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 Colorado, on June 01, 2023

Once the acronym has been defined in text as in the Federal Electric Reliability Corporation (FERC), should "the" be used before the acronym as in, "The FERC is an..." or should it be, "FERC is an..."?


First, in our style we don't put acronyms in parentheses after the full name. We believe that either the acronym should be clear enough to be understood without the parenthetical reference, or it shouldn't be used at all. You can choose to do differently, of course. Here's the abbreviations and acronyms entry.

As for the question of the, that's largely idiomatic. There's no firm rule. When people talk about FERC, or the FERC, which do they say? Go with that usage. 

Question from San Diego, California, on April 30, 2023

AP Team,
I have worked in Navy public affairs for more than 16 years. I must explain to every new commander that military title abbreviations are different in news and press releases than those used in military correspondence.
Do you know the reason behind AP using a different set of abbreviations than the military? I prefer AP style and always explain that AP abbreviations are used because they are easier to read. I'm curious if there is a different justification. Thank you!


Our abbreviations have been in place for decades, so I don't know the thinking of the editors at the time. I suspect, though, that it's for exactly the reason you said: They are easier to read (and understand). Our style is for general audiences, not those specifically with military training or knowledge. 

Question from Washington, District of Columbia, on March 23, 2023

Hi! Saw in a Poynter newsletter that the + was added to the LGBTQ entry in the stylebook. I wanted to make sure this is accurate because it's not appearing in the stylebook under the LGBTQ or gender entries. Thank you!


It probably was just about to be updated online when you submitted the question. It's there now, under the gender, sex and sexual orientation umbrella:

LGBTQ+ (adj.) Acceptable in all references for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer and/or questioning. In quotations and the formal names of organizations and events, other variations such as LGBTQIA are also acceptable with the other letters explained. I generally stands for intersex, and A can stand for asexual (a person who doesn’t experience sexual attraction), ally (some activists decry this use of the abbreviation for a person who is not LGBTQ+ but who actively supports LGBTQ+ communities) or both. Use of LGBTQ+ is best as an adjective and an umbrella term: Walters joined the LGBTQ+ business association. Avoid it to describe individuals or, for instance, if the group you’re referring to is limited to bisexuals. Queer is often used as an umbrella term covering people who are not heterosexual or cisgender and is acceptable for people and organizations that use the term to identify themselves. Do not use it when intended as a slur. Follow guidelines for obscenities, profanities, vulgarities as appropriate. See sexual orientation; gender identity.

Question from Casper, Wyoming, on Feb. 21, 2023


I am writing a story that contains the address for people to send in donations. My question is how should I handle a C/O? 
XYZ Corporation
C/O John Smith

Would it be "Send donations to XYZ Corporation, C/O John Smith, 123 Whatever St., Casper, WY, 82601."
"Send donations to XYZ Corporation, in care of John Smith, 123 Whatever St., Casper, WY, 82601"

Thank you!


The second way is easiest for readers to understand. Not everyone knows what C/O means. Some people might then turn it in to C/O when they address their envelope. Others might write out "In care of" on the envelope. Either way, I think the letter carriers will understand it.

Question from London, on Feb. 20, 2023

if you make a reference to FAQs should you spell it out as "Frequently asked questions (FAQs)" at first mention?  Or is FAQs sufficiently well understood to not need spelling out?


Here's the entry: 

FAQ  Acceptable in all uses for frequently asked questions.

Question from on June 07, 2023


Quick question I hope: Brig. Gen. (Blank), joint program executive officer (agency name) and commanding general of (base name) 


Brig. Gen. (Blank), Joint Program Executive Officer (agency name) and Commanding General of (base name)


The first option. We capitalize titles only when they directly precede a name. Not after a name or when standing alone, as in your examples.

Question from Mc Lean, Virginia, on May 05, 2023

Since we capitalize Mother and Father when they stand in for the parent's name (It's great to see you, Mother! etc.), would we capitalize "Mister" similarly -- "Who are you, Mister?" Thank you so much!


Yes, that's correct.

From the capitalization entry:

FAMILY NAMES: Capitalize words denoting family relationships when they substitute for a person's name: I wrote Mom a letter. I wrote my father a letter.
INFORMAL NAMES: Capitalize words such as professor, doctor, coach, etc., when they substitute for a person’s name: What’s the diagnosis, Doctor? Put me in, Coach! She asked her doctor for a diagnosis.

Question from on April 27, 2023

Hello! Wondered if you could shed some light behind the recent decision to capitalize Civil Rights Movement. (I know you'd previously lowercase, which was following Webster's style, correct?) I saw this submission in Ask the Editor, was this part of the reasoning?:


Yes, the reasoning outlined in that question/request describes the thinking behind our conclusion. We used the guidance in the historical periods and events entry and decided that this specific movement met that criteria. We did previously defer to Webster's New World College Dictionary, whose preferred style is lowercase. However, that dictionary also notes the frequent usage of the capitalized version. And Merriam-Webster uses the capitalized approach.

Question from Tokyo, on April 18, 2023

A question about earth/Earth: I know your guidance is that the phrase "down to earth" is lowercase. But what about the common metaphor "He needs to come back down to earth"? Could the "earth" be "Earth" because his mistake is in floating up into the stratosphere?


Well, I guess that's one way of interpreting it. Not my interpretation. Unless he is literally up there in the stratosphere. 

Question from Northern California, on April 16, 2023

If you were to say, "John Doe replaced Ann Smith as speaker of the House," would speaker be lower case because it's not a title in front of either name? And House would be capitalized because it refers to a specific government body?


Correct on both counts. 

Question from KANSAS CITY, Missouri, on April 14, 2023

Would there be a comma after 2021 in this: "between February 1, 2021 and February 22, 2023, the ..."


Yes, a comma after 2021. Also: In AP style, we abbreviate most months when used with a date. So our style is: between Feb. 1, 2021, and Feb. 22, 2023, the ...

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.


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.


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


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!


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?



No of. Just March 2020. We may not have an explicit entry on that point, but an example is below (January 2016).


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 Virginia Beach, Virginia, on May 12, 2023

Does the AP Style specify that times that fall at the top of the hour shouldn't include ":00"? If not, I wish it did. For example, it seems pretty clear that 4 p.m. is preferred to 4:00 p.m., but I have a hard time finding that spelled out in the online style guide.  


Correct, no :00 in our style. See the examples here:


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.
Avoid such redundancies as 10 a.m. this morning, 10 p.m. tonight or 10 p.m. Monday night. Use 10 a.m. or 10 p.m. Monday, etc., as required by the norms in time element.
The construction 4 o'clock is acceptable, but time listings with a.m. or p.m. are preferred.

Question from New York, New York, on May 01, 2023

I know numerals are used in ages, but would also use it in an instance like this?
The girl invited everyone in class to celebrate her fifth birthday.


Interestingly, I don't think I've ever seen that question. It took some consideration to come to this conclusion:

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 Chicago, Illinois, on March 24, 2023

Hello - I'm looking at the recent updates to the AP Stylebook, particularly sequential designations. Would these revised guidelines also apply to television show and episodes? Meaning instead of season one, episode eight, we would use Season 1, Episode 8. Thank you!


Yes: Season 1, Episode 8. (And if you can think of a better term than "sequential designations," let me know!)

Question from Waunakee, Wisconsin, on Feb. 21, 2023

Hi AP. I'm reviewing an article about types of properties that include two to four units, for example, duplexes or triplexes.

The author is using the umbrella term 2-4 unit property to describe these properties.

Does the term 2-4 unit property fit with AP Style? Or would something like two-to-four-unit property or 2- to 4-unit property be more appropriate? Thanks!


It doesn't fit with AP style. But really, I'm not finding any good way of doing it in a readable way other than to use more words. My choice would be to use more words. Put yourself in the mind of the reader. What is easiest to read and understand? I'd write: a property of two to four units. Or properties of two to four units each. Or something along those lines. 

Question from SYRACUSE, New York, on Feb. 21, 2023

The six-month investigation... OR, The 6-month investigation? The entry on numerals advises: AGES: a 6-year-old girl; an 8-year-old law; the 7-year-old house. Use hyphens for ages expressed as adjectives before a noun. So is "6 months" the "age" of the investigation?


The six-month investigation. Or, the 6-month-old investigation. Confusing, I know.

Question from Sacramento, California, on March 17, 2023

Which is correct: "number of deaths have" or "number of deaths has" — If one considers number the noun, it is *has* but is it also correct to consider the phrase *number of deaths* as the noun and then use *have* as the verb? 


Arguments abound on each side of this question. A good general rule: If it's preceded by the, use the singular because the emphasis is on the number: The number of deaths has increased. But if it's preceded by a, use the plural: A number of deaths have been attributed to COVID-19.

Question from Austin, Texas, on March 02, 2023

Happy Thursday and thank you in advance. I am struggling with the verbs meets and secures in this sentence. Should they be plural? "Consolidating our business at one site and transforming it to process fats, oils and greases both meets the needs for lower-carbon-intensity fuels and secures our employee-wage jobs.


You are, quite reasonably, struggling because you need to decide whether consolidating and transferring (ignoring the words in between) is one big umbrella concept, taking a singular verb, or two individual concepts, with plural verbs. This is one that could go either way.

I'd go with the single concept and singular verb. The singular verb also is easier for the reader to grasp because there are a lot of words between the first of those subjects (consolidating) and the verb. By the time we get to the verb, the reader may well have lost track of the fact that there possibly are two subjects. The singular verb makes more sense here.

Question from Monsey, New York, on Feb. 28, 2023


I know "anything" and "everything" are singular, but what if both words are used? Which sentence is correct: "Anything and everything gets dumped here." OR, "Anything and everything get dumped here."



You can consider anything and everything as one singular concept (though it's certainly lots of diverse stuff). So, anything and everything gets dumped here.

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?


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?


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 Texas, on May 28, 2023

Does "grilled cheese sandwich" take a hyphen?


No hyphen. It wouldn't add any clarity. Thus there's no need for it. Now I will get some chocolate chip ice cream to follow my grilled cheese sandwich. Or maybe a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (please, no multiple hyphens in that one). And of course, our style says PB&J is perfectly fine. 

Question from Concord, California, on May 11, 2023

The $16-million project was approved.
I keep seeing hyphens in this construction, which I think should follow the same guidance that doesn't hyphenate 'high school student' or the like. Please say it's incorrect.


You get your wish! We don't hyphenate $16 million project or $2 cup of coffee.

Question from London, on May 11, 2023

Question about three-word compound adjectives.

'Ultra-high strength concrete' or 'Ultra-high-strength concrete'?

My research favours the former, but my gut favours the latter. Thanks so much. 


We do hyphenate three-word compound adjectives. We generally don't hyphenate ultra compounds:

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

BUT bending the "rules" makes sense when a particular combination really doesn't work. And I'd say ultrahigh-strength really doesn't work.

So, I'd go with ultra-high-strength as the modifier. (Whatever ultra-high-strength means ... but that's another issue/question.)

FYI, this from the hyphen entry:

Generally, also use a hyphen in modifiers of three or more words: a know-it-all attitude, black-and-white photography, a sink-or-swim moment, a win-at-all-costs approach. Consider carefully, though, before deciding to use more than three modifiers.

Question from Jacksonville, Florida, on May 03, 2023

Is a hyphen needed in uses such as "she is well-informed" and "the company is well-positioned for competition"?


No. See this section of the hyphen entry:

Hyphenate well- combinations before a noun, but not after: a well-known judge, but the judge is well known.

Question from Baytown, Texas, on April 10, 2023

is "equal opportunity" hyphenated? the dictionary indicates a hyphen but doing research online i do not see that people include the hyphen. I am trying to write "The (blank) is an equal opportunity employer."


The hyphen is optional, as it is in many questions of compound modifiers. Interestingly, Webster's New World College Dictionary uses the hyphen for the modifier; Merriam-Webster uses no hyphen. Either is correct; it's just a matter of which you prefer. 

I think the phrase is well known and clear without the hyphen. 

Question from Bradenton, Florida, on April 09, 2023

Does AP prefer jelly bean or jellybean?


We much prefer chocolate. For the sugary treat that you're asking about, Webster's New World College Dictionary prefers the two-word version:

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

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.


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)?


Our style is PFAS for both the singular and plural. Here's the entry.

Question from on May 26, 2023

Hello, Paula! Mostly a curiosity Q, but re: "-like" -- why are hyphens not used, in general? Is it to save print space? And why is "flu-like" an exception?

Here's the entry: 

Thank you!


I'm curious, too, and I don't have the answer. That one has been in the book since well before my time. I don't know what led to the decision.

Both Webster's New World College Dictionary and Merriam-Webster hyphenate flu-like. But both also note that some -like words are hyphenated and others aren't, and that's a bit different from what the Stylebook recommends.  Perhaps a previous Stylebook editor was trying to bring some consistency to the equation. (That was my goal, too, once upon a time. Then I discovered it was impossible ...)

Question from Scottsdale, Arizona, on May 18, 2023

What is the rule with adding "-able" at the end of a world? For example, something that is able to be monogrammed. Would monogrammable be acceptable?


We don't have guidance. Merriam-Webster, one of the dictionaries we consult, uses no hyphen.

Really, we'd avoid contrived constructions such as that. Look at it for a second: monogrammable. Ick.

Instead use more words: The shirts can be monogrammed.

Question from Kennesaw, Georgia, on March 16, 2023

Is there any chance AP will change "adviser" to "advisor?" As an editor, I want to follow AP style, but we have advertisers who are financial advisors and insist on having it spelled with an -or in their ads. Then I spell it with an -er in editorial copy, which causes inconsistency, and I hate inconsistency! Please consider. Thanks!


You certainly can use advisor if you prefer! Many people and organizations differ from AP style on one or many points. That's just fine with us.

Question from Holmes Beach, Florida, on March 16, 2023

Marine life or marinelife (as wildlife is one word). As a waterfront communityy newspaper, we frequently deal with marine life and it seems intuitive to address the subject as one work. (sorry ... but maybe the Y ke is not working)


We would use marine life. If you want to adopt a house style with the one-word version, that's certainly your right. FYI, though, the one-word version isn't recognized by Webster's New World College Dictionary, Merriam-Webster or the American Heritage Dictionary. It also doesn't get much traction in Google Trends or Google searches. But I see there is a Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Florida. So maybe it's a Florida spelling? 

Question from on March 10, 2023

QUESTION from ARLINGTON, Texas, on Dec. 28, 2020

Stand-alone or standalone? The stylebook entry is stand-alone, but I see in "Ask the Editor" that it's treated both ways.

ANSWERIt's stand-alone, according to both the Stylebook main entry and Webster's New World College Dictionary. Various editors of Ask the Editor, including myself, seem to have a mental block on that one because we don't like it.

If that's that case, and if Webster's is your reference for things on which you don't have a style (and, being a dictionary, is a history book rather than a rulebook so can be used for reference rather than instruction)...why not have a style? A style that you – and so many others – prefer?


We do have a style: stand-alone. We could drop it from the Stylebook, but deferring to Webster's New World College Dictionary (or for that matter, to Merriam-Webster, which is totally separate) would still result in stand-alone. There's no good reason to change simply because I (and other editors) tend to forget that particular rule. Since 2020, I have committed to always remembering this one.

All that said, I see in Google Trends that general usage strongly favors standalone. So does the American Heritage Dictionary. So there's that to consider. 

On the other hand, any time we change anything, there is outcry in the land.

Such is the Stylebook world. So many things to consider ...


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