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But Can I Start a Sentence with "But"?: Advice from the Chicago Style Q&A

by University of Chicago Press Editorial Staff University of Chicago Press
Pub Date:
Hbk 112 pages
AU$36.99 NZ$37.38
Product Status: Out of stock. Not available to order.
Q. Is it "happy medium" or "happy median"? My author writes: "We would all be much better served as stewards of finite public funds if we could find that happy median where trust reigns supreme." Thanks!

A. The idiom is "happy medium," but I like the image of commuters taking refuge from road rage on the happy median.

Q. How do I write a title of a song in the body of the work (caps, bold, underline, italics, etc.)? Example: The Zombies' "She's Not There" looped in his head.

A. Noooo! Now that song is looping in my head ("but it's too late to say you're sorry . . ."). Use quotation marks. Thanks a lot.


Every month, tens of thousands of self-declared word nerds converge upon a single site: The Chicago Manual of Style's online Q&A. There the Manual's editors open the mailbag and tackle readers' questions on topics ranging from abbreviation to word division to how to reform that coworker who still insists on two spaces between sentences. Champions of common sense, the editors offer smart, direct, and occasionally tongue-in-cheek responses that have guided writers and settled arguments for more than fifteen years.

But Can I Start a Sentence with"But"? brings together the best of The Chicago Manual of Style Q&A. Curated from years of entries, it features some of the most popular - and hotly debated—rulings and also recovers old favorites long buried in the archives.


Questions touch on myriad matters of editorial style—capitalization, punctuation, alphabetizing, special characters—as well as grammar, usage, and beyond ("How do I spell out the sound of a scream?"). A foreword by Carol Fisher Saller, the Q&A's longtime editor, takes readers through the history of the Q&A and addresses its reputation for mischief. ("It's not that we set out to be cheeky," she writes.)


Taken together, the questions and answers offer insights into some of the most common issues that face anyone who works with words. They're also a comforting reminder that even the best writer or editor needs a little help—and humor—sometimes.

Foreword, by Carol Fisher Saller

1          “It’s not so much an issue of correctness as of ickiness”
Abbreviations, Acronyms, and Initialisms
Possessives and Attributives
Words and Letters

2          “‘President of the Mess Hall’ is going to look pretty silly”
Proper Nouns
Titles of Works

3          “Three people have three strong opinions about commas . . .”
Vertical Lists and Bullets
Other Dots, Dashes, and Squiggles

4          “Can fewest mean zero?”
Use or Abuse?
Gender Benders
Grammatical or Not?

5          “If you give birth to a source and he’s still living under your roof . . .”
How Do You Cite . . . ?
What if . . . ?
Quotations and Dialogue

6          “Holy metaphysics—we aren’t that fancy”
Authors, Titles, and Metadata
Permissions, Credits, and Practical Issues
Using a Style Manual

7          “Aaagh!” to “argh!” to “aahhh!”
In the Weeds of Editing
Special Characters
You Could Look It Up
Things That Freak Us Out


“Are you a word maniac, a grammar addict, a vivid follower of guidelines presented by the Big Orange? Then But Can I Start a Sentence with “But? Advice from the Chicago Style Q&A is just the book for you. The slim volume is a “Best of ” from the archive of the Chicago Manual of Style Q&A (CMOS) Web site.”