More From the Grumpy Grammarian

My post earlier this morning complaining about “and/or” has got me on a roll.

Here are a few more pet peeves or commonly seen grammar errors:

1) Commas in Pairs (Rule 6.17, Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed)

Whenever a comma is used to set off an element, a second comma is required if the phrase or sentence continues beyond the element being set off:

– Incorrect: Judy went to Italy on June 15, 2004 to eat pasta.
– Correct: Judy went to Italy on June 15, 2004, to eat pasta.

You need a comma after the year in the example above (and yes, I realize the meaning in the sentence could be conveyed more easily by rewording the sentence).

2) Superscript is evil

According to the McGill Guide and my dainty sensibilities, legal citation and legal writing more broadly should not use superscript.

Your Microsoft Word may default to convert ordinal numbers to superscript:

– Incorrect: 14th
– Correct: 14th (McGill Guide, Rule 3.7.3)

You can change the default settings using the “Word” button in the upper left of Microsoft Word and choosing “Word Options and then selecting “Proofing” and “Auto-correct” options.

Never use superscript in legal documents, especially in case citations.

3) Do not use “et al” in a case citation (McGill Guide, Rule 3.3.1)

– Incorrect: Brown et al v ABC Systems (1985), 42 OR (3d) 112 (CA)
– Correct: Brown v ABC Systems (1985), 42 OR (3d) 112 (CA)

[note: the case is fictitious]

4) Prefer single spaces after periods

Any number of leading authorities call for a single space after periods (these authorities are summarized by Matthew Buttrick in Typography for Lawyers at 43 and include the Chicago Manual of Style and Bryan Garner).

This point was already made on SLAW a few years ago.

Word processors are designed for single spaces after periods. The habit of putting two spaces after a period dates back to monospaced type on old-fashioned typewriters.

Addition: since posting, I remembered one more:

5) Pin point citations to cases

Rule 3.6 of the McGill Guide is clear: the pinpoint citation (to a paragraph or page number) always precedes the parenthetical jurisdiction and court:

– Incorrect: Brown v ABC Systems (1985), 42 OR (3d) 112 (CA) at para 5.
– Correct: Brown v ABC Systems (1985), 42 OR (3d) 112 at para 5 (CA).


  1. 3) Do not use “et al” in a case citation (McGill Guide, Rule 3.3.1)

    – Incorrect: Brown et al v ABC Systems (1985), 42 OR (3d) 112 (CA)
    – Correct: Brown et al v ABC Systems (1985), 42 OR (3d) 112 (CA)

    Seriously? I ask you?

    I still appreciate the point and I will avoid using double spaces in the future.

  2. Thanks. I originally had a typo in situation 3 with “et al” where the “correct” answer incorrectly retained the “et al.” I have since fixed it so it is now correct.

  3. What is the reason for your rule 5? It is counter-intuitive to me — the “(CA)” is a descriptor for the case which, having been completely cited, can then be pinpointed. And I ask this not only as a confirmed double-spacer!

  4. Thanks Serge. Not my rule! But I assume the editors of the McGill Guide think that the pin point page or paragrpah reference should be closer to the decision’s page or decision number and that the court identified “interrupts” that connection. I am actually okay with Rule 5 but obviously, since I see it repeatedly violated, it may not be as inituitive for others.

  5. In response to Serge’s question: when we cited to page numbers not to paragraphs, before paragraphs were routinely numbered, the style was (to borrow your case name) Brown v ABC Systems (1985), 42 OR (3d) 112, 121 (CA). The page on which the chosen text appeared was put without more detail immediately after the page on which the report began. So there was no real choice where to name the court. I expect the learned editors of the McGill Guide just continued the old pattern, though the logic of either alternative could be supported when it’s about paragraphs.

  6. with neutral citations, one already know the court level, so for a citation such as, say, 2007 CSC 7 at para. 20, 2007 SCC 7 at para. 7, there’s no need to put the (CSC) or (SCC) in at all. Apart from that, to my eye, it never made sense to stick the court level in the middle of the citation. Stick it at the end where it belongs (and in some cases can be accidentally forgotten).

  7. You say “Never use superscript in legal documents, especially in case citations.” Why? Just because the McGill Guide says so? The McGill Guide never explains any of its rules, which I find very frustrating. Explain to me, rationally, why superscript shouldn’t be used in a legal document? Is there case law out there that says that? Is there a rule of court? I’d like something more than just “a book told me so.”

  8. Hi Sue:

    Thanks for your comment. I agree that the McGill Guide can be frustrating.

    However, most of the style guides suggest not using superscript for ordinals without really saying why (including the Chicago Manual of Style and the Bluebook). Presumably, such advice – to not use superscript – dates back to the typewriter days when it would have been harder to create superscript. Matthew Butterick in Typography for Lawyers comments that superscript is harder to read because it is tinier.

    For me, my negative reaction to superscript is largely aethestic and visceral – I don’t like it visually (but realize people’s tastes will vary). I also suspect that when people use superscript it was simply because their word processor defaulted to it.

  9. and why do word processing programs default to superscript? Because most people expect to see it, because full-size letters for ‘th’ or ‘rd’ look rather odd and detract from the visibility of the number that precedes them, because it’s conventional.

    I think the legal style guides have to come up with something better by way of reasoning before being so definitive. If they are generally just based on esthetics, why give them any authority?