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 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!

Answer

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.

Answer

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 Jan. 04, 2023

When introducing an initialism for a term that's used possessively, should the initialism also be possessive?

"The chief audit executive's (CAE's) meeting needs to be rescheduled."
or
"The chief audit executive's (CAE) meeting needs to be rescheduled."

(Our organization has a need to rely on initialisms frequently, and to clearly introduce them.)

Answer

You probably know that we don't put abbreviations or initialisms in parentheses following the spelled-out version. Look at those sentences. Aren't they awkward and hard to read no matter what you do about the possessive issue?

Perhaps CAE is as well known in your organization as CEO is generally, and thus maybe you wouldn't have to do the parenthetical? Does CAE appear elsewhere in the piece? If not, maybe you don't need it here.

If you have no other options, go with your first example above.





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

What is the preference for using "the" before association names? For example:
  • The AHA believes we should eat healthier.
  • AHA believes we should eat healthier.
  • I am grateful to join the AHA.
  • I am grateful to join AHA.
  • In the next five years, the AHA aims to decrease strokes by XX%.
  • In the next five years, AHA aims to decrease strokes by XX%. 
Thank you!

Answer

It's rather idiomatic. Some have a general rule that if the full proper name is generally preceded by the, then the abbreviation should be, too. Thus, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is the FBI. General Motors is GM. But often, varying usages develop organically. The Associated Press, my organization, used to be only the AP on second reference: Rain is falling, the AP reported. That's evolved into a preference by some within AP/the AP to drop the article: Rain is falling, AP reported.
 
In daily conversations, how do people refer to AHA/the AHA? Try to get a handle on that. And use that as your guide.



Question from on Nov. 17, 2022

If a month is used in a news headline such as October, should it still be abbreviated?

Answer

We prefer to spell out months in headlines when standing alone (without a date). But an abbreviation is OK if needed for space reasons.

We always abbreviate months (except March, April, May, June, July) when used with a date: Jan. 6, Sept. 11.



Question from Groveland, Florida, on Jan. 25, 2023

I am an employee for the City of Groveland. Is it correct that when writing a news release for the city, Associated Press prefers the word 'city' to be lowercase except when saying 'The City of Groveland?' Furthermore, it is preference if the word 'city' is lowercase or capitalized? As in, "The City of Groveland is deeply committed to protecting the health and welfare of our residents. The Mayor and Members of Council have received several emails identical in nature urging the city to take action."

Answer

We use lowercase for city in constructions such as that. We recognize that government entities often prefer to capitalize it. If you want to, that's certainly your option. We also lowercase the title mayor when it's not directly before a name. We lowercase members. And we'd spell out the council name on first reference. So, assuming the council's full name is Groveland City Council, our style is:

The city of Groveland is deeply committed to protecting the health and welfare of our residents. The mayor and members of the Groveland City Council have received several emails identical in nature urging the city to take action.

Again, you could choose otherwise.

Here's the capitalization entry.



Question from Granite Falls, Minnesota, on Jan. 23, 2023

I'm wondering how the AP address capitalizing proper plurals. I'm writing a press release about two fish hatcheries in Minnesota: the Lanesboro State Fish Hatchery and the Peterson State Fish Hatchery. When the two are mentioned together, would it be the Lanesboro and Peterson state fish hatcheries or the Lanesboro and Peterson State Fish Hatcheries?

Answer

the Lanesboro and Peterson state fish hatcheries. You can use the general guidance from the rivers entry. Not that it would occur to anyone to check that entry. Perhaps we should do something broader ...

river 


Capitalize as part of a proper name: the Mississippi River.
Lowercase in other uses: the river, the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.



Question from Rochester, New York, on Jan. 12, 2023

I work at a law firm and many attorneys like to use the word "Firm" (initial cap) in many marketing materials instead of "firm" (lowercase) and/or the full law firm name. Is there a rule I can follow to persuade colleagues to use "firm" in lowercase?

Answer

Here's the capitalization entry. Note that it begins: In general, avoid unnecessary capitals. Standing alone, the word firm is not a proper noun and thus not capitalized. The same goes for other words such as university, company, committee, state, etc. It also wouldn't be capitalized in a phrase such as the law firm of McKenzie, McIver and McAdoo unless somehow the term law firm is part of the proper name. 

We are (painfully) aware that many in the corporate and legal worlds do love their capital letters. Many tend to Capitalize some Terms for Special Emphasis, or often, for No reason at All. We view this as a distraction for readers, making it hard to comprehend the actual substance. Presumably anyone who is exploring what a particular law firm has to offer doesn't need or want to be distracted from their main mission.



Question from Appleton, Wisconsin, on Jan. 03, 2023

We use U.S. Tax Court  This court handles appeals in tax cases for the first reference. Upon second reference would you capitalize tax court? 

For example: The U.S. Tax Court ruled... XYZ. The tax court's ruling XXXX. 

Answer

Yes, we'd capitalize on second reference. That's what we do for the U.S. Justice Department (Justice Department on second reference) or the Boston City Council (City Council on second reference). Note, though, that one-word references to all of these are lowercase on later references: the court's ruling, the department's position, the council's next move.


Question from College Station, Texas, on Dec. 01, 2022

I have a capitalization question. I am writing: "(name of program) has launched programs at seven different locations throughout Austin, including Travis Heights, J.J. Pickle, T.A. Brown and J. Houston elementary schools."

Should I leave 'elementary schools' lowercase since they are all collectively elementary schools? 

Answer

Yes, lowercase for that reason. You also can delete the word different. Seven location are, by definition, different locations.


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.

Answer

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.


Answer

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


years 


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!

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 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.

Answer

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 Washington, DC, District of Columbia, on Jan. 15, 2023

Should units of measure in a quote be spelled out or should we use a figure? 

Example: six inches or 6 inches

 "At 10, I attempted suicide in my bathtub in six inches of water,” he said. 

Answer

If it's a spoken quote, it's 6 inches. Here's the guidance from 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.

When quoting written words, retain the style used by the writer; do not alter the written words even if they don’t match AP style.




Question from Cleveland, Ohio, on Dec. 02, 2022

When writing about degrees as a measurement, as in "letting your knee move 3 degrees," should it be the numeral or written out (as in, the general one thru nine rule wouldn't apply because it's a measurement)?

Answer

Use the numeral, because it's a measurement.


Question from Dover, Delaware, on Nov. 08, 2022

In terms of "zero to 60 mph" speed ratings, is it best to keep the decimal point for whole seconds to ensure consistency?
Example: Car A had a zero-to-60 time of 7.6 seconds, but Car B came in at 8.0 seconds.
Or: Car A had a zero-to-60 time of 7.6 seconds, but Car B came in at eight seconds.

Answer

For this one, I'd break one but not two of our general style rules. I'd use the figure 8, not the word eight, for consistency with the 7.6. But I wouldn't add the .0.

Since we're open to the breaking of rules when that makes most sense, you're certainly welcome to break two rules in this case ...



Question from on Nov. 02, 2022

In a chart, would it be appropriate to say "1+ night" or "1+ nights" (plural)?

Answer

Make it 1+ nights. (We don't use the + sign other than as described in this entry, but it's sensible to make an exception for charts.)


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?

Answer

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?

Answer

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 Columbus ,Ohio, on Nov. 18, 2022

Hi Paula: For a sentence that uses the "dash" separation for emphasis -- for example: "The star player -- and the team's owner who pays the salaries" -- has/have mixed feelings about the championship game." In other words, does setting off a second subject in such a dash construction (or I suppose you could use commas construction for emphasis, too) keep the subject/verb agreement as singular? Thanks!

Answer

Yes, it's still singular. Treat the material between the dashes (or commas) as parenthetical. The star player is still the subject. So: The star player -- and the team's owner who pays the salaries" -- has mixed feelings about the championship game.

On another point: If there is only one owner, you need a comma after the word owner. If there is more than one owner and you are talking specifically about the one who pays the salaries (not the one who speaks at public events), then no comma. See the essential clauses, nonessential clauses entry.




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 on Jan. 26, 2023

Should these be hyphenated? "We got to chat with two of students, eighth-grader Joe Smith and fifth-grader Susie Jackson." Why?

Answer

We don't use hyphens in that case, because we think the meaning of eighth grader and fifth grader is perfectly clear without the hyphen. Here's the entry:


grade, grader 


No hyphen in most cases: a fourth grade student, first grader, she is in the fifth grade. (A change in 2019.) Do hyphenate if needed to avoid confusion, such as when combined with another ordinal number: He was the sixth fourth-grade student to win the prize; she is the 10th third-grader to join.



Question from Columbia City, Indiana, on Jan. 23, 2023

I have a question regarding the serial comma when a series has a conjunction within the elements. Here is your example: I had orange juice, toast, and ham and eggs for breakfast.
But what if "ham and eggs" was at the beginning of the series? Would you still add a comma before the final "and"? I had ham and eggs, orange juice, and toast for breakfast.

Answer

Yes. It doesn't matter where in the series, or in the breakfast, the phrase comes. Use a comma before the final and in your example.


Question from Lenexa, Kansas, on Jan. 23, 2023

How would AP hyphenate "electric car friendly" in a headline? Electric car-friendly? Or electric-car-friendly?

Answer

Electric car-friendly. See this section of the hyphen entry:

MULTIPLE COMPOUND MODIFIERS: If the phrase is easily recognized without hyphens, use a hyphen only to link last element: They hope to spark consumer interest in department store-based shopping. She said assistant vice president-managed courses should include real estate licensing-related materials. (Again, rephrasing may be a better option.)


Question from on Jan. 20, 2023

Hello!

Should there be serial comma in the following: 
diversity, equity and inclusion? 

Answer

No comma in our style. We don't use the Oxford comma in very simple series: red, white and blue. John, Paul, George and Ringo. The United States, France, Saudi Arabia, Japan and Germany. Diversity, equity and inclusion. Here's the full comma entry.



Question from Omaha, Nebraska, on Jan. 19, 2023

Hi. Should I hyphenate "cost cutting" when used as a gerund/noun? Example: "Cost cutting works, but ..." or "Let's talk about cost cutting." Thank you for any help.

Answer

It's optional. Many readers would prefer the hyphen. But I say it's perfectly clear without the hyphen. And Merriam-Webster uses no hyphen as a noun: The company needs to do some cost cutting.



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 Chula Vista, California, on Jan. 19, 2023

I know you don't generally use them, but when necessary, can Mr. and Mrs. stand alone without a last name? For example: "Their first moment as Mr. and Mrs." or "When the fire broke out, the Mrs. and I ran for the door." I'm tempted to write them out, but the dictionary is saying Mrs. is short for "mistress," and that certainly does not translate to "Mrs." in a lot of contexts.
Thank you!

Answer

In your first example, I'd use the abbreviations as you do. In the second, I'd use the missis (actually I wouldn't use it as a direct quote; why quote it when you can paraphrase better?) On another note: Webster's New World College Dictionary prefers the spelling missis; Merriam-Webster goes with missus. Yet another reason to avoid the issue and paraphrase ...



Question from Chicago, Illinois, on Jan. 15, 2023

Would AP's preferred spelling for a three-person domestic partnership be "throuple" or "thrupple"? The former parallels "couple" but pronunciation isn't readily apparent; the latter is easier to sound out.    Webster's New World College Dictionary lists neither spelling. Urban Dictionary has both. The word is in quoted material.

Answer

Do you need to use the quoted material as a quote, or can you paraphrase? Needless to say, we don't have a preferred spelling for this. Throuple certainly makes more sense. 

Question from Bethesda, Maryland, on Jan. 10, 2023

Is there an accent over the "e" in San Jose, California?

Answer

In our current style, we use accent marks and other diacritical marks only for people, not for places or things. Of course, you could choose to do otherwise.



Question from Tampa, Florida, on Jan. 06, 2023

What is the plural of "Rep.-elect?" is it "Reps.-elect" or "Rep.-elects?"

Answer

Reps.-elect. See this section of the plurals entry:

For those that involve separate words or words linked by a hyphen, make the most significant word plural:
–Significant word first: adjutants general, aides-de-camp, attorneys general, courts-martial, daughters-in-law, passers-by, postmasters general, presidents-elect, secretaries-general, sergeants major.
–Significant word in the middle: assistant attorneys general, deputy chiefs of staff.
–Significant word last: assistant attorneys, assistant corporation counsels, deputy sheriffs, lieutenant colonels, major generals.

Question from Seattle, Washington, on Dec. 21, 2022

book smart vs. booksmart? 

Answer

I'm not sure I'd use the phrase. But if I did, I wouldn't make it one word, which would be notsmart.


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