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The 17th Edition of The Chicago Manual of Style


By Barbara McClintock, Certified Translator

The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) is the go-to style manual for many English translators and editors at the moment. As proof, Editors of Canada gives its members free access to it online and Copyediting recommends it. What’s new in CMOS 17th edition? There have been additions, clarifications and expansions, which are outlined on The Chicago Manual of Style Online website.

CMOS has a bias-free language section, including gender bias in 2018 (online). Noting that these issues are often a matter of usage rather than grammar, CMOS 17 covers topics from the singular they to necessary gender-specific language, e.g. women’s studies; men’s golf championship.

Gender and the generic pronoun

The singular they is addressed in section 5.48 (5.46 in the 16th edition). Pointing out that he is no longer acceptable, CMOS states that the use of they is more common than he when the gender (we no longer say sex in such cases) of the subject is unknown. However, it discourages the use of they instead of he or she in formal writing. On the other hand, when referring to a person who does not identify with a gender-specific term, it is correct to use the singular they. Like singular you, singular they takes a plural verb, e.g., “They have a degree in biology” (referring to one person of unspecified gender).

CMOS points out that the singular they is more acceptable in British English than in American English, although the situation is gradually changing. Remember that the American Dialect Society picked the singular “they” as Word of the Year for 2015. To sum up, avoid gender bias in your writing. Moreover, if you know what a person’s preference is, you should respect it.

Subjunctive issues (5.124)

Yes, there is still a subjunctive in English. Typically, the subjunctive expresses an action or state as doubtful, imagined, desired, conditional, hypothetical, or otherwise contrary to fact (5.123). CMOS points out the following common errors:

  1. Error: Using the indicative when the subjunctive is required in a statement contrary to fact.

Poor: It if wasn’t for your help. . .
Better: If it weren’t for your help. . .

  1. Error: Indicative mood sentences that are not contrary to fact should not use the subjunctive.

Poor: I called to see whether she were in.
Better: I called to see whether she was in.

  1. Error: Using if I would have gone instead of If I had gone.

Few changes in citation styles in CMOS 17

The use of or with old fashioned titles now takes a comma, e.g., The Tempest, or The Enchanted Island.
CMOS 17 considers that ibid risks confusing the reader. In a departure from previous editions, it discourages the use of ibid in favour of shortened citations.

For an overview of what is new in the 17th edition, please visit:
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

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