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 Middletown, Delaware, on Dec. 11, 2023

Although a common acronym for our business writing, I'm assuming AP would say to spell out computer numerical control for CNC on first reference? 


We would, yes. If it's so commonly known among your readers that spelling it out on first reference would look silly, then don't spell it out. But if at least some of your readers might not understand, then it's best to spell it out.

Question from Washington, District of Columbia, on Oct. 12, 2023

Hi! Thanks for the thorough AI guidance. Wondering whether you're considering allowing AI on first reference. I know style evolves (internet used to be Internet, email used to have a hyphen). So, thinking most readers will understand AI on first reference. Thanks again.


Not at this time. But certainly that's something we'd consider in the future. 

Remember, a lot of people have trouble with AI without the periods, thinking we're talking about some guy named Al. And it's harder if there's not a spelled-out first reference.

Also, just because you and I understand AI on first reference doesn't mean my mom, my sister, and many other readers are as attuned.

Question from Little Rock, Arkansas, on Oct. 11, 2023

On first reference of an interstate, do you need to put the abbreviation in parentheses as you would an acronym when it's going to be used again? For example: "Interstate 49 (I-49) will be closed at Exit 21." Or can you just say Interstate 49 on first reference and I-49 on second reference?


We don't put abbreviations in parentheses. Our style would be Interstate 49 on first reference and I-49 on second reference.

Question from on Sept. 15, 2023

Hello, is PB&J acceptable for the sandwich? How about on first reference?


Yes, in our style it's acceptable on all references.

Question from Los Angeles, California, on Aug. 31, 2023

Do you still consider ESG an acronym that needs definition on first reference, or can it stand alone in all instances?


If your specific audience understands it, then you don't need to define it. As for me, I had no idea what it meant until I looked it up. I imagine that's the case for many general-audience readers. And remember, it's not in your interest to confuse or annoy your readers. But your specific audience may well be different in what readers understand without explanation.

Question from Phoenix, Arizona, on July 13, 2024


I'm looking for guidance around articles that are part of nicknames and when AP would capitalize them. Typically, we would lowercase "the" in a composition title, for example, or in your examples given for popular names in the "capitalization" entry (e.g., the South Side, the Badlands) or the "pseudonyms, nicknames" entry (e.g., the Old Dominion). What I'm finding tricky are nicknames such as "The Rock" or "The Undertaker," as you have capped the article in your answer to a question published June 23, 2023:

In this example, which would AP prefer?

1. We spoke to the man they call "The Horse Whisperer."
2. We spoke to the man they call the "Horse Whisperer."
3. We spoke to the man they call "the Horse Whisperer."

I find this also would apply to, say, musical groups: Is it "The Beatles" or "the Beatles"? You answered a similar question in 2019, but the answer was rather "I don't really know…sometimes we do and sometimes we don't."

Many thanks to you for your input.


Well, the answer about the Beatles or The Beatles pretty much applies to this as well. I realize that's not helpful. Or maybe it is, because you don't have to feel constricted by rules, rules, rules ...

Generally, though, I'd say we wouldn't capitalize The in a nickname. After all, it's a nickname, not a proper name like, well, The Beatles. So I'd go with your second option.

Question from Sterling, Virginia, on May 16, 2024

If you are writing about an association, and quote its president, would it be President Name said or president Name said. The association's full name would not be in front of the title. ...


Capitalize the title of President when it immediately precedes a name. She said she would ask association President Peter Pringle ...
But note the lowercase in this construction: She said she would ask the association president, Peter Pringle, ...

Question from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Feb. 28, 2024

My Legal department changes "the company" to "the Company" in our internal communications. For example, "We have an experienced team that works collaboratively to support the Company in its goals." 

I understand it's common practice in a legal document, but we argue to no avail that it's unnecessary in an intranet story or internal email because "company" is a common noun. I see one previous similar question, but can you help us put this to rest by confirming in this example that the common noun shouldn't be capitalized? Thanks so much!


The corporate world does love its capital letters. But you are correct: In our style, the word company standing alone is lowercase because it's not a proper noun. You may be fighting a losing battle, however. It's pretty common for companies to do their own thing when it comes to capitalization. We, however, strongly agree with you.

Question from Charlotte Hall, Maryland, on Feb. 02, 2024

Is the illness Lung Cancer capitalize?


No. Here's the entry: 


Do not capitalize diseases such as cancer, emphysema, leukemia, hepatitis, etc.
When a disease is known by the name of a person or geographical area identified with it, capitalize only the proper noun element: Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Ebola virus disease, etc.
Other than in direct quotations, avoid such expressions as: He is battling cancer. She is a stroke victim. Use neutral, precise descriptions: He has stomach cancer. She had a stroke. They are being treated for malaria.

Question from Portland, Oregon, on Jan. 31, 2024

For paid family and medical leave, do you advise lowercasing it or capitalizing it when it's used as a descriptive term and not part of an official name? I assume if it's part of an official program or department name, then we would capitalize it? 


Lowercase as a descriptive term. Uppercase in a department name. Capitalize the Family and Medical Leave Act. As for individual programs, determine whether it's necessary to use the formal name (which often can be clunky) or if a shorter, descriptive approach could work.

Question from Washington, on Jan. 31, 2024

What is the accepted way to reference a decade in AP style? Is it to spell it out (ex. 1960s) or can it be shortened (ex. '60s)?


Either is fine. The longer form is more formal and the shorter more informal, so use what's appropriate for your piece and your audience.


Use Arabic figures to indicate decades of history. Use an apostrophe to indicate numerals that are left out; show plural by adding the letter s: the 1890s, the '90s, the Gay '90s, the 1920s, the mid-1930s


Question from Casper, Wyoming, on Sept. 11, 2023

Hello Paula!

I have a question that is driving me crazy. Here is the sentence in question:

The event will begin with a social hour and cash bar, followed by dinner at 6:30 p.m. Cavigelli’s presentation will start at 7, followed by a live auction at 7:30.

The director of this event wanted :00 after 7. When I explained that that was not AP Style, she responded with an email that included a photo of her 2017 AP Stylebook and this comment: “My copy doesn’t specify that 7:00 is objectionable.  Please list it as either p.m. or :00.”
Help! Which is correct, per AP?

Thank you!


There's a line between following AP style to the letter, and doing what's necessary to keep the customer satisfied (within reason).

It's true that we don't say 7:00 is objectionable. But when we say our style is 7 p.m., it's implied that our style is not 7:00 p.m.

The good news: She gave the option of including p.m. and I think that's a reasonable option. In our heart of hearts, we think the p.m. is pretty apparent (the presentation wouldn't start at 7 a.m. following a 6:30 p.m. dinner). But including the p.m. dresses up the stand-alone 7 a bit and wouldn't strike most people as odd. 

So how about: 

The event will begin with a social hour and cash bar, followed by dinner at 6:30 p.m. Cavigelli’s presentation will start at 7 p.m., followed by a live auction at 7:30 p.m.

Or if the organizers are really in love with :00, then go with it. We need flexibility ...

Question from KANSAS CITY, Missouri, on April 14, 2023

Would there be a comma after 2021 in this: "between February 1, 2021 and February 22, 2023, the ..."


Yes, a comma after 2021. Also: In AP style, we abbreviate most months when used with a date. So our style is: between Feb. 1, 2021, and Feb. 22, 2023, the ...

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.


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.


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


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 Annapolis, Maryland, on June 26, 2024

In legal and technical writing, I sometime see numbers spelled out followed by the Arabic numeral in parenthesis, e.g., fifteen (15) units. This seems anachronistic to me. What is the correct usage?


We don't do that in AP style. Other style guides might call for it in some types of writing. There's no "correct" usage. It's a matter of which style you follow.

Question from New York, New York, on June 25, 2024

Does the numerals in headlines rule apply to ordinals? 
"For Tesla's futuristic new Cybertruck, a fourth recall"


Yes. From the headlines entry:

— Use numerals; do not spell out numbers except in casual uses or formal names: hundreds instead of 100s; Big Ten; one of the first. Spell out ordinals under 10: first, ninth, etc. But: 10th, 23rd, 104th.

Question from Warrenton, Virginia, on May 13, 2024

Can you start a sentence with the numeral with the word million such as...
“$44 million to treat an operation...
or do you write it out..."Forty-four million dollars to treat an operation...


We spell out numbers when they start a sentence. But it's much better to rephrase to avoid that situation. Assuming it's not exactly $44 million: about $44 million, at least $44 million, almost $44 million, more than $44 million ... whichever is accurate could be used to start the sentence.

Question from on May 13, 2024

How would you talk about the data mentioned in this sentence? "We adjusted the original adult definition of complexity from adults with > 4 out of 10 specified health conditions to adults with >4 out of 8 conditions."

Would you keep the symbols? 


We use figures for ratios (1 in 4 voters). But I wouldn't consider your example a ratio. So I'd use words: adults with more than four of eight conditions. And we definitely wouldn't use the > symbol.

Question from Wilmington, Delaware, on April 29, 2024

This is one the silliest work arguments ever. For Star Wars Day (ugh), the correct style would be "May the Fourth be with you" because numbers less than 10 are spelled out, right? 


I can see how this would turn into a work argument; I'm sure it would turn into a Stylebook team argument as well, if I were to raise it with the rest of the team. But I'm going to go it alone on this one.

Yes, we spell out numbers under 10 in general. But there are lots of exceptions.

We also  generally spell out ordinals (such as fourth) but there are exceptions to that, as well. Dates aren't listed as an exception because we typically don't write May 4th (instead, just May 4.) See below for that section of the numerals entry.

I think I'd go with May the 4th be with you. That's in keeping with our general guidance on dates. It's also how the Star Wars folks style it themselves. 


Numbers used to indicate order (first, second, 10th, 25th, etc.) are called ordinal numbers. Generally spell out first through ninth: fourth grade, first base, the First Amendment, he was first in line. Use figures starting with 10th. Use figures for ages: 4th birthday. Also: 3rd Congressional District; 2nd Precinct.

Question from on July 01, 2024

"A group of Republicans in Congress has/have introduced a proposal"?

Does the answer depend on whether the subject of the sentence is "group" or "Republicans" (and in that case which is it)? Or is the answer determined by whichever word is closest to the verb?


A group ... has proposed. Yes, the subject is group and that dictates the singular verb.

Question from Minneapolis, Minnesota, on Oct. 30, 2023

Hello, my question is concerning comma usage in when introducing poem, book, and podcast episode titles. I've searched your site and have not come across clear direction, and appreciate any clarity you can provide using the examples below:

When introducing a poem title:
Option A
Benjamin Gucciardi reads his poem, "The Rungs."
Option B
Benjamin Gucciardi reads his poem "The Rungs."

And in referencing the episode title of a podcast:
Option A
This poem was featured in Benjamin's conversation with April, "The Poetry We're Reading Now."
Option B
This poem was featured in Benjamin's conversation with April "The Poetry We're Reading Now."


These fall under the category of essential or nonessential phrases. Read the full entry for details.

In your first example, the answer depends on whether Gucciardi has one poem, or more than one. If he has only one poem, the name of the title is nonessential and thus the comma is used. If he has more than one poem, the name of this one is essential and there is no comma in that construction.

In your second example, it depends on whether he has only one conversation with April. In that case, use the comma.

If he has more than one conversation with April, no comma.

I know this can be confusing. But I think the entry spells it out reasonably well.

Question from Washington, District of Columbia, on Sept. 30, 2023

Question about a subhed in a news story. Wording as published is:
On Florida’s Gulf Coast, a loose coalition of activists, officials and Trumpworld celebrities is building the world they want to live in
Seems odd to me to have to use a singular verb for coalition when the sentence is clearly about many people and the world they want to live in. Certainly it wouldn't be the world it wants to live in. Are there exceptions to the singular rule for certain constructions using words like coalition?


I have pages of notes about this, focusing on the concept of notional agreement and the principle of proximity. Grammarians have differing views. We don't address it thoroughly in the Stylebook, yet. But in short: You'd have plenty of support in using the plural are for the verb. I'm among those in support.

Question from Fortville, Indiana, on Sept. 29, 2023

I would love to get your thoughts on a question that comes up frequently at my organization regarding the use of the word "talent." The answer to this question is helpful, but suppose for reasons outside your control you needed to use this word to refer to multiple individuals. Which of the following examples would you prefer?
These three talents have the strongest performance. (Pluralize talent with an "s")
These three talent has the strongest performance. (Collective noun taking singular verb--this seems weird.)
These three talent have the strongest performance. (Treat plural of "talent" like "deer")


Could you possibly let the people outside your control know that the AP Stylebook editor strongly (VERY strongly) recommends against this use, and can't find support for it in major dictionaries? There's a distinct fingernails-on-chalkboard effect. I could go on. And on and on.

OK, but if you have to use it, I guess I'd choose the first option. Definitely not the second. Maybe the third. It's hard to say what correct usage is for something that's not correct usage however you do it ...

Question from Fargo, North Dakota, on Sept. 14, 2023

"Their passion and focus on agriculture are evident and apparent." 

Ignoring any other potential problems with this sentence, my proofreading team feels the "are" should be changed to "is." It sounds really odd to us otherwise. However, when two nouns are joined by "and," the verb should be plural. Is "are" here incorrect? Would you change it? (Assuming rewording isn't an option.)

Thank you! 


It depends on on whether you view passion and focus as one concept (taking a singular verb) or two distinct concepts (taking a plural verb). In your example, I agree that the are simply sounds odd (not that sounds odd is a technical term, but it matters). And certainly passion and focus can be viewed as one concept. So I agree: Use the singular is.

On another note, I question whether you need both evident and apparent. How about one or the other? The two together are redundant. (Maybe that's one of your other potential problems!)

Question from Wenatchee, on July 09, 2024

When ending a sentence or clause with an acronym such as a.m. or U.S.A., should one use two periods or just one? 

For example, should one use "He went to the U.S.A.." or "He went to the U.S.A." ?


Just one period.

Question from San Diego, California, on July 04, 2024

When it comes to bulleted (or dashed) lists, each item takes punctuation, usually a period. I'm wondering if this same rule applies on a résumé, specifically in the Education section. This is the only bulleted section my client doesn't have punctuation: 

  • Pending in 2026 – M.S. XXXX, XXXX University

  • The Society for XXXX, 2024 Professional Membership

  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, The Centre for Organization Effectiveness

  • B.A. XXXX + 35 hrs. Project Management Body of Knowledge, XXXXX

I think periods are necessary here if for no other reason than consistency. Your input please and thank yoU!


We changed our guidance on lists, bulleted lists this year: We now don't use a period after a phrase or a single word. So in your example, no periods. 

lists, bulleted lists 

AP uses dashes instead of bullets to introduce individual sections of a list in news stories, but may use bullets in other formats. 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 at the end of each sentence in a bulleted list. Use no punctuation at the end of a single word or single phrase in each section of a list. Do not use semicolons.

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.

Examples of phrases with no punctuation at the end:

  • Cat videos
  • Home improvement shows
  • Word puzzles

Introduce the list with a short phrase or sentence: Our partners: or These are our partners: or Our partners are:

Question from Eagan, Minnesota, on July 02, 2024

In the prefixes entry, the rules for "anti-" words state:  "Note a number of exceptions. They include," implying that the list isn't exhaustive. Is anti-competitive still hyphenated, or should we follow Merriam-Webster's spelling?


The list indeed isn't exhaustive. But if a word isn't on the list, generally assume that we don't hyphenate it. (On the other hand, if you prefer the hyphen, that's OK too.) In this case, both we and M-W use anticompetitive.

Question from San Diego, California, on July 01, 2024

What is the correct punctuation for these sentences: He arrived with his wife, Emma. They celebrated their wedding anniversary and the college graduation of their daughter, Jordyn. Are commas necessary between "wife" and "Emma" and "daughter" and "Jordyn"?


The comma is needed if Emma is his only wife (presumably, she is). If Jordyn is their only daughter, the comma is needed. In those cases, the names are nonessential phrases and thus a comma is necessary.

If they have more than one daughter (let's say, Jordyn and EmmaSue), then the name becomes an essential phrase and no comma is used.

I know this sounds confusing! Details are in the essential phrases, nonessential phrases entry.

Question from Winnebago, Minnesota, on June 27, 2024

Should it be face to face or face-to-face?


CORRECTED: face-to-face, with hyphens, in all uses. This follows Merriam-Webster's style. 
Or: They met in person.

Question from California, on June 26, 2024

This entry suggests the use of an apostrophe for "how-to's":

But it seems that Merriam Webster omits the apostrophe ("how-tos"):

Can you please clarify?


We have one style; Merriam-Webster has another. Either can be correct. Choose the one you prefer. (We are generally, but not always, in synch with our primary dictionary. That's always been the case.)

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.


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)?


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

Question from on July 15, 2024

Hi Paula and the AP Team,
Meriam-Webster closes both "countrywide" and "citywide". In a document that uses both words, how would you style "Kingdom wide" as a postpositive adjective? 
Kingdom wide
Thank you!


Note the second part of that section of the suffixes entry. Could you rephrase?

-wide No hyphen for commonly recognized terms such as citywide, countywide, statewide, storewide, worldwide. But use a hyphen — or don’t use the construction at all — when combining with a proper noun and/or when the unhyphenated form would be awkward or hard to read, such as hospitalwide, NASAwide, Europewide. Often, it’s better to rephrase.

Question from Portland, Oregon, on July 01, 2024

Technical question: Did you change the rules regarding a hyphen before like as a suffix? The -like entry doesn't come up when I search for it, but it comes up in answers to questions about it. Thanks!


For what is intended to be cohesiveness and ease of use, previous individual entries for suffixes have been combined into one suffixes entry. Same with prefixes. Unfortunately, searching for an individual prefix or suffix doesn't take you immediately to the umbrella entry. I'm asking if there's a way to fix that. In the meantime, from the suffixes entry:

-like Generally no hyphen unless the letter l would be tripled or the main element is a proper noun. Examples: businesslike, catlike, childlike, doglike, lifelike. But: Norwalk-like, shell-like. An exception: flu-like.

Question from on June 25, 2024

I work in the energy industry. Based on recent change for prefixes, would it be subSaharan (conflicting with June 2023 guidance) and semisubmersible rig? Also, a jackup rig? Thanks.


It's sub-Saharan, following this unchanged guidance from the prefixes entry: 

Three rules are constant:
  • Use a hyphen if the prefix ends in a vowel and the word that follows begins with the same vowel. Exceptions: cooperate, coordinate, and double-e combinations such as preestablish, preeminent, reenact, reelect.
  • Use a hyphen if the word that follows is capitalized: un-American, for example.
  • Use a hyphen to join doubled prefixes: sub-subparagraph.

And: semisubmersible. Merriam-Webster hyphenates jack-up for the rig and we will follow the dictionary lead on that.

Question from Jim Miller, Green Street News, on June 24, 2024

Hi. The examples you provide in your newest prefix guidance on when to use a hyphen after "half" and when not to are helpful. But it's hard to decide whether to use a hyphen in other cases. Can you explain the thinking behind these? And specifically, would you use "half mile" or "half-mile"?


half- is included in the list under this header, which you may have missed in the overall prefixes entry:

Generally use a hyphen with these prefixes unless listed without a hyphen in Merriam-Webster:

So, half-mile, following the guidance in that header for a term not listed without a hyphen in Merriam-Webster.

As for what the thinking was: It was an extraordinarily painstaking process melding our existing guidance, Merriam-Webster and common usage. Prefixes and suffixes are a messy bunch. As you know from the half- entry, that one in particular is fraught.

Generally use a hyphen with these prefixes unless listed without a hyphen in Merriam-Webster:

Hyphenated combinations include half-baked, half-life, half-truth, half-moon, half-cocked, half-hearted (the latter a 2024 change). Two-word combinations without a hyphen include half dozen, half brother, half off. One word, no hyphen, for some words including halfback, halftone.
Also: halftime as a noun, in keeping with widespread practice in sports copy. But half-time as an adjective outside sports contexts.

Question from Kansas City, Missouri, on May 01, 2024

Is it placemaking or place-making?


Use the hyphen, following this guidance in the suffixes entry:

-maker, -making No hyphen in commonly used words such as automaker, automaking; dealmaker, dealmaking; drugmaker (but drug-making); filmmaker, filmmaking; moneymaker, moneymaking; policymaker, policymaking; speechmaker, speechmaking. An exception: decision-maker, decision-making. Also: coffee maker. Avoid contrived combinations such as difference-maker and magic-maker. But if using less common terms such as those, include the hyphen. No hyphen with proper nouns, such as iPhone maker.


Comprehensive AP style guidance on your computer, tablet and phone

This searchable, customizable, regularly updated version of AP Stylebook offers bonus features including Ask the Editor and Topical Guides. Add Merriam-Webster Dictionary for a more comprehensive resource.

Your subscription includes the popular Ask the Editor feature, where you can ask your own questions and search thousands of past answers, and Topical Guides, offering guidance to help you write about events in the news.

Sign Up for our Newsletter

Keep up to date on style news. Sign up for our stylish monthly e-newsletter by submitting your email address below.

Sign Up

Request your free 14-day trial

Try AP Stylebook Online for yourself

We offer free trials of individual subscriptions and 10-user site licenses for AP Stylebook Online.

We will include access to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the official dictionary of the AP Stylebook.

At the end of your free trial, we will ask you if you would like to continue your service so you can keep any of the custom entries you created on Stylebook Online.

I want AP Stylebook Online:
Back to Top