Ask the Editor

Forgot your password? | Lost Username?

Ask the Editor provides answers, clarification and guidance on style issues that go beyond the pages of the AP Stylebook. Before posing a question to AP editor David Minthorn, search the accompanying style archives for your topic. With thousands of questions and answers on file, your topic has very likely been covered. For typical style questions and responses, visit Ask the Editor FAQ.

Not a subscriber? AP Stylebook Online subscribers can:

  • View the entire archive -- 20,242 answered questions and counting!
  • Submit questions to Ask the Editor
  • Search the complete Ask the Editor archive
  • View listings by categories (such as abbreviations, capitalization, figures, numerals, titles, etc.)

Annual subscriptions start at $26/year for individuals. Subscribe now or learn more.

Ask the Editor questions from the past week:

Q. How should this be written: "Downton Abbey's" wardrobe... OR without quotes around the title of the TV show, Downton Abbey's wardrobe? – from Casper, Wyo. on Tue, Sep 30, 2014

A. Write it as the "Downton Abbey" wardrobe.

Q. Would you capitalize entire wildfire names, as in the Station Fire, the Silverado Fire, etc? Or would you go Station fire, Silverado fire? I think uppercase, like Hurricane Andrew. I await your response. Thanks. – from Rosemead, Calif. on Tue, Sep 30, 2014

A. AP stories from California capitalized major burns like the King Fire and 2009 Station Fire.

Q. Could you weigh in on the best way to write non 12-Step program? Seems as though non-12-Step program would be most correct but -- ugh. I know you'll recommend rewriting so that it can be expressed another way, but in my industry, this is a familiar and much-used phrase. I'd very much appreciate your vote. Thanks! – from Carlsbad, Calif. on Tue, Sep 30, 2014

A. The prefix non- generally forms a compound with the root word. But it's hyphenated when the root is capitalized: e.g., non-Top 25 team. Your call on taking the step.

Q. When should on-the-go be hyphenated, if ever? – from Chicago on Tue, Sep 30, 2014

A. Hyphenated as a compound modifier: on-the-go business people.

Q. And I think the other new breed of dog recognized by the American Kennel Association is wirehaired Vizsla. wire-haired would be lowercase, yes? – from New York City, N.Y. on Tue, Sep 30, 2014

A. The breed is wire-haired vizsla, with a lowercase "v" in AP stories.

Q. In the following sentence there are multiple street treatments being presented as one overall design. Should there be any possessive apostrophes added? City staff will present the treatments design and listen to your feedback before completing the plan. – from Raleigh, N.C. on Tue, Sep 30, 2014

A. Try this: City staff will present a design for the treatments and listen to your feedback before completing the plan.

Q. For a new breed of dog is it Coton de Tulear or cotton de Tulear? Tulear is a city in Madagascar. – from Orysia, New York City, N.Y. on Tue, Sep 30, 2014

A. The breed is spelled lowercase coton de tulear, also known as the "royal dog of Madagascar."

Q. What's the best treatment for this descriptor of a retirement community - "55 " or "55 plus"? – from Seattle on Tue, Sep 30, 2014

A. AP stories use 55-plus age group.

Q. Is it Veterans Administration Hospital or Veterans Affairs Hospital on first reference? – from Brookhaven, Pa. on Tue, Sep 30, 2014

A. It's Veterans Affairs Hospital usually preceded by the city. On second reference, VA Hospital.

Q. I appear to be the only one who didn't get the message. Are we now calling children kids? – from Mobile, Ala. on Tue, Sep 30, 2014

A. While not a Stylebook term, kids is usually acceptable in news stories, particularly lighter fare, reflecting wide use in society. In some news situations, children as a more formal term may be more appropriate.

Q. How would AP reference one of Shakespeare's sonnets, as in "I read Sonnet 18"? – from Farmington, Maine on Tue, Sep 30, 2014

A. He said, "I read 'Sonnet 18.'"

Q. Should Holland in a story be written as "Holland, the Netherlands"? Or is it OK to leave as is (i.e., "Holland"). – from Cambridge, MA on Tue, Sep 30, 2014

A. Holland is the name of two provinces of the Netherlands (dateline term with the locality). Within texts, use Netherlands without the article.

Q. "Descendents of the deceased" or "Descendants of the deceased?" – from lincoln, ne on Mon, Sep 29, 2014

A. Deferring to the dictionary's primary spelling: descendant.

Q. When a comma is used following a song title that ends in an apostrophe, does AP recommend placing comma between the apostrophe and quotation mark? Or should the comma go before both the apostrophe and quotation mark? Example: In 1947 Williams cut his first version of "Honky Tonkin'," which kicked off with a fiddle lick. – from Santa Monica, Calif. on Mon, Sep 29, 2014

A. Comma inside the quote, but it looks odd and wouldn't be missed: In 1947 Williams cut his first version of "Honky Tonkin'" which kicked off with a fiddle lick.

Q. Is it correct to use hyphenation with first-come-first served basis or would you use it as first come, first served basis? Thank you. – from Hickory, N.C. on Mon, Sep 29, 2014

A. Make it first-come, first-served basis.

Q. Would you say think or thinks in this sentence: "It's your company's identity - how your customers and everyone else think(s) of you"? – from Kansas City, Mo. on Mon, Sep 29, 2014

A. ... how your customers and everyone else think of you.

Q. Are the periods correctly placed in the following sentence with parentheses? (Check all that apply.). – from HARRISONBURG, Va. on Mon, Sep 29, 2014

A. No period after the close parenthesis.

Q. What's the correct way to refer to Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai on second reference? – from Washington on Mon, Sep 29, 2014

A. AP stories from Afghanistan use Ghani Ahmadzai on second reference.

Q. RE the Feb 23, 2010 answer regarding implied comparisons...Is this way of making comparisons acceptable to AP, or should the comparison be spelled out specifically? For example, in this sentence, "Social media users tell three times as many people about a negative customer service experience..." is in necessary to spell out "than those who don't use social media" or is it implied? Also,if it is necessary to spell it out, is it acceptable to include it only in the first reference? i.e. "Social media users tell three times as many people about a negative customer service experience than those who don't use social media, and share negative experiences twice as often. " Thank you. – from Racine, Wis. on Mon, Sep 29, 2014

A. Specify the comparison unless it's clear from the context: i.e., set out earlier in the story.

Q. I can't seem to find if the dog breed Bichon Frise is named after a place or not. Do I capitalize the name? – from Orysia, New York City, N.Y. on Mon, Sep 29, 2014

A. The toy spaniel variety isn't capitalized: bichon frise. The French term means curly haired lap dog.

Q. When do I use the word "on" before dates? Sometimes I see it, sometimes I don't. Is their a hard and fast rule? – from Madison, Wis. on Mon, Sep 29, 2014

A. See the Stylebook's "on" entry for the explanation.

Q. Is "megatrends" (not in the dictionary) common enough usage to keep without hyphen? Thanks. – from Boston on Mon, Sep 29, 2014

A. No hyphen in megatrends.

Q. When writing about the type of law an individual practices is it capitalized or lowercase? Construction Law or construction law? – from Sarasota, Fla. on Mon, Sep 29, 2014

A. Lowercase the legal specialty.

Q. Dp you have a guideline for the writing of the acronym for Pacific Investment Management Co. The company website does it in all caps PIMCO but I see in news reports it is being written as Pimco. Which is correct? – from Orysia, New York City, N.Y. on Sun, Sep 28, 2014

A. See "company names" entry, which says to avoid all caps unless letters are individually pronounced.

Q. In AP Style, can I use a dash to set off a complete sentence within another sentence? Example: Even the larger social and historical questions that shaped the Cold War - Can a nation be free and have community at the same time? - remain relevant for our communities today. – from Denver on Sat, Sep 27, 2014

A. If not overused, it's acceptable under the ABRUPT CHANGE section of the Stylebook's "dash" entry. However, the "have community" reference would be too vague or sweeping for summing up the Cold War.

Q. What is the correct way to identify a Doctor of Psychology? Dr. John Smith or John Smith, Psy.D. – from Houston on Fri, Sep 26, 2014

A. See the "doctor" entry.

Q. Is it correct to use a comma to separate address and city in the following sentence? "The vehicles will be displayed at the Griggs Building, located at 424 Elmore Drive, in Culver City. – from Los Angeles on Fri, Sep 26, 2014

A. No commas needed in that sentence.

Q. Is it "this product features 3-in-1 functionality" or "this product features three-in-one functionality"? – from Bloomington, Ind. on Fri, Sep 26, 2014

A. The second is correct, adding an explanation.

Q. What is the correct style for referring to a credit rating agency raising or lowering a nation's credit rating or outlook? The S&P recently raised India's credit rating outlook to Stable or stable from Negative or negative. In other words, do we capitalize, leave the terms lowercase or add quotation marks? Also, in this example, would "outlook" be capitalized? – from New York on Fri, Sep 26, 2014

A. S&P recently raised India's credit rating outlook to "stable" from "negative."

Q. In the following sentence about a Canadian MP, is the capitalization correct? "The city council also heard petitions from neighborhood residents and local Member of Parliament John Doe." Or should that be "local member of Parliament John Doe"? – from Columbia, S.C. on Fri, Sep 26, 2014

A. ... and John Doe, a member of the Canadian Parliament who lives locally.

Q. Which is correct: %uFFFDsheriff%uFFFDs deputy%uFFFD or the less cumbersome %uFFFDdeputy sheriff%uFFFD? – from Portland, Maine on Fri, Sep 26, 2014

A. Go with the local preference.

Q. Sometimes I see stories in which shooting victims are said to be %uFFFDinjured,%uFFFD rather than %uFFFDwounded.%uFFFD Which is correct? – from Portland, Maine on Fri, Sep 26, 2014

A. A wound means the skin is broken or scraped, or a projectile has entered the body. Usually that's the case in a shooting.

Q. In a sentence that starts with a compound adjective, is it correct to capitalize only the first word,i.e., California's High-speed Rail System will start revenue service by 2020. – from , Austin, Texas on Fri, Sep 26, 2014

A. California's high-speed rail system will start ....

Q. There is some confusion among our staff regarding using the word "percent." For ranges, AP only uses the word percent once. However, some writers are dropping the word "percent" in other cases, too. Which is correct in this case: "The proportion of adults who have ever used e-cigarettes rose from about 3 to 8 percent from 2010 to 2012," or "The proportion of adults who have ever used e-cigarettes rose from about 3 percent to 8 percent?" – from Evanston, Ill. on Fri, Sep 26, 2014

A. For a range, 3 to 8 percent, based on the example in the "percent" entry.

Q. In the stylebook, it's small-holder for adjective, small holder for noun. But there are AP stories that use smallholder, one word. Can you clarify use? Has AP updated style? – from , on Fri, Sep 26, 2014

A. No, it's not a Stylebook entry. However, a few AP stories use small holder, two words, for the noun, though most use smallholder. The hyphenated modifier doesn't show in the AP archives. Webster's NWCD and Concise Oxford English use smallholder (n.), a British term for an agricultural plot smaller than a conventional farm. Go with that spelling.

Q. We're confused on when and when not to capitalize Mom or Mommy. For example, "I like to eat whatever Mommy/mommy gives me." Which is it? – from , Billings, Montana on Thu, Sep 25, 2014

A. Lowercase mommy, per Webster's entry.

Q. Hello. In reference to World War I, would it be correct to write: first world war - or first World War? – from Atlanta on Thu, Sep 25, 2014

A. World War I and World War II are preferred in the Stylebook entry.

Q. Should titles of apps be put in quotes? Examples: "Angry Birds" or "Yahoo Weather." Thank you. – from Virginia, XX on Thu, Sep 25, 2014

A. In the latest AP story usages this year, app titles are capitalized but not enclosed in quotes. Previously, we'd seen app titles enclosed in quotes.

Q. When ending a sentence with the abbreviation "U.S.", do I add another period after the S, to complete the sentence? Thanks so much for your guidance. – from San Francisco on Thu, Sep 25, 2014

A. U.S. suffices to end the sentence. No additional period.

Q. What is AP policy on using id'd in a headline instead of identified? – from Orysia, New York City, N.Y. on Thu, Sep 25, 2014

A. AP headlines use ID'd, as in: Body found at ski resort ID'd as missing man

Q. Which is correct: side effect or side-effect? – from Clinton Township, MI on Thu, Sep 25, 2014

A. The noun is two words: side effect.

Q. Is it couples massage or couple's massage or couples' massage? – from Santa Fe, N.M. on Thu, Sep 25, 2014

A. Its couples massage as a descriptive term.

Q. I have searched the AP Stylebook site for an answer. No luck so I hope you can help. In a DATELINE, does one reference the name of the city or the neighborhood. Such as Oklahoma City has Warr Acres, The Village, Nichols Hills, Crown Heights, Edgemere Heights, etc. Nichols Hills considers itself a city ... My feeling is that that you use OKLAHOMA CITY and somewhere within the story/press release reference the neighborhood name. Your 2 cents? Thanks, Lorene – from Edmond, Oklahoma on Thu, Sep 25, 2014

A. AP uses the city or town in the dateline, with the state abbreviated except for eight that are written out. Within the story, use the neighborhood name. See "datelines" entry for elaboration.

Q. Should I capitalize "eclectics" when referring to physicians who practiced eclectic medicine in the late 1800s and early 1900s? Example: The herb was revered by the eclectics. – from Milwaukee on Thu, Sep 25, 2014

A. The sentence is fine with the eclectics spelled lowercase.

Q. Would it be 40 hours or fewer or 40 hours or less? Hours are individual items, but I also read that for time, money and distance you should use less. – from Minneapolis on Thu, Sep 25, 2014

A. It's 40 hours or less, expressing hours as a sum or amount.

Q. In construction, how is a contractor and subcontractor generally seen in terms of pronoun use? Are they companies (thus use "it") or are they people (thus use "he or she")? – from Chicago on Thu, Sep 25, 2014

A. Use the impersonal pronoun "it" for the contractor or subcontractor named as a company or business. But if individuals are named as the contractor and subcontractor, use personal pronouns.

Q. high-quality or just quality, as an adjective before a noun? We have sticklers for both here. Some say "high" is assumed and that "quality" means good. Others say "high" is necessary to define what kind of quality, which migh also be poor or average. – from Atlanta on Thu, Sep 25, 2014

A. Either way, though high is probably overused as an enhancer.

Q. Should fiscal year be spelled out or use FY? If spelled out should it be capitalized? – from Chicago on Thu, Sep 25, 2014

A. FY is acceptable in headlines or graphics when space is at a premium. Otherwise, spell out fiscal year.

Q. Should it be B.B. gun or BB gun? I'm not finding an entry anywhere that states a style rule for that (unless I've missed it somewhere). Thanks! – from Moccasin, Ariz. on Wed, Sep 24, 2014

A. AP stories use BB gun, no periods with the initials.

Q. In a resume when I put my level of proficiency within a bracket just after the name of the language under question, should I capitalize the level name? For example- French (Fluent) or just French (fluent)? – from Normal, Ill. on Wed, Sep 24, 2014

A. Lowercase the descriptive term in parentheses.

Q. When we refer to the nations that make up BRICS, is it BRICS keep supporting Russia in bid to rebalance world power or BRICS keeps supporting Russia in bid to rebalance world power" – from Orysia, New York City, N.Y. on Wed, Sep 24, 2014

A. The BRICS nations: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Q. Per the essential/nonessential listing, "my son, Henry," would be set off by commas. what about when there is a possessive involved: "my son Henry's nursery"? Presumably no commas in the possessive case? – from Raleigh, N.C. on Wed, Sep 24, 2014

A. Correct.

Q. Do you use quotation marks around an academic course name the same way you would with a composition or lecture title - e.g., "Coming to Terms With Evil" or "Spirituality in a Secular World?" – from Oakton, Va. on Wed, Sep 24, 2014

A. Capitalize without quotes the formal name of an academic course.

Q. Should I write "Multiple times award-winning actor" and "two-time Oscar winner" or just "multiple time" instead of "multiple times"? Will there be any hyphen or be used as just separate words? Please enlighten me. – from Normal, Ill. on Wed, Sep 24, 2014

A. Two-time Oscar winner; winner of multiple acting awards; award-winning actor.

Q. When is it appropriate to use "lock-in" as a hyphenated phrase? I know it the hyphenated version has a specific scientific meaning, but would "lock-in" ever be used as a compound modifier? Would the phrase need to be hyphenated in "Lock-in early bird rates now"? Thank you! – from Woodbridge , N.J. on Wed, Sep 24, 2014

A. AP stories don't hyphenated that usage: Lock in early bird rates now.

Q. Good morning. I'm seeing conflicting responses in the Ask the Editor archive regarding whether to repeat the month in a range of dates that are joined by a word. (And I can't recast with a hyphen.) Which is correct -- Oct. 1 through/to 31 or Oct. 1 through/to Oct. 31? Please advise. Thank you much. – from Kansas City, Mo. on Wed, Sep 24, 2014

A. Oct. 1 through Oct. 31, or Oct. 1 to Oct. 31.

Q. In a list, can a verb used for the first item be omitted if it's implied that it's the same one for other items in the list? For example: The shipbuilding sector suffered big losses on Tuesday, with Company A falling 8 percent, Company B 5 percent and Company C 4 percent. – from Virginia, XX on Tue, Sep 23, 2014

A. Yes.

Q. Does AP have a style for the different sides of the climate-change/global-warming issue? I've seen "anti-climate-change marchers," but I don't think there are pro-climate-change marchers." I draw parallels between this and the anti-abortion rights, pro-life and pro-choice debate. – from Killeen, Texas on Tue, Sep 23, 2014

A. You probably need a few more words to explain what the sides are advocating. Protesters may focus on industries or practices that are seen as contributing to climate change. Others may deny that human actions can cause climate change.

Q. If Hollywood, by itself, without California, is "most commonly used to describe Southern California's entertainment industry," then why can't Nashville, without Tennessee, be used to describe the country music industry? – from Reading, Pa. on Tue, Sep 23, 2014

A. Nashville may suffice in some instances, though Nashville sound and Music City are more common synonyms for the capital of country music.

Q. Which is correct? high-deductible health plan or high deductible health plan – from Minneapolis on Tue, Sep 23, 2014

A. The hyphenated modifier is used in AP stories.

Q. How should I form the possessive of the abbreviation of a proper name when the abbreviation ends in S but the spelled-out proper name doesn%uFFFDt -- for example, Peninsula Regional Health System (PRHS). I%uFFFDm thinking the possessive should be PRHS' -- but the style guidance in %uFFFDpossessives%uFFFD doesn%uFFFDt address this point explicitly. Please advise. Thank you much. – from Kansas City, Mo. on Tue, Sep 23, 2014

A. PRHS' is correct. However, instead of the awkward abbreviation, you might consider making a possessive out of a shorthand form of the name: e.g., Peninsula's or Peninsula Regional's.

Q. What are the guidelines for research article titles and research journals' titles? Are they in quotation marks? – from Leawood, Kan. on Tue, Sep 23, 2014

A. The title of an article is enclosed in quotes. The name of the research journal is capitalized but not enclosed in quotes.

Q. "Less than half of the participants in a recent study" or "Fewer than half of the participants in a recent study"? – from Greensboro, N.C. on Tue, Sep 23, 2014

A. Fewer is better in this case, especially the number of participants is specified.

Q. My associate editor and I disagree: He says "firefighter" is a rank, and therefore should be capitalized before a proper name; I consider it an occupational title - therefore, not capitalized. Which is correct? – from Rocky River, Ohio on Tue, Sep 23, 2014

A. Correction: Lowercase firefighter before a name or standing alone.

All contents © copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved.