English style rules


In general, style follows the Chicago Manual of Style, sixteenth edition (2010). Rather than searching the index at the back of the book, you can save time by searching at the CMS website and then looking in your book at the sections indicated.

The desk dictionary used is Webster’s New World College Dictionary, fifth edition (2014). Where WNW presents multiple options, select the one marked “usually,” if any; otherwise use the one that is given first.

The rules in this style guide take precedence over both Chicago and WNW for the English edition of Though it may not be practical to memorize all of them, try at least to remember what points are covered, and when in doubt, look here first. Second in order of precedence is WNW; look there for matters of orthography, including capitalization, hyphenation, and use of italics in particular words not covered here. For matters of style covered neither here nor in the dictionary, refer to Chicago.

Note that for certain jobs (notably those for Nissan) we may use the Associated Press Stylebook or other sets of rules as requested by the client or author. The rules below are the basis for most of what we do, though, so absent instructions to do otherwise, use them for your work.

1. Capitalization

In general, follow WNW. Note the handling of the following terms, which come up frequently in

Common nouns, adjectives, and verbs derived from proper names are lowercased if WNW offers this alternative: mecca, philistine, but Pollyanna.

Official titles preceding names are capitalized, even when accompanied by modifiers: German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichirō. Titles without names are lowercased: the president, the prime minister. Titles following names are lowercased in ordinary text: Jacques Chirac, president of France. But they are capitalized when displayed in author credits, lists, and the like.

We follow WNW in capitalizing the names of major wars and revolutions, including Cold War and Gulf War, and in writing World War I and World War II rather than First World War and Second World War.

For names of companies or other proper names with unusual capitalization, see Chicago 8.74 and 8.163. But capitalize the first letter in such names with no capitals at all: Livedoor.

We use headline-style capitalization for titles of articles and in text for citations of titles of works in English, including titles translated from Japanese or other languages. (Note that this style is applied to cited titles of works in English regardless of how they are styled in the original publication.) Our practice for headline-style capitalization differs slightly from the rules in Chicago (8.157): We capitalize the first word in a subtitle, and all other words except articles, coordinate conjunctions (and, but, or, nor, yet), and prepositions of fewer than five letters.

We use sentence-style capitalization when citing titles of works in Japanese or other languages. In this style, “only the first word in a title, the first word in a subtitle, and any proper names are capitalized” (Chicago 8.166): “Nichi-Bei no zeisei kaikaku—Shihon kosuto kakusa chijimeru” Note, however, that we use headline-style capitalization for titles of Japanese periodicals: Asahi Shimbun.

In ordinary text, the first word following a colon is capitalized if the material following the colon constitutes a full sentence in itself.

2. Abbreviations, contractions

The following abbreviations and symbols are used in ordinary text:

Such abbreviations as etc., i.e., and e.g., are not used in text. Neither are such abbreviations as Prof. and Mt.

The following abbreviations may be used in parenthetical explanations, footnotes, and the like. Note that, contrary to WNW, we use a final period with these abbreviations.

Units of measure should generally be spelled out at first mention, but metric and other standard international units may be abbreviated thereafter.

For names and terms commonly represented by sets of initials (OPEC, OECD, IBM, METI, GNP), the fully spelled out version is to be used at first mention in an article; the initials may be used thereafter. Do not add the initials in parentheses at first mention unless they differ from what the full name would lead one to expect and are used later in the same article.

Note the special case of NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation), for which we use the abbreviated Japanese name, followed at first mention by the full English name in parentheses.

SDF, short for Self-Defense Forces, takes a plural verb: The SDF are planning a massive recruiting drive.

Our style is to spell out United States when used as a noun, reserving US for adjectival use: president of the United States, US president. We generally use the same style for United Nations (noun), UN (adj.); the latter form may, however, also be used as a noun after first mention.

We do not generally abbreviate dates, but 9/11 may be used as shorthand for (the terrorist attacks of) September 11, 2001, and 3/11 for the March 11, 2011, disaster.

The rule on spelling out terms at first mention may be disregarded in short pieces (like bios), tables, and figures, provided the abbreviation is a commonly used one.

Contractions like don’t and it’s are not used in text except to avoid awkwardness in negative questions. “Should Japan not open its doors wider?” is antique, and “Should not Japan open its doors wider?” is ungrammatical. Write, “Shouldn’t Japan open its doors wider?” or recast to something like “It seems to me that Japan should open its doors wider.”

3. Numbers

In text, spell out cardinal numbers through nine; use numerals from 10 up. Spell out such forms as thirties (referring to an age group). Use the 1990s in preference to the nineties. For ordinal numbers, follow Chicago (9.8), spelling out first through hundredth and forms like thousandth but using numerals for 101st, 102nd, 103rd, and so forth.

For large numbers, use numerals combined with million, billion, etc.: 1 million people, ¥5 trillion.

Express all monetary amounts in numerals. Spell out currency names, with the exception of ¥ (yen), $ (US dollar), € (euro), and £ (pound).

Express percentages in numerals with the percent sign. Also express percentage points in numerals. Note that we use the singular form of percentage point for fractional values in decimal form: 0.6 percentage point. Also note that percentage can be omitted at second mention or if clear from the context: The party’s vote share rose 5 points to 31%.

When numbers up to nine and numbers over nine appear together in text in what is clearly the same context (referring the same subject), use numerals for both: The group included 20 Chinese and 9 Japanese. However, editorial judgment may suggest disregarding this “consistency” principle in favor of the general rule in some cases: Of 156 applicants, only one was a woman.

In proper names, such as titles of works or organizations, preserve the original style of numbers. The same applies in general to official or semiofficial translations of Japanese titles.

For numbers in translations of spoken matter and in romanized Japanese, see the following two sections.

Japanese writers sometimes give numbers in more precise form than is common in similar contexts in English, such as writing “4.23%” where “4.2%” would be considered sufficient in normal English writing. When possible and appropriate, simplify the numbers. Contrariwise, sometimes Japanese writers omit a final zero after a decimal point even though it is a significant digit, as in “an increase from 5.5% to 6%.” In a case like this restore the final zero, making it “from 5.5% to 6.0%,” so as to give a consistent level of precision—if you can confirm that 6.0% is the correct figure.

4. Quotes, spoken matter

If a Japanese text includes a quote of material translated from English, use the original English if possible; otherwise recast it as an indirect quote. Never place quotation marks around material retranslated from Japanese into English.

Note that passages enclosed in quotation marks in Japanese are not always actual quotes. When in doubt, recast them without quotation marks in English.

The following rules apply to translations of spoken matter, including direct quotes, interviews, and dialogues:

5. Japanese names and terms

We use the modified Hepburn system of romanization, in which the syllabic n is written as n even before b, m, and p: Shinbashi (not Shimbashi), Gunma. Exception: Shimbun, not Shinbun, when part of the name of a particular newspaper: Mainichi Shimbun.

An apostrophe is used to separate a syllable ending in n and a syllable beginning with a vowel or a y (hon’yaku, Jun’ichirō, kin’en [禁煙]).

When Japanese words being romanized contain more than three kanji or more than six kana, we insert word breaks at appropriate junctures. However, we write shakaishugi, shihonshugi, etc. as single words. Shorter words may be broken up if necessary for clarity. Hyphens are generally used only in places where there would ordinarily be a word break but there has been a sound change in the initial consonant of the following word: kaiten-zushi.

Macrons are used to mark long vowels in romanized Japanese words, including those listed in WNW (such as “shōgun”). Macrons are not used, however, in the names of four cities, Kyoto, Kobe, Tokyo, and Osaka, or in the names of Japanese companies that are internationally famous, such as Fujitsu and Toshiba, or that use nonstandard romanization, such as Toray. Macrons are also not used in English words that incorporate a Japanese word: shogunate, shogunal (note that we use this adjectival form, though it is not in our dictionaries).

Japanese personal names follow the Japanese order, family name first, and are written in line with our rules on use of macrons and apostrophes in romanization. If an author or interviewee prefers a different spelling for his or her name, we respect this preference.

Japanese words are italicized only if they are not listed in WNW, or if they are listed in italicized form. Japanese proper names are not italicized: Kōshitsu Tenpan o Kangaeru Kai. Japanese words set off by quotation marks are not italicized.

The names of Japanese performing arts are not capitalized: bunraku, kabuki, nō. Kyōgen, the only one of these not listed in WNW, can be left in unitalicized form to match the style for the other arts.

Sumō is listed in WNW in unitalicized form, with no macron; we add the macron.

Non-Japanese words that are part of a romanized Japanese title or phrase are spelled according to their Japanese pronunciation: Amerika, not America; Busshu, not Bush.

Pseudo-English coinages like フリーター may be spelled as English words, followed by the romanized Japanese pronunciation at first mention: “freeters” (furītā). Ordinarily such terms will be put in quotation marks at first mention but not thereafter.

In rendering place names, -ku, -ken, and similar administrative designations are translated into English: Aichi Prefecture, Shibuya Ward. (The 23 wards of central Tokyo call themselves cities in English now, so it may be better to write about “the central cities (often called wards) of the Tokyo metropolis.”) The designation -shi may be translated as “City,” but often it may be omitted: Yokohama, Nagoya, etc. The handling of -chō/-machi and -son/-mura requires some care: Sometimes these are an integral part of the place name, as in Nagatachō, which cannot be called “Nagata” and thus retains the -chō in English, while in other cases the place name can stand on its own without the suffix, as in Itsukaichi-machi, which can be rendered as “(the town of) Itsukaichi.”

The suffixes -ji and -tera/-dera (temple) are generally romanized and included in the name without a hyphen: Hōryūji (one may have to write Hōryūji temple, but it is better to do something like “Hōryūji, the temple in Nara that . . .”

Topographical suffixes like -kawa and -san/-yama, are translated where practical: the Sumida River, Mount Fuji, but the Arakawa river (lowercase “river” or, if possible, omit), Yatsugatake.

When presenting numbers from Japanese in romanized form (as when citing titles of works), use numerals where the Japanese uses numerals, including zenkaku arabic numerals and kanji pressed into service as digits (1年, 1年 → 1 nen ; 17年, 17年, 一七年 → 17 nen), and spell out the romanization where the Japanese uses nondigital kanji (十七年 → jūshichinen). Also spell out in cases where the Japanese number has a special reading in combination with the following word (20日→ hatsuka).

In spelled-out forms, insert word breaks in strings corresponding to four or more kanji (百二十四 → hyaku nijūshi, 七十四年 → nanajū yonen).

Kōdansha’s Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia (one-volume edition, 1993) is an excellent source of guidance on how to render many names and terms (but note that it uses the traditional Hepburn romanization, as in Shimbashi; our style, as stated above, is Shinbashi). For Japanese place names, refer to the atlas at the back of the encyclopedia, with a handy index starting on page 1799.

Dates are generally added in parentheses following the first mention of Japanese periods and eras (see appendix): Edo period (1603–1868), Meiji era (1868–1912). Note that we use period for the multi-reign spans through Edo and era for the single-reign spans since Meiji.

For political parties we give the full name in English at first mention and use the abbreviated form thereafter: Liberal Democratic Party, LDP. We generally do not use the Japanese names, except for the Kōmeitō.

We write Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) and NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) at first mention, omitting the parenthesized English names thereafter.

We use American spellings for the English names of Japanese government organs and programs even if the government uses British spellings. We also insert the final serial comma in the English names of government organs that themselves omit it: Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare.

6. Other languages

Words from foreign languages other than Japanese are italicized at every mention, unless they appear unitalicized in WNW. (Foreign proper names, such as names of organizations, are not italicized.)

Diacritical marks are generally used only for the major West European languages—French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Follow WNW for the spelling of listed proper names. Otherwise observe usage in the media or other references when available. If media usage is split, give precedence to (1) the International Herald Tribune, (2) Time magazine, and (3) the New York Times in that order. The National Geographic Atlas of the World can generally be used for place names not in WNW. For personal names, observe the person’s preference, if known.

If a term or name is so obscure that it is impossible to determine the proper spelling, write around it. It is never permissible to romanize the katakana version (except when it is presented as Japanese, e.g., in the romanized title of a Japanese work).

Below are some general guidelines for romanization of the languages of Japan’s immediate neighbors: Chinese, Korean, and Russian. But remember that the dictionary and common usage generally take precedence over romanization rules.

For Chinese names and terms, in general we use the pinyin system of romanization (including umlauts but not tone marks): Qing dynasty, Beijing, Nanjing. Two-syllable given names are written as a single word: Mao Zedong. But follow common usage for names and terms relating to Taiwan and Hong Kong: Kuomintang (Nationalist Party), Chiang Kai-shek, Lee Teng-hui. See Kenkyūsha’s New Japanese-English Dictionary, 5th ed., pp. 2104-8, for a handy Chinese romanization table based on Japanese kanji readings. Some kanwa jiten also give pinyin readings.

For Korean names and terms, the official revised South Korean romanization system is used, not the formerly common McCune-Reischauer system: Busan, not Pusan; Dokdo, not Tokdo. See Follow common usage for the spelling of names of people appearing in the media, which often do not follow the official system. Hyphenate two-syllable given names, and lowercase the element after the hyphen: Roh Moo-hyun.

Transliterate Russian words according to the US Board on Geographic Names system (see Chicago, p. 432), but omit dierisis in yë and ë; write ye, e. For Russian personal names, absent knowledge of common usage or the person’s preference, follow the New York Times’ Manual of Style and Usage.

The rules for Korean and Russian may be hard or even impossible to apply without some knowledge of the respective languages. Ask around for help!

7. Miscellaneous

Sexist usage is avoided. Man is not used as a synonym for the human race. Rewrite to eliminate he or his if the antecedent could be female, or use he or she, his or her.

Full names of people are given on first reference. After that the family name is used except in the case of Japanese historical figures for whom it is customary to use the given name: Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Hideyoshi.

Courtesy titles (Mr., Ms., Dr., and the like) are not used except occasionally in dialogue.

For footnotes follow Chicago style in general, but do not omit vol., no., and p. (pp.). Give translations (in parentheses, using headline-style capitalization) of all foreign-language titles.

House style is to write Britain, not United Kingdom; Soviet Union, not USSR; World War I (II), not First (Second) World War

Note the forms Eastern Europe, Western Europe vs. East European, West European.

We use American spellings for the English names of international organs and their programs even if the organ itself uses British spellings: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, not Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The same applies to names of Japanese government organs: Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare (note the added serial comma as well as the correction to Labour). We retain original British spellings for proper names from Britain and Commonwealth countries, such as Britain’s Labour Party—but note that the Australian counterpart is the Labor Party!


Historical periods and eras

Use the following table to add period and era dates in parentheses at first mention. For the Jōmon and Yayoi periods, it should suffice to add the adjective “prehistoric” before the name at first mention. (If ranges of years are called for, use the ones found in Kōdansha’s encyclopedia, given below.)

先史 prehistoric

原始 protohistoric

古代 ancient

中世 medieval

近世 early modern

近代・現代 modern, contemporary

Postwar prime ministers’ years in office

In general add former prime ministers’ years in office in parentheses after their names at first mention. This is not necessary, however, if the context includes a date: In 1977 Prime Minister Fukuda Takeo traveled to Manila. (Note that it is rarely necessary to precede the title with “then.”)

See the archive section of the Kantei website for a complete list of prime ministers with dates of birth and death and cabinet dates.

東久邇宮稔彦王 Prince Naruhiko Higashikuni 1945
幣原喜重郎 Shidehara Kijūrō 1945–46
吉田茂 Yoshida Shigeru 1946–47, 1948–54
片山哲 Katayama Tetsu 1947–48
芦田均 Ashida Hitoshi 1948
鳩山一郎 Hatoyama Ichirō 1954–56
石橋湛山 Ishibashi Tanzan 1956–57
岸信介 Kishi Nobusuke 1957–60
池田勇人 Ikeda Hayato 1960–64
佐藤榮作 Satō Eisaku 1964–72
田中角榮 Tanaka Kakuei 1972–74
三木武夫 Miki Takeo 1974–76
福田赳夫 Fukuda Takeo 1976–78
大平正芳 Ōhira Masayoshi 1979–80
鈴木善幸 Suzuki Zenkō 1980–82
中曽根康弘 Nakasone Yasuhiro 1982–87
竹下登 Takeshita Noboru 1987–89
宇野宗佑 Uno Sōsuke 1989
海部俊樹 Kaifu Toshiki 1989–91
宮澤喜一 Miyazawa Kiichi 1991–93
細川護煕 Hosokawa Morihiro 1993–94
羽田 孜 Hata Tsutomu 1994
村山富市 Murayama Tomiichi 1994–96
橋本龍太郎 Hashimoto Ryūtarō 1996–98
小渕恵三 Obuchi Keizō 1998–2000
森 喜朗 Mori Yoshirō 2000–2001
小泉純一郎 Koizumi Jun’ichirō 2001–6
安倍晋三 Abe Shinzō 2006–7
福田康夫 Fukuda Yasuo 2007–8
麻生太郎 Asō Tarō 2008–9
鳩山由紀夫 Hatoyama Yukio 2009–10
菅直人 Kan Naoto 2010–11
野田佳彦 Noda Yoshihiko 2011–12
安倍晋三 Abe Shinzō 2012–