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
Question from Washington, District of Columbia, on Oct. 12, 2023
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
Question from on Sept. 15, 2023
Question from Los Angeles, California, on Aug. 31, 2023
Question from Charlotte Hall, Maryland, on Feb. 02, 2024
Question from Portland, Oregon, on Jan. 31, 2024
Question from Overland Park, Kansas, on Dec. 05, 2023
Question from Richardson, Texas, on Nov. 16, 2023
historically Black colleges and universities U.S. colleges and universities established before 1964 with the mission of educating Black Americans. The schools were founded at a time when Black students were barred from many institutions that served white people. Before these accredited, degree-granting institutions were created, no structured higher education system for Black students existed. There are approximately 100 such schools now, and they admit students of any race.
Question from on Oct. 31, 2023
Question from Washington, on Jan. 31, 2024
Question from Casper, Wyoming, on Sept. 11, 2023
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?
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
Question from Austin, Texas, on Nov. 15, 2022
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.
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
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.
Question from Lawrence, Kansas, on Jan. 21, 2024
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.
Question from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Nov. 22, 2023
For example: Economic uncertainty has affected available options: 63% of survey respondents said they would delay making key decisions in the next three months.
Is that correct, or should 63% be spelled out sixty-three percent?
Question from San Francisco, California, on Oct. 31, 2023
I'm not convinced that the second decimal place is necessary. If you leave that out, you're definitely good with more than 2.6 billion ...
Question from on Aug. 24, 2023
AT THE START OF A SENTENCE: In general, spell out numbers at the start of a sentence: Forty years was a long time to wait. Fifteen to 20 cars were involved in the accident. An exception is years: 1992 was a very good year. Another exception: Numeral(s) and letter(s) combinations: 401(k) plans are offered. 4K TVs are flying off the shelves. 3D movies are drawing more fans.
Question from Virginia Beach, Virginia, on May 12, 2023
Question from Minneapolis, Minnesota, on Oct. 30, 2023
When introducing a poem title:
Benjamin Gucciardi reads his poem, "The Rungs."
Benjamin Gucciardi reads his poem "The Rungs."
And in referencing the episode title of a podcast:
This poem was featured in Benjamin's conversation with April, "The Poetry We're Reading Now."
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
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?
Question from Fortville, Indiana, on Sept. 29, 2023
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")
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
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.)
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 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Aug. 31, 2023
Grammatically, “severity and frequency” are a compound subject, so the sentence requires a plural verb. But “severity and frequency” also function as a singular idea. Would “has” being more appropriate verb in that sentence, or is this down to a judgment call?
Question from Chicago, Illinois, on Jan. 26, 2024
I always understood this to be the rule for quotes with attribution only in the first paragraph, and then the missing quotation mark implies the attribution carries over to subsequent paragraphs. But what about long quotes that have an attribution by the same author in the second or subsequent paragraphs ("she continued" or "he added")? Would you still drop the quote at the end of the paragraph? Or do you use quotation marks at the beginning and end? Or would you get rid of the attribution altogether and stick with the rule? Thank you!
"Push your water glass on the floor wack the mini furry mouse. Throwup on your pillow cuddle no cuddle cuddle love scratch scratch but stare out the window paw your face to wake you up in the morning but sleep on my human's head destroy the blinds for meow to be let in," she said. "Love and coo around boyfriend who purrs and makes the perfect moonlight eyes so i can purr and swat the glittery gleaming yarn to him (the yarn is from a $125 sweater) you have cat to be kitten me right meow find empty spot in cupboard and sleep all day, miaow then turn around and show you my bum have a lot of grump in yourself because you can't forget to be grumpy and not be like king grumpy cat sleep all day whilst handler is at work, play all night whilst handler is sleeping.
"Don't wait for the storm to pass, dance in the rain that box? i can fit in that box, the fat cat sat on the mat bat away with paws," she continued. "Find something else more interesting the dog smells bad terrorize the hundred-and-twenty-pound rottweiler and steal his bed, not sorry russian blue or eat prawns daintily with a claw then lick paws clean wash down prawns with a lap of carnation milk then retire to the warmest spot on the couch to claw at the fabric before taking a catnap yet peer out window, chatter at birds, lure them to mouth.
"Scratch at the door then walk away chew on cable jump on fridge eats owners hair then claws head scoot butt on the rug so car rides are evil. Check cat door for ambush 10 times before coming in please let me outside pouty face yay! wait, it's cold out please let me inside pouty face oh, thank you," she said as she finally neared the end of this quote. "Rub against mommy's leg oh it looks so nice out, please let me outside again the neighbor cat was mean to me please let me back inside. Love you, then bite you cats are cute. Give attitude look at dog hiiiiiisssss and spill litter box, scratch at owner, destroy all furniture, especially couch i cry and cry and cry unless you pet me, and then maybe i cry just for fun, but a nice warm laptop for me to sit on and leave buried treasure in the sandbox for the toddlers for shed everywhere shed everywhere stretching."
You might also introduce the whole thing with a sentence and a colon.
Keirin, slowly emerging from anesthesia after her spay surgery, said to her handler:
Question from Portland, Oregon, on Jan. 24, 2024
TO CLARIFY A SERIES: Use semicolons to separate elements of a series when the items in the series are long or when individual segments contain material that also must be set off by commas:
Question from Washington, District of Columbia, on Jan. 17, 2024
Question from Hopkins, Minnesota, on Dec. 13, 2023
Hyphenate well- combinations before a noun, but not after: a well-known judge, but the judge is well known.
So: Are you well prepared?
Question from Tempe, Arizona, on Nov. 20, 2023
Seventy-seven million Americans struggle with poor health literacy and with making sound health decisions, costing the U.S. economy $238 billion each year.
Also, we'd avoid starting the sentence with a number that needs to be written out.
Instead: Some 77 million Americans struggle with poor health literacy and with making sound health decisions. That costs the U.S. economy $238 billion each year.
And I assume you'll explain why those issues are causing added costs?
Question from Bradenton, Florida, on April 09, 2023
jelly bean a small, bean-shaped candy with a soft, jellylike center and a hard sugar coating: also written jellybean n.
Question from Corvallis, Oregon, on July 19, 2022
Question from Longmont, Colorado, on April 08, 2022
Question from Indianapolis, Indiana, on Nov. 08, 2023
healthcare n. the prevention and treatment of illness or injury, esp. on a comprehensive, ongoing basis: also written health care.
Just curious about the reasoning for sticking with two words, especially when many in the field format it as one word.
I don't know why the decision was originally made to go with two words; it was before my time on the Stylebook team. Since then, we have revisited a number of times and each time decided to stick with two words in the absence of an overriding reason to change and given the great support for the two-word version.
We will continue to discuss periodically.
Question from Williamsport, Pennsylvania, on Oct. 24, 2023
Question from Northport, Alabama, on Sept. 28, 2023
The “basketball” entry includes spellings of frequently used words, including “free-throw line” (hyphenated).
The second entry is actually from Webster's New World College Dictionary, which you can get as part of your Stylebook Online subscription. The dictionary doesn't use the hyphen.
You can choose which version you prefer. Both are correct; they are just different styles.
Question from wyoming, Michigan, on Aug. 28, 2023
Question from Rochester, Minnesota, on Aug. 21, 2023
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