Ask the Editor: Highlights

Ask the Editor is a forum on writing, style and phrasing issues that go beyond the pages of the AP Stylebook. AP Stylebook editor Paula Froke fields questions posed by subscribers to AP Stylebook Online. Below is a sampling of recent questions Paula has answered.

Click on a topic below to learn more about AP style:

Question from on Nov. 17, 2022

If a month is used in a news headline such as October, should it still be abbreviated?

Answer

We prefer to spell out months in headlines when standing alone (without a date). But an abbreviation is OK if needed for space reasons.

We always abbreviate months (except March, April, May, June, July) when used with a date: Jan. 6, Sept. 11.



Question from on Nov. 01, 2022

What if I'm describing a congressman and their state? For example, Cory Booker (NJ) would it better to remove the state entirely or spell out ?

Answer

Here's the party affiliation guidance. Specifically on your question, this section:
SHORT-FORM PUNCTUATION: Set short forms such as R-S.C. off from a name by commas: Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., said …
Use the abbreviations listed in the entries for each state. (No abbreviations for Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas and Utah.)

So: Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said ....

You could also use phrasing such as Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, or Sen. Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey ...




Question from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Aug. 02, 2022

Should the acronym include a possessive in the following example?
"The Food and Literacy Center's (FLC's) objectives are available to read online."
Or should it be:
"The Food and Literacy Center's (FLC) objectives are available to read online."

Answer

We don't put acronyms in parentheses following the full name. Our abbreviations and acronyms entry says:

AVOID AWKWARD CONSTRUCTIONS: Do not follow the full name of an organization or company with an abbreviation or acronym in parentheses or set off by dashes. If an abbreviation or acronym would not be clear on second reference without this arrangement, do not use it.
Names not commonly before the public should not be reduced to acronyms solely to save a few words.

Also: A few universally recognized abbreviations are required in some circumstances. Some others are acceptable, depending on the context. But in general, avoid alphabet soup. Do not use abbreviations or acronyms that the reader would not quickly recognize.

Your example is another reason not to do it. There's no good way to punctuate it.

If you must include the acronym in parentheses, your best bet is to rephrase: Objectives of the Food and Literacy Center (FLC) can be read online.


Question from Vermont, on Aug. 01, 2022

Dear Editors:

I know the forum has taken this question before, but several years have passed. Is B.C. still preferred to BCE? 

Please let me know. Thanks for all you do. 

Answer

It's under consideration. For now, we continue to use B.C.


Question from Franklin, Tennessee, on July 15, 2022

Would like tips on navigation. For example looking for whether you spell out first instance of an acronym. Don't see that when I search "acronym." Looking for whether you spell out instances of United States when it stands alone. Don't find that when search "United States," or "abbreviations." Thank you.

Answer

When I search online for "acronym," I get the abbreviations and acronyms entry. That one doesn't appear to directly address the question of whether we spell out on first reference (the answer is yes, except for acronyms that are acceptable in all references, such as FBI; those are listed individually throughout the book).

When I search online for "United States," I get that entry (which doesn't address the question). So I search for U.S. and find the answer. Either United States or U.S. is OK when standing alone. If you're using the print book, the lengthy index in the back is very helpful. 


Question from College Station, Texas, on Dec. 01, 2022

I have a capitalization question. I am writing: "(name of program) has launched programs at seven different locations throughout Austin, including Travis Heights, J.J. Pickle, T.A. Brown and J. Houston elementary schools."

Should I leave 'elementary schools' lowercase since they are all collectively elementary schools? 

Answer

Yes, lowercase for that reason. You also can delete the word different. Seven location are, by definition, different locations.


Question from Fairfield, California, on Nov. 29, 2022

ACES is a common term used in education that stands for adverse childhood experiences. When acronyms are used following terms like adverse childhood experiences, should the term be capitalized? Example: Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES).

Answer

We don't enclose acronyms in parentheses. We say that if it's well known enough or clear enough for readers to understand, then you don't need the parenthetical addition. If it's not clear, then don't use it. Of course, you could choose to do differently.

As for your specific question: No, the full term shouldn't be capitalized just because you later use an acronym. 



Question from Mission Viejo, California, on Nov. 19, 2022

I have seen different guidance from different sites regarding the use of AP style. Is every word of a headline capitalized or only the first word and proper nouns? Is this also true for a subheadline?

Examples:
Nevada Continues To Grow With New Residents From California
Nevada continues to grow with new residents from California

Answer

First, there's a difference between our guidance for composition titles and for headlines. 

Your example looks like a headline. So your second version is correct.

Here's the capitalization section of the headlines entry:

— Capitalize only the first word and proper nouns in headlines that use AP style. Exception: The first word after a colon is always uppercase in headlines.
— Always capitalize the first letter of a headline, even if it starts with a proper name such as iPhone or eBay, though recasting may be the better choice.



Question from Boston, Massachusetts, on Nov. 15, 2022

Is there any discussion of making "millennial" and "baby boomer" capitalized to be consistent with the other generational cohorts? Other groups like Pew Research Center capitalize them all, and it looks like this question has been asked here since at least 2008. I'm curious as to why the inconsistency is viewed as preferable.

Answer

Many, many people get quite upset when we change our style for any reason. So we always hesitate to make changes like that. And as a rule, we dislike what tends to be the overcapitalization of just about everything. Of course, I also share your desire for consistency. I'll put it on the list to discuss again. Thanks.

Question from on Nov. 03, 2022

I have seen two guidelines for company names capitalization. 1. Follow company preference, and 2. Follow company preference but capitalize first letter. I have a case where the association "worldstainless" does not use capitalization by preference, but should it be capitalized according to rule 2?

Answer

Here is the specific section of the company names entry. Note the "generally" qualifier.

Generally, follow the spelling preferred by the company, but capitalize the first letter of company names in all uses: e.g., Adidas, Lululemon. Exceptions include company names such as eBay, which have a capital letter elsewhere in the name.

Thus, our style is Worldstainless.


Question from Austin, Texas, on Nov. 15, 2022

I see your entry on time but would like clarification. Which style would be best for this type of sentence: Join us from 9-11 a.m. OR Join us 9-11 a.m.
I typically like to use "from" and "to" when I use one or another. But I also like sticking to your style and using a hyphen. The "from" in the first example seems to make the sentence flow better.

Answer

Yes: Join us from 9-11 a.m. But, we also are just fine with no hyphen. See the end of the below section from the times entry. So you easily could write: Join us from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Use figures except for noon and midnight. Use a colon to separate hours from minutes: 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3:30 p.m., 9-11 a.m., 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.


Question from on Oct. 19, 2022

Is it necessary to include the year on an invitation for an upcoming event if it's obvious the event is in the current year?

Example:  You are invited to attend the Christmas Pageant on Friday, December 16.  or You are invited to attend the Christmas Pageant on Friday, December 16, 2022.


Answer

Don't include the year if it's the current year. Here's the entry:


years 


When a phrase refers to a month and day within the current year, do not include the year: The hearing is scheduled for June 26. If the reference is to a past or future year, include the year and set it off with commas: Feb. 14, 2025, is the target date. Use an s without an apostrophe to indicate spans of decades or centuries: the 1890s, the 1800s.
Years are an exception to the general rule in numerals that a figure is not used to start a sentence: 2013 was a very good year.


Question from Rochester, Michigan, on Sept. 15, 2022

I'm sure the answer to this is a simple one, but when referencing a month that passed earlier this year, in this case January, would it be "last January" or simply, "at the show in January." I've talked myself into both. Conversely, when looking ahead the same show, but in January 2023, it's "next January" v. "... in January." Thanks!

Answer

This section of the time element entry can be applied more broadly to months:

Avoid such redundancies as last Tuesday or next Tuesday. The past, present or future tense used for the verb usually provides adequate indication of which Tuesday is meant: He said he finished the job Tuesday. She will return Tuesday.

So typically, if the time period is within a year, we would say simply He sold his goods at the show in January or She will sell her goods at the show in January.

If it's beyond a year in either direction, add the year. Or if there is any chance for confusion in the context, include last or next.


Question from Washington, District of Columbia, on July 22, 2022

Quick clarification - as I can't seem to find specific guidance. If we're just using month + year, do we use "of"? 

She got sick with COVID-19 in March OF 2020? Or 

She got sick with COVID-19 in March 2020?

Thanks!

Answer

No of. Just March 2020. We may not have an explicit entry on that point, but an example is below (January 2016).

months 


Capitalize the names of months in all uses. When a month is used with a specific date, abbreviate only Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov. and Dec. Spell out when using alone, or with a year alone.
When a phrase lists only a month and a year, do not separate the year with commas. When a phrase refers to a month, day and year, set off the year with commas.
EXAMPLES: January 2016 was a cold month. Jan. 2 was the coldest day of the month. His birthday is May 8. Feb. 14, 2013, was the target date. She testified that it was Friday, Dec. 3, when the crash occurred.
In tabular material, use these three-letter forms without a period: Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.
See dates and years.

Question from on June 10, 2022

I've seen increasing references to the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot as 1/6, a la 9/11. Is perhaps some guidance forthcoming? Thanks

Answer

We'd prefer for now not to use 1/6 other than in headlines. It does occasionally sneak into AP stories. That doesn't mean it's sanctioned by the Stylebook team. We will continue to monitor usage.


Question from Cleveland, Ohio, on Dec. 02, 2022

When writing about degrees as a measurement, as in "letting your knee move 3 degrees," should it be the numeral or written out (as in, the general one thru nine rule wouldn't apply because it's a measurement)?

Answer

Use the numeral, because it's a measurement.


Question from Dover, Delaware, on Nov. 08, 2022

In terms of "zero to 60 mph" speed ratings, is it best to keep the decimal point for whole seconds to ensure consistency?
Example: Car A had a zero-to-60 time of 7.6 seconds, but Car B came in at 8.0 seconds.
Or: Car A had a zero-to-60 time of 7.6 seconds, but Car B came in at eight seconds.

Answer

For this one, I'd break one but not two of our general style rules. I'd use the figure 8, not the word eight, for consistency with the 7.6. But I wouldn't add the .0.

Since we're open to the breaking of rules when that makes most sense, you're certainly welcome to break two rules in this case ...



Question from on Nov. 02, 2022

In a chart, would it be appropriate to say "1+ night" or "1+ nights" (plural)?

Answer

Make it 1+ nights. (We don't use the + sign other than as described in this entry, but it's sensible to make an exception for charts.)


Question from Baltimore, Maryland, on Oct. 29, 2022

Hello! How would I handle the phrase "6-Page paper"? I know the rules state to use a numeral and capitalize "Page", but I wasn't sure if that applied to when the phrase is being used as a modifier. Thank you!

Answer

The guidance that you're referring to refers only to page numbers (the name of the entry).  Examples: Page 1, Page 20A. That doesn't mean to use figures and capitalization when referring to the number of pages. In this usage, you'd use six rather than 6 and lowercase page. I am writing a six-page paper.


page numbers 


Use figures and capitalize page when used with a figure. When a letter is appended to the figure, capitalize it but do not use a hyphen: Page 1, Page 10, Page 20A.






Question from on Sept. 13, 2022

If you have multiple numerals in a sentence, should you abide by standards set out here for numerals less than or more than 10? For example, is "three ducks and 17 pigeons" or "3 ducks and 17 pigeons" more suitable?

Answer

It's three ducks and 17 pigeons. (I'm trying to imagine a scenario involving them!) Of course, if you prefer to use your own style and adopt consistency within a sentence, you can do that. We would understand.


Question from GRAPEVINE, Texas, on Dec. 01, 2022

What are the rules for using "I" and "me" in a sentence with another person -- Doris and I and Doris and me -- when to use each one?

Answer

Take out Doris, and how would you say it? That's your answer (once you add Doris back in).

I am going to the store. Doris and I are going to the store.
The presents are for me. The presents are for Doris and me.



Question from Columbus ,Ohio, on Nov. 18, 2022

Hi Paula: For a sentence that uses the "dash" separation for emphasis -- for example: "The star player -- and the team's owner who pays the salaries" -- has/have mixed feelings about the championship game." In other words, does setting off a second subject in such a dash construction (or I suppose you could use commas construction for emphasis, too) keep the subject/verb agreement as singular? Thanks!

Answer

Yes, it's still singular. Treat the material between the dashes (or commas) as parenthetical. The star player is still the subject. So: The star player -- and the team's owner who pays the salaries" -- has mixed feelings about the championship game.

On another point: If there is only one owner, you need a comma after the word owner. If there is more than one owner and you are talking specifically about the one who pays the salaries (not the one who speaks at public events), then no comma. See the essential clauses, nonessential clauses entry.




Question from Columbus, Ohio, on Sept. 14, 2022

Hi, Paula, in sentences that use "and/or," should the verb(s) that follow be singular or plural?

Answer

There is a decided lack of consensus on that point. Either way you do it, some will think it's right and some will think it's wrong. Some would use the proximity rule (the third option below), with the verb agreeing with the subject that is closest to the verb. Others say these constructions always take a plural verb. I vote for the latter. Plural verb. In most cases. Unless it sounds off in the sentence in question. How's that for a definitive answer?

They asked if the child and/or parents are enjoying the show.
They asked if the parents and/or child are enjoying the show.
They asked if the parents and/or child is enjoying the show.



Question from Topsfield, Massachusetts, on Sept. 13, 2022

Hi, can you please tell me which is correct and why?

"What makes Molly and I a great team is..." OR 
What makes Molly and me a great team is..."

THANK YOU!

Answer

What makes Molly and me ...

Think about it this way: Take Molly out. Would you then say: What makes I a great team (member) or What makes me a great team (member) ...


Question from COLUMBIA, South Carolina, on Aug. 29, 2022

On subject/verb agreement: Am I reading these correctly?  Recent examples that caused me to pause.  
Queen Elizabeth: "I have been inspired by the kindness, joy and kinship that has been so evident in recent days, and I hope this renewed sense of togetherness will be felt for many years to come."
Jack Dorsey: "My biggest issue and my biggest regret is that it became a company."

Answer

On the first example, it depends on whether you view kindness as one element, joy as a separate element and kinship as a third element; or as one big mass of feeling. I, like the queen (of course) view them as one big mass of feeling. Thus, the singular verb.

The second is like that. In that case I think it's more clearly one element that inspires separate emotinons. So, again, the singular verb.


Question from Lansing, Michigan, on Dec. 02, 2022

I am confused by the AP cheat sheet regarding bullets. While on the one hand, it says AP does not support bullets but prefers dashes, it says if bullets are used to use proper formatting. Does that mean that bullets are not banned by AP but can still be used in list formats if formatted correctly instead of dashes?

Answer

We don't ban anything. And I don't know what the AP cheat sheet regarding bullets is. Below is the entry. You certainly can use bullets if you want. AP doesn't use them in our own stories because they don't work with some of our customers' computer systems.


lists, bulleted lists 


AP uses dashes instead of bullets to introduce individual sections of a list; others may choose to use bullets. Put a space between the dash or bullet and the first word of each item in the list. Capitalize the first word following the dash or bullet. Use periods, not semicolons, at the end of each section, whether it is a full sentence or a phrase.
Use parallel construction for each item in a list:
— Start with the same part of speech for each item (in this example, a verb).
— Use the same voice (active or passive) for each item.
— Use the same verb tense for each item.
— Use the same sentence type (statement, question, exclamation) for each item.
— Use just a phrase for each item, if desired.
Introduce the list with a short phrase or sentence: Our partners: or These are our partners: or Our partners are:




Question from New York, New York, on Nov. 28, 2022

AP hyphenates "middle-class" as an adjective. So would it use two hyphens when "upper-middle-class" or "lower-middle-class" are used as adjectives?

Answer

Yes, use the two hyphens.


Question from Vermont, on Nov. 28, 2022

Hi:

If I haven't used my answers allotment for the year, I have another question. I know there is no longer a hyphen in Asian American (and am glad of it.) Does this also mean that the hyphen is gone from similar constructions, as in Cuban American or Mexican American? Please let me know. Thanks.

Answer

Correct. No hyphens in those. Here's the relevant section of the race-related  coverage entry:

dual heritage No hyphen for terms such as African American, Asian American and Filipino American, used when relevant to refer to an American person’s heritage. The terms are less common when used to describe non-Americans, but may be used when relevant: Turkish German for a German of Turkish descent. For terms denoting dual citizenship, use the hyphen: a dual U.S.-Australian citizen.

Question from on Nov. 21, 2022

Hello,

Would I add an extra period to the end of the following sentence when using U.K. at the end of the sentence?

"The best example of this is from the U.K."

or 

"The best example of this is from the U.K.." 

Answer

No extra period. The one does double duty.


Question from Syracuse, New York, on Nov. 20, 2022

Paraphrasing a magazine article: "How crisp is too crisp; what is overdone; what is just right, and what is not just right?" Why all of a sudden the comma at the end instead of a semicolon? Seems inconsistent. And should an "and" follow the last semicolon in a series?

Answer

Our semicolon entry says to use the semicolon, not a comma, in that use. And yes, and should follow the last semicolon.
How crisp is too crisp; what is overdone; what is just right; and what is not just right?

Question from Corvallis, Oregon, on July 19, 2022

The official stylebook entry for FAQ says just that — FAQ. That entry was created in 2002. But an Ask the Editor response from 2020 says FAQs. Which is correct? Thanks in advance.

Answer

It's FAQ for one set of questions/answers: Please read the FAQ on track racing. If you have separate FAQs on different topics, it's FAQs: Please read the FAQs on track racing and mountain bike racing.


Question from Longmont, Colorado, on April 08, 2022

How should I pluralize PFAS (perfluoroalkyl substance)?

Answer

Our style is PFAS for both the singular and plural. Here's the entry.


Question from California, on Nov. 22, 2022

Hello, when used as a noun would it be "over testing" "over-testing" or "overtesting"? (e.g. "The over testing of students") 

I couldn't find anything in Webster. I found examples in medical journals that either had it as one word or hyphenated, but spell checkers seem to object to it as one word.  
Thanks!  

Answer

Technically, our style is overtesting. I have to say, though, that it's hard to read as one word (to my eye). I'd use the hyphen. Either is correct; it's just a matter of which style you prefer. Don't make it two words, though.


Question from New York, New York, on Nov. 17, 2022

Hi Paula. AP in 2010 was asked about tax loss carryforwards, which said "IRS documentation lists carry forward (v.) and carryforward (n. and adj.) in a tax context." 

AP's reply was that it would use carryforward losses (adj.), a carryforward (n.), carry forward (v.).  Wondering why not "carry-forward" for an adjective, as in the "carry-forward losses."

Thanks,
Richard

Answer

I assume the editor in 2010 agreed with the IRS style. I agree. I see no need to complicate things by making not two but three versions, one for each for a noun, adjective and verb.

Of course, if you prefer the hyphen, go for it!


Question from Marlborough, Massachusetts, on Nov. 11, 2022

Check mark or checkmark? An Ask the Editor response from June 2018 says "check mark." The entry on social media from May 2020 uses "checkmark" (twice). This is a term that's coming up A LOT in covering Twitter right now.

Answer

Thanks for noting that. We'll go with check mark, two words. Sometimes simply check works. We'll update the social media entry in Stylebook Online.


Question from New Haven, Connecticut, on Nov. 03, 2022

What is the current guideline on "payer" or "payor" for a healthcare entity? 

Answer

Our style is payer. Our style is health care, two words.


Question from on Oct. 25, 2022

Under gender-neutral language, why is councilperson one word but council member two?

Answer

That's because -person constructions traditionally have been one word, like -man and -woman constructions: spokesman, spokeswoman, spokesperson; councilwoman, councilman, councilperson (and that's a style that developed independent of AP style). On the other hand, member traditionally has been a word that stands alone: council member, class member, committee member. 

That said, some agencies do use the one-word councilmember for their own style.


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