Although the new 17th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style has not, to my knowledge, affected the viability of my Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors, there have been a few changes I want to pass on to you. I blogged about some punctuation additions last week.

Here are some guidelines changes about commas that I think are important for authors and editors to know about:

6.20: Commas with “etc.” and “et al.”

The abbreviation etc. (et cetera) and such equivalents as and so forth and and the like are preceded by a comma. They are followed by a comma only if required by the surrounding text. This small departure from the recommendation in previous editions treats such terms as equivalent to the final element in a series. (According to a more traditional usage, such terms were often set off by two commas.)

  • The map was far from complete (lacking many of the streets, alleys, etc. seen in earlier iterations).
  • The philosopher’s population studies, classic textbooks, stray notes, and so forth were found in the attic.

The abbreviation et al. (literally “and others”) should be treated like etc. If et al. follows a single item, however (e.g., “Jones et al.”), it requires no preceding comma. Nor is a preceding comma required when etc. follows a single item.)

 6.42: Commas with questions

A direct question is sometimes included within a sentence but not enclosed in quotation marks. Such a question is usually introduced by a comma (unless it comes at the beginning of a sentence) and begins with a capital letter. This slight departure from earlier editions of the manual recognizes that such a question is analogous to (and can be treated like) a direct quotation.

  • She wondered, What am I doing?
  • Legislators had to be asking themselves, Can the fund be used for the current emergency, or must it remain dedicated to its original purpose?

If the question ends before the end of the sentence, no comma is required after the question mark.

  • What am I doing? she wondered.

If the result seems awkward, rephrase as an indirect question. An indirect question does not require a question mark, nor does it need to be set off with a comma. Indirect questions are never capitalized (except at the beginning of a sentence).

  • She wondered what she was doing.
  • The question of how to tell her was on everyone’s mind.
  • Ursula wondered why her watch had stopped ticking.
  • Where to find a reliable clock is the question of the hour.

13.15: No comma to introduce a quotation

Many writers mistakenly use a comma to introduce any direct quotation, regardless of its relationship to the surrounding text. But when a quotation introduced midsentence forms a syntactical part of the surrounding sentence, no comma or other mark of punctuation is needed to introduce it, though punctuation may be required for other reasons.

  • Donovan made a slight bow and said he was “very glad.”
  • One of the protesters scrawled “Long live opera!” in huge red letters.
  • According to one critic, Copland’s style could be called “American urban pastoral, with a touch of jazz and more than a hint of Stravinsky.”
  • She said she would “prefer not to comment.”
  • Copland’s style—“American urban pastoral, with a touch of jazz and more than a hint of Stravinsky”—owes a debt to several genres and more than one continent.
  • She said that she would, in short, “prefer not to comment.”
  • She said, “I prefer not to comment.”

I’ll be sharing more changes from CMOS-16 to CMOS-17 in the coming weeks. But if you’ve found a guideline in the 17th edition that differs from Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors, please let me know. I’d love to hear about it!