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 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 Washington, District of Columbia, on July 11, 2022

Why does AP use all caps for the organization GLAAD? Since it's pronounced as a word, shouldn't it be Glaad?

Answer

It conforms with our general style for abbreviations of five letters or fewer, including COVID, SEPTA, DARPA, COBRA. We also use all-caps for some others that are widely known by that style, such as NASCAR and UNICEF.

Question from Danville, California, on July 08, 2022

I am working on a finance operations handbook for a client and have used the AP Stylebook abbreviations for states when listed. They would like to use the postal abbreviations. Several state abbreviations are listed and separated by commas. (i.e., Client will always file in Calif., Mass, N.J., N.Y. and Pa. if .......) Is there a particular preference as to which version should be used here??

Answer

For starters, in AP style we spell out state names except in datelines and photo captions. So our style is: The client will always file in California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania if ...

Of course, you could choose to follow a different style or create your own. If you or your client prefers postal abbreviations, that's your choice as well. We use postal abbreviations only in full addresses that include a ZIP code.


Question from New York, New York, on Sept. 26, 2022

Is there a rule regarding the use of quotation marks with phrases like "called" or "known as"? For example:

1. The informal group had so much success in the copyediting world that they became known as the "Word Nerds." 
2. The informal group had so much success.... they became known as "the Word Nerds."
3. The informal group had so much success... they became known as the Word Nerds. 

Is there a correct way? Is there not?
Thanks!

Answer

There's not really a rule or a correct way. Is there a reason to capitalize word nerds? Was that the formal title of this informal group? I'd go with the first option, but lowercase unless there's a particular reason to capitalize it. Also, group takes a singular pronoun.


Question from Brainerd, Minnesota, on Sept. 08, 2022

After trying to decipher a hard and fast rule from several other questions, I'm hoping for a definitive answer.
When referring to a member of a specific city council, would one write:
- council member John Doe,
- Council member John Doe, or
- Council Member John Doe?


Answer

It's council member John Doe.
If the reference is to a specific council but the context does not require the city name: City Council member John Doe (including the word City, which is how this differs from council member, lowercase).
We never capitalize member.


Question from on Aug. 11, 2022

Hi Paula, 
The entry for Great Resignation has two contradictory responses. Can we get some more robust guidance? Thank you.

Answer

Thanks for asking. The AP's business news team had a spirited discussion. The result: We do not think this will be a term that stands the test of time. First, a lot of people simply switched jobs. And now those who left are going back as the economy is challenged. We don’t think it rises to the degree of “Great Recession” (capitalized).

Thus, we will go with the "great resignation," with a brief explanation.


Question from on July 27, 2022

Would park ranger be capitalized if used as a title? 
"During the flood, Park Ranger John Smith was able to help a family to safety." 

Answer

We'd consider park ranger to be a job description, not a title. However, if the organization considers it a title, then it's capitalized before a name. More detail is in the titles entry.



Question from Aliso Viejo, California, on July 25, 2022

In a previous entry, a question was asked about the proper capitalization of "Greater Seattle area." The response was to lowercase "Greater" and use the term "greater Seattle area." Does that same rule apply to Toronto when the acronym "GTA" and the phrase "Greater Toronto Area" are commonly used for that area? The preferred Canadian style seems to be capitalizing each word.

Answer

We would still write greater Toronto area in our stories for broad audiences. If you are writing for a specific audience (say, Toronto residents) that are accustomed to a different style, then it's certainly fine to use the local style.


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 Boulder, Colorado, on May 16, 2022

If an event starts on the hour but ends on the half hour (or any other time) do you use :00 and :30? Or just :30 for the "off hour" time? For example, which is correct: the event is from 6:00-7:30 or 6-7:30?

Answer

The latter is correct.


Question from Louisville, Kentucky, on April 19, 2022

How is the holiday, 4-20, written?

Answer

We use a slash: 4/20.


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 on Sept. 06, 2022

Which is correct: "residents ages 6 months and older should go to..." or "residents ages six months and older..."

Answer

... 6 months. We use figures for ages.


Question from Indianapolis, Indiana, on July 11, 2022

In a feature story on a beef cattle farm, I am mentioning that in addition to selling cuts (steaks, ground beef, etc.), the family sells beef the traditional way, which refers to sections of a carcass. For example, if you are buying the meat from an entire steer, that's called "a whole beef," and if you're buying half a carcass, that's called "a half beef," often shortened to just "a whole" or "a half." But these days (freezer space being what it is for most people), you can also get "quarters," "eighths" and "sixteenths." My question is, should I spell out "sixteenths"? My instinct says yes, but I can't figure out if I have a good reason for this or not. The sentence in question is, "While they continue to offer on-farm sales of wholes, halves, quarters, eighths and sixteenths, they have expanded their marketing in several ways."

P.S. I just love the 'Ask the Editor' section! I check it often, even when I don't have a specific question.

Answer

I love Ask the Editor too, for the great variety of questions we get! Thank you for both your appreciation and your question.

You're probably not surprised when I say we don't have specific guidance on style for measurements of beef sections. But my instinct agrees with your instinct. Do what makes sense to readers.  And wholes, halves, quarters, eighths and 1/16ths is just weird. "Weird" is my technical term for it. Go with sixteenths for consistency and readability.


Question from Federal Way, Washington, on July 08, 2022

Here's a puzzler:
a) Figures are used for all numbers in ratios.
b) Spell out numbers at the beginning of a sentence.

I have two sentences that begin with ratios. Following the two pieces of guidance above, these sentences would look like this: "One in 2 school-aged children are not in school. One in 3 schools have been damaged or destroyed."

Spell out all, put all in figures, or leave the funny-looking mix?

Answer

Are the ratios exact? In other words, are 50% not in school and 33.33% of schools damaged or destroyed? If they're not exact, you could say: About 1 in 2 and about 1 in 3.

Or: Half of school-aged children. A third of schools ...

If you have to use the ratios and they have to start the sentences, I'd spell it out: One in two  and One in three ...


Question from Virginia Beach, Virginia, on July 06, 2022

If you were talking about a span of grade levels that combine both numbers under ten and ten or over in a school would you say:
  • grades three through 12
  • grades 3-12
  • grades three through twelve
  • grades three-12

Answer

I'd use the numerals for consistency, even though we usually use lowercase for grades nine and under.


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 Columbia City, Indiana, on Aug. 29, 2022

What is AP's rule regarding less than/fewer than in regards to weight? For example: is it "40 pounds or less," or "40 pounds or fewer"? Weight is countable, but "fewer" sounds awkward.

Answer

It's 40 pounds or less. The 40 pounds is considered a single quantity.


Question from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on June 27, 2022

I am having trouble figuring out the verb tense when a sentence contains a list. For example, which of the two is correct:
"I wanted to ask if there is additional information, documents, or resources you have access to."
Or,
"I wanted to ask if there are additional information, documents, or resources you have access to."

Should it be "are" because there are multiple things listed, or should it be "is" because the first listed item, "information," is singular. I also get confused because this list uses "or" instead of "and." I imagine that if this list used "and," it would be more evident that the verb tense should be plural.

Answer

It should be is, for the reason you surmise. 

Or make it easier on yourself:

"I wanted to ask if there are additional documents, resources or other information you have access to."  (Because this is a very simple series, we don't use the Oxford comma.)

And by the way, I have a Little Free Library here in Philly. Thank you for all you do!


Question from New York, New York, on Sept. 27, 2022

Hi. Would “hot dog and soda combo” get hyphens? Such as “hot-dog-and-soda combo”?

Answer

No. It's perfectly clear without hyphens.


Question from Burlington, New Jersey, on Sept. 21, 2022

Do we include the ' when we refer to a program titled "Indigenous Peoples' Weekend"?

Answer

No. Use the same style as for Indigenous Peoples Day:

Indigenous Peoples Day 


A holiday celebrating the original inhabitants of North America, observed instead of Columbus Day in some U.S. localities. Usually held on the second Monday of October, coinciding with the federal Columbus Day holiday. See Columbus Day.



Question from Hyphen Hell, on Sept. 21, 2022

In the phrase a group of mid- to late 20th century artists, how should I hyphenate?

Answer

 a group of mid-to-late-20th century artists

From the hyphen entry:


SUSPENSIVE HYPHENATION: Use these forms to shorten a compound modifier or a noun phrase that shares a common word:
When the elements are joined by and or or, expressing more than one element: 10-, 15- or 20-minute intervals; 5- and 6-year-olds. But: The intervals are 10, 15 or 20 minutes; the children are 5 to 6 years old.
When the elements are joined by to or by, expressing a single element: a 10-to-15-year prison term; an 8-by-12-inch pan. But: The prison term is 10 to 15 years; the pan is 8 by 12 inches.

Wow! I love your location!!


Question from Waunakee, Wisconsin, on Sept. 08, 2022

Hi AP. I'm editing an article about real estate contracts. The author is using a "Jeopardy" theme with her article, and she frequently makes the "what is ..." questions that are used on the show.

For example, a few section headers in the article are:
What is, prompt presentation of contracts?
What is breach of confidentiality?
What is: failure to check the boxes?

And since she did not use consistent punctuation with the "what is" questions, I've realized that I am not aware of any specific, consistent rule with punctuation with the "Jeopardy" questions when putting them in writing! 

Does AP have any insight or suggestions? Thanks!

Answer

Our first recommendation is consistency! But you already know that. Other than that, I will confess that we don't have specific rules about "Jeopardy" questions. I definitely wouldn't use the first option, with the comma. If you want to make clear and emphasize the "Jeopardy" theme, I'd go with the colon. Otherwise, the no-punctuation option is good.



Question from Lenexa, Kansas, on Sept. 07, 2022

I know AP Stylebook shows "around-the-clock" as always being hyphenated in all instances, and my agency has been following that guidance. But why is it always hyphenated, even when it's not directly modifying something? People have asked me why, and I don't know the answer. Thanks!

Answer

The Stylebook doesn't have guidance on that term. I believe you are looking at the Webster's New World College Dictionary entry, which you can get as part of your Stylebook Online subscription, Indeed, that dictionary does hyphenate in all uses.  I can't speak to the dictionary editors' reasoning.

However, I agree with you and would not hyphenate when not a modifier. And I would stick with that guidance around the clock. That's in keeping with this section of the hyphen entry:

Many combinations that are hyphenated before a noun are not hyphenated when they occur after a noun: She works full time. She is well aware of the consequences. The children are soft spoken. The play is second rate. The calendar is up to date. (Guidance changed in 2019 to remove the rule that said to hyphenate following a form of the verb to be.)

But use a hyphen if confusion could otherwise result, especially with longer compound modifiers or those that are not as commonly used: The steel surface should be blast-cleaned. The technology is state-of-the-art. The test was multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank. He will work arm-in-arm with the director.

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 on Sept. 26, 2022

Hi there. When I searched for "preadmission" the only Ask the Editor result said to use "pre-admission," with the hyphen. Merriam-Webster lists this now as "preadmission." Has AP made the shift, too? Thanks!

Answer

We follow our own guidance as described in the pre- entry. Since preadmission isn't in Webster's New World College Dictionary (our primary dictionary), we go with pre-admission. If you prefer Merriam-Webster's preadmission, that's fine too. They're both right. Just different styles.

pre- 

Follow Webster’s New World College Dictionary. Hyphenate if not listed there.



Question from Washington, District of Columbia, on Sept. 21, 2022

You've advised hyphenating anti-malarial previously, but there's a dictionary listing for antimalarial. Can you clarify?

Answer

We follow our style for anti- and in that style, anti-malarial is hyphenated. Webster's New World College Dictionary chooses not to use the hyphen. Either can be correct. It's a matter of which style you prefer. (I'd say that the hyphen-free version is hard to read ...)


Question from on Aug. 23, 2022

Multi dwelling unit, multi-dwelling unit, multi-dwelling-unit, or multidwelling unit? Please help us decide and standardize! :)

Answer

It's a multidwelling unit, following the guidance in the multi- entry as well as the spelling in Webster's New World College Dictionary.

multi-  The rules in prefixes apply, but in general, no hyphen.


Question from KANSAS CITY, Missouri, on Aug. 18, 2022

Is it posttransplant or post-transplant? AP notes post-traumatic; Merriam-Websters has posttransplant; and Webster's New World is mum. Thanks!

Answer

It's post-transplant in our style, following guidance in the post- entry: Follow Webster's New World College Dictionary. Hyphenate if not listed there.

Question from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Aug. 18, 2022

What is your recommendation for spelling colloquial pronunciations and AAVE? I know paraphrasing is a great way to go in some situations like this, but when the quote is really good, do we write "going to" even though the source said "gonna" and "fixing to" instead of "finna"? 

Answer

Here's the guidance from the quotations in the news entry:

Do not use substandard spellings such as gonna or wanna in attempts to convey regional dialects or informal pronunciations, except to convey an emphasis by the speaker.



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