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 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 Bedford, New Hampshire, on Aug. 29, 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 on Oct. 31, 2023
Question from KANSAS CITY, Missouri, on Oct. 24, 2023
Question from on Oct. 19, 2023
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 Rochester, Michigan, on Sept. 15, 2022
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 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 New York, New York, on May 01, 2023
The girl invited everyone in class to celebrate her fifth birthday.
Generally, we use words for ordinals ninth and under. But there are exceptions, such as 9th Precinct, 3rd Congressional District. Presumably the editors who came before me settled on that style since political districts in general take figures. And we say to use figures for ages. Thus, I'd say 5th birthday for the age.
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 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 on Nov. 20, 2023
Question from Washington, District of Columbia, on Nov. 09, 2023
Question from Boston, Massachusetts, on Nov. 03, 2023
From My Life is Murder, an Australian drama starring Lucy Lawless (Xena: Warrior Princess); to Edward III: Britain’s Traitor King, a documentary that delves into the scandal that followed the monarch’s abdication; to the new fundraising special Freddie Mercury: The Tribute Concert -- our new content covers the genres your viewers crave.
Our new content covers the genres your viewers crave. That includes My Life is Murder, an Australian drama starring Lucy Lawless (Xena: Warrior Princess); Edward III: Britain’s Traitor King, a documentary that delves into the scandal that followed the monarch’s abdication; the new fundraising special Freddie Mercury: The Tribute Concert; and much more.
Question from on Oct. 26, 2023
We do say the prefixes over and under generally don't take a hyphen. But to me, the terms overinvoicing and underinvoicing are hard, if not impossible, to read.
I'd use the hyphen. For the sake of the readers.
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
SUBSCRIBE TO AP STYLEBOOK ONLINE
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.