishing, then it’s a wise investment.

Let’s get to the meat of this post and that part that will be most useful to you: What are some of the new changes in the CMOS 17th edition.

(1) “email” is now the CMOS standard instead of e-mail, and it’s capitalized only at the beginning of a sentence. Some dictionaries, including M-W, still hyphenate it, but it’s one of those things where M-W hasn’t caught up yet.

However, “e-book” is still hyphenated both in the CMOS and M-W. Even though you see it as one word (and I’ve used it that way as well), the hyphenated form is the correct spelling at this time, and “ebook” is not yet listed as an alternative spelling. I’m sure it will be soon.

(2) “internet” is now lowercase. Most of you probably were not aware that it previously was considered a proper noun and capitalized as “Internet.” M-W lists the capitalized version as preferred and the lowercase as an alternative.

(3) US (for United States) as a noun. Previously the CMOS advocated spelling it out when used as a noun (e.g. I live in the United States) and reserved US for the adjective (US citizen, US dollars), but it’s now acceptable to write “I live in the US.” And no periods in it either (not U.S.)I’ll bet many of you used it that way previously anyway.

(4) Speaking of “either”—the Commas before “too” and “either” when these mean “also” are now eliminated. Most of you were taught to put the comma in. No commas, not anymore. However, when “too” occurs in the middle of a sentence, it should be set off with commas for clarity. Leaving out those commas makes for a less readable sentence.

—John, too, agrees with me., as in the examples below:

—While we’re at the mall, I want to stop at the bookstore too.

—The waiting room was small and hot. The chairs weren’t comfortable either.

(6) When addressing a woman with an honorific title such president or speaker, use Madam: Madam President, Madam Speaker (not Mrs. or Ms.) And note the spelling is “Madam” not “Madame.” Also, “sir” and “ma’am” are not capitalized except at the beginning of a sentence), and “my lord” and “my lady” are not capitalized either. Only capitalize the “my” at the beginning of a sentence.

—What does my lady wish?

“My lord, how may I serve you?”

(7) When referring to Generation X, Y, or Z, capitalize “Generation.”

(8) Website and blog names are not italicized in reference citations: Wikipedia, Facebook, Google, Write Well Write to Sell. However, while Fabula Argentea as the name of my magazine’s website, it is not italicized ( in that reference, the name of the magazine it would be italicized:

Fabula Argentea is the magazine my wife and I publish and you can find it at

However, when the blog itself has a title (Write Well, Write to Sell), it is italicized, but the titles of posts on that blog would be put in quotes.

—On his blog Write Well, Write to Sell, Rick Taubold’s latest post “Grammar and style tips for authors: Part 1—recent changes” talks about what’s new in the 17th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style.

More good stuff next time.


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