Friday, March 6, 2009

PUGS Pointers #14: Clarifying the PUGS

PUGS* Pointers
(*Punctuation, Usage, Grammar, and Spelling)
by Kathy Ide

In this column, freelance author, editor, and speaker Kathy Ide shares tips on Punctuation, Usage, Grammar, and Spelling (“PUGS”).


Each time a new edition of The Chicago Manual of Style comes out, there are some revisions, and it’s important for writers to be aware of those changes. (Fortunately, CMOS is only reprinted every ten years; the most recent edition came out in 2003, so it’s good till 2013.) Dictionaries come out with new editions more often. And grammar/usage books abound. Be sure you’ve got the most recent editions of the reference books used by the publishers you’re writing for.

Here are a couple of clarifications.


Attributive Apostrophes

The 14th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style recommended leaving out the apostrophe when a modifier is "attributive"—used in a descriptive sense, as an adjective, rather than showing possession. The rule of thumb was that if something is "for" the group or "of" the group, rather than "owned by" the group, you wouldn't use an apostrophe. Since a writers conference, for example, isn't "owned by" the writers who attend it, but rather is "for" them, no apostrophe would be used. (Of course, plural words that don't end in s, like "men" and "children," would need an apostrophe.)

However, the latest (15th) edition of CMOS (rule #7.27) advocates using the apostrophe even for attributive forms (except with proper names, such as corporate names). So now phrases like "writers' conference" and "publishers' guidelines" should have apostrophes. But Publishers Weekly and Diners Club can omit the apostrophe.


Last week I had a tip on "different from" vs. "different than."

Here’s some further clarification.

According to A Dictionary of Modern American Usage (by Bryan A. Garner, Oxford University Press), The Wordwatcher's Guide to Good Grammar & Word Usage (by Morton S. Freeman, Plexus Publishing), and Dictionary of Problem Words and Expressions (by Harry Shaw, McGraw Hill), when "different" precedes a noun or pronoun ("My book is different from yours"), "from" should always be used. However, the phrase "different than" is acceptable when it's part of an elliptical construction—a shortcut, if you will, for the phrase "different from that which" or "different from the way in which" or "different from those that are," that sort of thing. Because those phrases are wordy and awkward, "different than" is not only acceptable, but actually preferred for brevity's sake (except in very formal writing). A Dictionary of Modern American Usage states, "It is indisputable that different than is sometimes idiomatic, and even useful, since different from often cannot be substituted for it."

Here are some examples:

"Today's writing style is different than it was in C. S. Lewis's day."
"Many colleges use different style guides than book publishers do."

Of course, if it bothers you to use "different from," you could reword. "Today's writing style is different from the style used in C. S. Lewis's day." Or "Many colleges use style guides that are different from those used by book publishers." But if your writing is fairly informal and you don’t want it to sound stiff, feel free to use the "different than" structure.


Since we're on the subject of changes and updates, here's one for spelling too.

For ages, CMOS-14 differentiated between hyphenated spellings for nouns and adjectives. For example, "a five year old" (noun phrase) would not be hyphenated, but "the five-year-old boy" (adjective phrase preceding a noun) would be hyphenated. However, CMOS-15 recommends hyphenating both noun and adjective forms. Examples:

"My ten-year-old is taking swimming lessons from a seventeen-year-old girl."

"I'm three and a half," said Billy. "My twin brother, Jimmy, is a three-and-a-half-year-old too."

PUGS Pointers are based on the current industry-standard references in the United States.

For books:
The Chicago Manual of Style (15th edition, © 2003)
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th edition, © 2003)

For articles:
The Associated Press Stylebook (© 2004)
Webster’s New World College Dictionary (© 2002)

Many publishing houses have their own in-house style guides that may differ in some aspects from the standard references. However, unless you’re writing exclusively for one particular publisher, it’s best to follow the standard references and let the in-house proofreaders adjust to house style.

For more PUGS Pointers, see Kathy Ide’s Web site. Or get her book Polishing the PUGS, available here.


Kathy Ide has been writing for publication since 1988. She has written books, articles, play and movie scripts, short stories, devotionals, and curriculum. She is a full-time freelance editor, offering a full range of editorial services for aspiring writers, established authors, commercial book publishers, subsidy publishers, and magazines. Her services include proofreading, copyediting, substantive/content editing, coauthoring, ghostwriting, and mentoring/coaching. She also speaks at writers conferences across the country. She is the founder and coordinator of The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network and the Christian Editor Network. To find out more, please visit Kathy's Web site.

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