Sections 6.124–26 in the Spotlight

6.124–26 Vertical lists


Many writers to The Chicago Manual of Style Online Q&A ask how to format lists, and two questions are especially popular:

1. Should items begin with a capital letter?
2. Should items end with any punctuation?

You might say that

1. sometimes they do and
2. sometimes they don’t.

Do you see what happened there? Both of the lists above illustrate an accepted Chicago style for lists whose items are complete sentences. The two lists look different, however, for a logical reason.

In the first list (introduced by “Many writers . . .”) we chose to style each item as a separate grammatical sentence, with an initial cap and ending punctuation. (The styling would be the same if the items were bulleted instead of numbered.)

In the second list (“You might say . . .”), we chose to style the entire list (including the intro), as a single complete grammatical sentence, with an initial cap on You and a single period at the end: “You might say that sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t.” (Again, it would be the same with bulleted items.)

There is usually more than one good way to write a list; the most important thing is to style all the items the same way. For instance, we could write the second list like this:

1. Sometimes they do.
2. Sometimes they don’t.

And what about lists with items that are simple words or phrases or sentence fragments?

If the nonsentence items are numbered (or bulleted), use this style:

1. An initial cap at the beginning
2. No sentence-ending punctuation

If the nonsentence items are not numbered (or bulleted), use the plainest style:

no caps
no end punctuation

Finally, make sure the items in your list have the same basic syntax: either all sentences or all fragments. For more details and examples, please see CMOS 6.124–26.

~ ~ ~

Is there a section of CMOS that leaves you scratching your head? Click here to let us know. Please include your e-mail address in case we have a question about your suggestion. (Please note that we are not able to answer questions personally and not all suggestions can be used.)

Note: Subscribers to The Chicago Manual of Style Online may click through to the linked sections of the Manual. (For a 30-day free trial of CMOS Online, click here.)

Please see our commenting policy.