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 Washington, District of Columbia, on March 23, 2023

Hi! Saw in a Poynter newsletter that the + was added to the LGBTQ entry in the stylebook. I wanted to make sure this is accurate because it's not appearing in the stylebook under the LGBTQ or gender entries. Thank you!


It probably was just about to be updated online when you submitted the question. It's there now, under the gender, sex and sexual orientation umbrella:

LGBTQ+ (adj.) Acceptable in all references for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer and/or questioning. In quotations and the formal names of organizations and events, other variations such as LGBTQIA are also acceptable with the other letters explained. I generally stands for intersex, and A can stand for asexual (a person who doesn’t experience sexual attraction), ally (some activists decry this use of the abbreviation for a person who is not LGBTQ+ but who actively supports LGBTQ+ communities) or both. Use of LGBTQ+ is best as an adjective and an umbrella term: Walters joined the LGBTQ+ business association. Avoid it to describe individuals or, for instance, if the group you’re referring to is limited to bisexuals. Queer is often used as an umbrella term covering people who are not heterosexual or cisgender and is acceptable for people and organizations that use the term to identify themselves. Do not use it when intended as a slur. Follow guidelines for obscenities, profanities, vulgarities as appropriate. See sexual orientation; gender identity.

Question from Casper, Wyoming, on Feb. 21, 2023


I am writing a story that contains the address for people to send in donations. My question is how should I handle a C/O? 
XYZ Corporation
C/O John Smith

Would it be "Send donations to XYZ Corporation, C/O John Smith, 123 Whatever St., Casper, WY, 82601."
"Send donations to XYZ Corporation, in care of John Smith, 123 Whatever St., Casper, WY, 82601"

Thank you!


The second way is easiest for readers to understand. Not everyone knows what C/O means. Some people might then turn it in to C/O when they address their envelope. Others might write out "In care of" on the envelope. Either way, I think the letter carriers will understand it.

Question from London, on Feb. 20, 2023

if you make a reference to FAQs should you spell it out as "Frequently asked questions (FAQs)" at first mention?  Or is FAQs sufficiently well understood to not need spelling out?


Here's the entry: 

FAQ  Acceptable in all uses for frequently asked questions.

Question from London, on Feb. 02, 2023

What's your policy on referring to an athlete as the GOAT? All-caps, no periods seems common elsewhere (and with periods -- G.O.A.T. -- looks super weird). Does it need to be explained in the context of a sports story?

Can we get an official ruling from the GOAT of style guides? ;-) Thanks!


AP sports stories use GOAT, all-caps with no periods. We generally define the term but not always. Here are a couple of examples:

Already considered the GOAT — greatest of all time — Brady finally walked away from the NFL on Wednesday following the most difficult, emotionally draining season in his life.

In a story about Messi: Competition is fierce when it comes to determining the greatest of all time, or the GOAT, as it has come to be known. It can come down to the smallest of margins that separate players of such brilliance.

The term GOAT has been known to show up in AP sports headlines, without an explanation immediately attached. Usually it's in the story but sometimes not.

We do love being the GOAT of style guides!

Question from Carmichael, California, on Jan. 30, 2023

Hello! I'm curious why AP doesn't use ASD on second reference for autism spectrum disorder.


We generally avoid such shorthand unless it's very widely known and used. FBI, CIA, WHO, NATO, etc. We also avoid alphabet soup, which can happen when writers or editors use a lot of acronyms or initialisms.

Of course, if your audience is very familiar with ASD as shorthand, you certainly can use it.

Here's the abbreviations and acronyms entry.

Question from on March 22, 2023

Meriam Webster defines "low earth orbit" as a noun, all lower case without hyphens. AP style on Earth calls for a capital E when referring to the planet. So, which of these examples is the correct mix of MW and AP?
- a satellite in low earth orbit
- a satellite in low Earth orbit
- a satellite in low-Earth orbit

Bonus: a low-Earth-orbit satellite?


First, a reminder that our primary dictionary is Webster's New World College Dictionary, not Merriam-Webster, which is entirely separate. We do consult with M-W, however.

That said, WNWCD doesn't list the term. So, on to M-W.

We'd default to our own style of capitalizing E when referring to the planet (and M-W does note that use).  We'll go with low Earth orbit. While there certainly are arguments for hyphenating, that style isn't M-W's nor does it appear to be common usage (however "common usage" is defined with that term). Which takes me to: Define the term if at least some of your readers don't know what it is.

Question from Dundee, Michigan, on March 17, 2023

Should the word "with" be capitalized in a title or headline? Googling gives me so many contradictory answers and I would finally love to know for sure what the rule is. Thanks.


There's no universal rule. There are various styles, which is why you see different versions in online searches. In AP style, we have one style for headlines (those that are on stories online or in newspapers) and a different style for composition titles (of books, movies, plays, poems, albums, songs, operas, radio and television programs, lectures, speeches, and works of art.)

In our headline style, we capitalize only the first word, proper names/proper nouns, and the first word after colons. So with wouldn't be capitalized in our headline style unless if falls in one of those three categories. Other styles might capitalize all or most words in headlines.

You can choose which style you want to use. Then be consistent in using it.

You also can choose to use AP style on most points, but differ from our style on headlines (or on anything). 

Question from Dover, Delaware, on March 08, 2023

Good morning! A quick question. Should "state" be lowercase or capitalized when utilized as a noun. For instance: "Delaware is a great place to live and that is because the state..." or should it be "Delaware is a great place to live and that is because the State..." Said another way as well: "Delaware is a great place to live. That is because the state..." or "Delaware is a great place to live. That is because the State..." 

thanks so much!


We lowercase words such as state and city when standing alone, as in your examples. 

Question from Ohio, on March 01, 2023

Is Dad and Mom capitalized?


From the capitalization entry:
FAMILY NAMES: Capitalize words denoting family relationships when they substitute for a person's name: I wrote Mom a letter. I wrote my father a letter.

Question from Williamsport, Pennsylvania, on Feb. 24, 2023

corner of Clayton and Hanley roads to

Question: does the r in roads need to be capped?


No. For more than one road, mountain, river, etc., it's lowercase for the common noun element.

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 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!


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?



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


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


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 Waunakee, Wisconsin, on Feb. 21, 2023

Hi AP. I'm reviewing an article about types of properties that include two to four units, for example, duplexes or triplexes.

The author is using the umbrella term 2-4 unit property to describe these properties.

Does the term 2-4 unit property fit with AP Style? Or would something like two-to-four-unit property or 2- to 4-unit property be more appropriate? Thanks!


It doesn't fit with AP style. But really, I'm not finding any good way of doing it in a readable way other than to use more words. My choice would be to use more words. Put yourself in the mind of the reader. What is easiest to read and understand? I'd write: a property of two to four units. Or properties of two to four units each. Or something along those lines. 

Question from SYRACUSE, New York, on Feb. 21, 2023

The six-month investigation... OR, The 6-month investigation? The entry on numerals advises: AGES: a 6-year-old girl; an 8-year-old law; the 7-year-old house. Use hyphens for ages expressed as adjectives before a noun. So is "6 months" the "age" of the investigation?


The six-month investigation. Or, the 6-month-old investigation. Confusing, I know.

Question from on Feb. 12, 2023

Hi Paula,
I am editing a long document that will cover the experience of multiple people. Is it okay not to spell 3 in the following sentence as it has another figure? 
"He has over 10 years of experience in marketing and 3 years of experience in public relations."
Also, if the writers wrote short bios about themselves and some of them used abbreviations for their academic degrees while others used full terms, would you enforce consistency or would you leave them as they are?
Thank you very much!


We would spell out three in this example even though it has another figure. See this charming example from the numerals entry:

IN A SERIES: Apply the standard guidelines: They had 10 dogs, six cats and 97 hamsters. They had four four-room houses, 10 three-room houses and 12 10-room houses.

On the other question, we much prefer consistency. And to the question that no doubt will follow: We don't have standard abbreviations for most academic degrees other than those listed in that entry. You can choose your own style and then stick with it. 

Question from Atlanta, Georgia, on Feb. 10, 2023

How would AP advise treating 'a billion percent' in the sentence The transformation allows for a billion percent increase in the material’s conductivity.


As you have it. But be sure the context makes clear whether that's intended as an actual, technically correct number, or just a figure of speech roughly translating to "really, really big."

Question from Chicago, Illinois, on Jan. 20, 2023

When quoting someone, do you write "10th" or "tenth?" E.g., "She finished 10th," said [person's name] at the event.

Thank you.


She finished 10th. It doesn't matter if it's in a quotation. See this section of the quotations in the news entry.

When quoting spoken words, present them in the format that reflects AP style: No. 1, St., Gov., $3. But quotes should not be changed otherwise for reasons of style. If the speaker says towards, do not change it to toward.

I don't know why you'd use mundane phrasing such as that as a direct quotation, though. 

Question from Sacramento, California, on March 17, 2023

Which is correct: "number of deaths have" or "number of deaths has" — If one considers number the noun, it is *has* but is it also correct to consider the phrase *number of deaths* as the noun and then use *have* as the verb? 


Arguments abound on each side of this question. A good general rule: If it's preceded by the, use the singular because the emphasis is on the number: The number of deaths has increased. But if it's preceded by a, use the plural: A number of deaths have been attributed to COVID-19.

Question from Austin, Texas, on March 02, 2023

Happy Thursday and thank you in advance. I am struggling with the verbs meets and secures in this sentence. Should they be plural? "Consolidating our business at one site and transforming it to process fats, oils and greases both meets the needs for lower-carbon-intensity fuels and secures our employee-wage jobs.


You are, quite reasonably, struggling because you need to decide whether consolidating and transferring (ignoring the words in between) is one big umbrella concept, taking a singular verb, or two individual concepts, with plural verbs. This is one that could go either way.

I'd go with the single concept and singular verb. The singular verb also is easier for the reader to grasp because there are a lot of words between the first of those subjects (consolidating) and the verb. By the time we get to the verb, the reader may well have lost track of the fact that there possibly are two subjects. The singular verb makes more sense here.

Question from Monsey, New York, on Feb. 28, 2023


I know "anything" and "everything" are singular, but what if both words are used? Which sentence is correct: "Anything and everything gets dumped here." OR, "Anything and everything get dumped here."



You can consider anything and everything as one singular concept (though it's certainly lots of diverse stuff). So, anything and everything gets dumped here.

Question from Arlington, Texas, on Dec. 14, 2022

On this: Two million pounds of ice has been handcarved into sculptures -- should it be it have been? And if not, why?


It depends on whether you view the 2 million pounds as one thing, or multiple things. In this case, smaller amounts of the total ice mass have been carved into multiple sculptures. So view it as a plural subject with a plural verb: have been.

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?


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 Chula Vista, California, on March 21, 2023

Would it be a search-and-rescue mission or a search-and-rescue mission? I'm seeing mixed usage in AP stories.


No doubt you're seeing mixed usage because there's no firm rule and this one could go either way. My first thought is that search and rescue mission is clear without the hyphens. It's a known phrase; the absence of hyphens won't leave a reader confused by what's meant. On the other hand, we do typically hyphenate three-word modifiers such as this. See my indecision! OK, let's say hyphens are best for this one. To be consistent with the general guidance on three-word modifiers, as outlined in the hyphen entry.

Question from Reading, Pennsylvania, on March 17, 2023

Is fine dining hyphenated? I've seen it hyphenated and without when used as a compound adjective, like fine dining restaurant.


The hyphen is optional. One could argue that it should be hyphenated to avoid reading that it's a fine ... dining restaurant. But really, isn't the meaning the same? And the term fine dining is pretty well recognized as a single term. So I'd leave out the hyphen. But if you prefer to use it, that's certainly fine. Our hyphen entry goes on at some length about how hyphen use is often a matter of choice.

Question from Tacoma, Washington, on March 14, 2023

Hi, we work at a scuba diving magazine and would love to know: should we use a dash when referring to second-stage regulators and first-stage regulators? The scuba diving industry/gear manufacturers as a whole do not seem to use dashes but AP style would dictate we do. What do you suggest?


I think you mean hyphens, not dashes? As in second-stage regulators. We'd hyphenate those terms for general audiences to avoid confusion for people who aren't familiar with the terms. But, if you're writing and editing specifically for a scuba audience, for whom the terms would be perfectly clear without hyphens, then no need for the hyphens. That's also supported by what you see in industry use as a whole.

And please note: We don't dictate that you do anything!

Question from on March 09, 2023

If I have a list of compositions and one of the composition titles includes a question mark, should I 1) place a serial comma inside the quotation marks, 2) outside the quotation marks, or 3) omit it all together? For example: 

1) Anthony Trollope's Palliser novels include "Can You Forgive Her?," "Phineas Finn," and "The Eustace Diamonds."
2) Anthony Trollope's Palliser novels include "Can You Forgive Her?", "Phineas Finn," and "The Eustace Diamonds."
3) Anthony Trollope's Palliser novels include "Can You Forgive Her?" "Phineas Finn," and "The Eustace Diamonds."


To clarify a serial comma question that you didn't ask: We wouldn't use the serial comma after Finn in your example because it's a simple series, easily understandable without the comma.

As for the question you did ask, I'd go with Option 1. We generally don't combine the question mark with other punctuation. But in this case, I think it enhances clarity to use a comma there. Inside the quotation marks. (But that's not a serial comma. It's just a regular comma. The serial comma is the last comma in a series. In your case, the one after Finn.)

Question from Millburn, New Jersey, on March 09, 2023

fine-feathered friends OR fine feathered friends ? 


Do you mean the feathers are fine? In that case, fine-feathered friends.

Do you mean the friends are both fine and feathered (but perhaps coarsely feathered ...)? In that case, fine, feathered friends. Or perhaps fine feathered friends.

But I think you mean fine-feathered friends.

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 Kennesaw, Georgia, on March 16, 2023

Is there any chance AP will change "adviser" to "advisor?" As an editor, I want to follow AP style, but we have advertisers who are financial advisors and insist on having it spelled with an -or in their ads. Then I spell it with an -er in editorial copy, which causes inconsistency, and I hate inconsistency! Please consider. Thanks!


You certainly can use advisor if you prefer! Many people and organizations differ from AP style on one or many points. That's just fine with us.

Question from Holmes Beach, Florida, on March 16, 2023

Marine life or marinelife (as wildlife is one word). As a waterfront communityy newspaper, we frequently deal with marine life and it seems intuitive to address the subject as one work. (sorry ... but maybe the Y ke is not working)


We would use marine life. If you want to adopt a house style with the one-word version, that's certainly your right. FYI, though, the one-word version isn't recognized by Webster's New World College Dictionary, Merriam-Webster or the American Heritage Dictionary. It also doesn't get much traction in Google Trends or Google searches. But I see there is a Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Florida. So maybe it's a Florida spelling? 

Question from on March 10, 2023

QUESTION from ARLINGTON, Texas, on Dec. 28, 2020

Stand-alone or standalone? The stylebook entry is stand-alone, but I see in "Ask the Editor" that it's treated both ways.

ANSWERIt's stand-alone, according to both the Stylebook main entry and Webster's New World College Dictionary. Various editors of Ask the Editor, including myself, seem to have a mental block on that one because we don't like it.

If that's that case, and if Webster's is your reference for things on which you don't have a style (and, being a dictionary, is a history book rather than a rulebook so can be used for reference rather than instruction)...why not have a style? A style that you – and so many others – prefer?


We do have a style: stand-alone. We could drop it from the Stylebook, but deferring to Webster's New World College Dictionary (or for that matter, to Merriam-Webster, which is totally separate) would still result in stand-alone. There's no good reason to change simply because I (and other editors) tend to forget that particular rule. Since 2020, I have committed to always remembering this one.

All that said, I see in Google Trends that general usage strongly favors standalone. So does the American Heritage Dictionary. So there's that to consider. 

On the other hand, any time we change anything, there is outcry in the land.

Such is the Stylebook world. So many things to consider ...

Question from on March 06, 2023

Hi Paula,
How does AP use "gigaproject"? Should it be one word like "megaproject"?
If it's okay to close it, would it be okay to write "... the giga- and megaprojects," or would it be better to use the full forms in both instances?
Thank you!


We don't use the term. I'd hyphenate it since it's not as widely known or accepted as megaproject. But if you're using both terms in the same story and the inconsistency bothers you, it's fine to go with one word. Please, no giga- and megaprojects. Use the full forms in both instances. Or maybe just super-big projects? Kidding.

Question from deep inside the hype machine, on Feb. 21, 2023

Is it overhyped or over-hyped? The over- entry says to follow Webster's, but it's not listed there. It also says that a hyphen is seldom used, and "overhyped" seems like a common enough term to have achieved word status.


We agree: overhyped.


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 Webster's New World College 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.

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 Webster's New World College 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