Mary D_DSC_0082_squareHi! I’m Kathy Ide. In addition to being a published author, I’m a full-time professional freelance editor. For CAN, I’m blogging about “PUGS”–Punctuation, Usage, Grammar, and Spelling…tips for writers based on the most common mistakes I see in the manuscripts I edit. Each blog post will have one tip for each of the four categories. (For more PUGS tips, check out my website,, or get a copy of my book Polishing the PUGS (available through the website or at the conferences where I teach). If you’re interested in working with a freelance editor (or know someone who is), e-mail me through the contact page of my website, Or go to to get referrals to other established, professional editorial freelancers. Or go to if you’d like an overall critique. If you’re a freelance editor yourself, or think you might be interested in that field, check out


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. Here is one example of a change from previous editions and the latest (16th).

Attributive Apostrophes

Prior editions 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 version of CMS (rule #7.27) now 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 because they are proper names.



“different from” vs. “different than”

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.

Previous editions of CMS 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, CMS-16 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.”


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