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 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 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!


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.


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 Reading, Pennsylvania, on March 28, 2023

When talking about Vincent van Gogh, is the correct spelling of van lowercase or uppercase? The dictionary uses van Gogh, but a question in Ask the Editor, someone spells the painter's name as Vincent Van Gogh. 

And, if only referencing him by last name would van then be capitalized or lowercase? (ex. The painting is by Van Gogh).


Our style is Van Gogh, as described in the below entry with the relevant part bolded for emphasis. But van Gogh, as preferred by some dictionaries, isn't wrong. It's just a different style. 

foreign names 

For foreign place names, use the primary spelling in Webster's New World College Dictionary. If it has no entry, follow the National Geographic Atlas of the World.
For personal names, follow the individual's preference for an English spelling if it can be determined. Otherwise:
–Use the nearest phonetic equivalent in English if one exists: Alexander Solzhenitsyn, for example, rather than Aleksandr, the spelling that would result from a transliteration of the Russian letters into the English alphabet.
If a name has no close phonetic equivalent in English, express it with an English spelling that approximates the sound in the original language: Anwar Sadat.
In general, lowercase particles such as de, der, la, le, and van, von when part of a given name: Charles de Gaulle, Baron Manfred von Richthofen. But follow individual preferences, as in bin Laden, or Dutch names such as Van Gogh or Van der Graaf. Capitalize the particles when the last names start a sentence: De Gaulle spoke to von Richthofen.

Question from Chicago, Illinois, on March 27, 2023

Hi, can you please tell me the correct capitalization for titles of college courses, such as Intro to Psychology 101 and Estate Planning 101? Thanks.


Capitalize proper noun elements or numbered courses: American history, English, Algebra 1, world history

So, your two examples are correct. Capitalize with numbered courses. 

Question from Richmond, Virginia, on March 27, 2023

Is there a standard for capitalizing/not capitalizing Braille? I've seen conflicting guidance.


Our primary dictionary, Webster's New World College Dictionary, capitalizes it because of its origins as a proper name (named for Louis Braille) but also accepts lowercase.

Merriam-Webster, on the other hand, prefers lowercase but also accepts the capitalized version.

Since we follow the general guidance of capitalizing proper noun elements, we go with capitalized.

Question from Farmington, Maine, on March 27, 2023

With regard to your new guidance about capping Civil Rights Movement, what would you do with phrases about people and laws from this period - civil rights leaders or Civil Rights leaders? Civil Rights legislation or civil rights legislation? 


Lowercase those uses: civil rights leaders; civil rights legislation. Capitalize just the name of the movement itself.

Question from on March 22, 2023

Meriam Webster defines "low earth orbit" as a noun, all lower case without hyphens. AP style on Earth calls for a capital E when referring to the planet. So, which of these examples is the correct mix of MW and AP?
- a satellite in low earth orbit
- a satellite in low Earth orbit
- a satellite in low-Earth orbit

Bonus: a low-Earth-orbit satellite?


First, a reminder that our primary dictionary is Webster's New World College Dictionary, not Merriam-Webster, which is entirely separate. We do consult with M-W, however.

That said, WNWCD doesn't list the term. So, on to M-W.

We'd default to our own style of capitalizing E when referring to the planet (and M-W does note that use).  We'll go with low Earth orbit. While there certainly are arguments for hyphenating, that style isn't M-W's nor does it appear to be common usage (however "common usage" is defined with that term). Which takes me to: Define the term if at least some of your readers don't know what it is.

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 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


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 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 on Feb. 12, 2023

Hi Paula,
I am editing a long document that will cover the experience of multiple people. Is it okay not to spell 3 in the following sentence as it has another figure? 
"He has over 10 years of experience in marketing and 3 years of experience in public relations."
Also, if the writers wrote short bios about themselves and some of them used abbreviations for their academic degrees while others used full terms, would you enforce consistency or would you leave them as they are?
Thank you very much!


We would spell out three in this example even though it has another figure. See this charming example from the numerals entry:

IN A SERIES: Apply the standard guidelines: They had 10 dogs, six cats and 97 hamsters. They had four four-room houses, 10 three-room houses and 12 10-room houses.

On the other question, we much prefer consistency. And to the question that no doubt will follow: We don't have standard abbreviations for most academic degrees other than those listed in that entry. You can choose your own style and then stick with it. 

Question from Atlanta, Georgia, on Feb. 10, 2023

How would AP advise treating 'a billion percent' in the sentence The transformation allows for a billion percent increase in the material’s conductivity.


As you have it. But be sure the context makes clear whether that's intended as an actual, technically correct number, or just a figure of speech roughly translating to "really, really big."

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 West Newton, Massachusetts, on March 29, 2023

Would you write non-Chinese or nonChinese? I noticed that AP recommends non-Native, but I think that's mainly because of the double N.


It's non-Chinese. Here's the entry, with the relevant part bolded for emphasis:


The rules of prefixes apply, but in general no hyphen when forming a compound that does not have special meaning and can be understood if not is used before the base word. Use a hyphen, however, before proper nouns. Examples of compounds with special meaning include names with proper nouns: Non-Aligned Movement, non-Euclidean geometry, non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Question from Southfield, Michigan, on March 27, 2023

Is it correct to place a comma after the state name in the following headline:
Montgomery, Alabama, teacher testifies at inquiry


Yes, that's correct.

Question from Austin, Texas, on March 23, 2023

In 2018, the editor said they were coming around to this hyphenation:
This house is spacious, luxurious and oh-so-perfect.
But you wouldn't hyphenate it if it said only "so perfect," right? Wouldn't "oh-so perfect" be the more acceptable form, assuming you don't want to use a comma ("oh, so perfect")?


Oh-so perfect definitely doesn't work. You could go with oh, so perfect if you prefer. (Upon reflection, I do prefer oh, so perfect. With the comma, no hyphens.)

Question from Chula Vista, California, on March 21, 2023

Would it be a search-and-rescue mission or a search-and-rescue mission? I'm seeing mixed usage in AP stories.


No doubt you're seeing mixed usage because there's no firm rule and this one could go either way. My first thought is that search and rescue mission is clear without the hyphens. It's a known phrase; the absence of hyphens won't leave a reader confused by what's meant. On the other hand, we do typically hyphenate three-word modifiers such as this. See my indecision! OK, let's say hyphens are best for this one. To be consistent with the general guidance on three-word modifiers, as outlined in the hyphen entry.

Question from Reading, Pennsylvania, on March 17, 2023

Is fine dining hyphenated? I've seen it hyphenated and without when used as a compound adjective, like fine dining restaurant.


The hyphen is optional. One could argue that it should be hyphenated to avoid reading that it's a fine ... dining restaurant. But really, isn't the meaning the same? And the term fine dining is pretty well recognized as a single term. So I'd leave out the hyphen. But if you prefer to use it, that's certainly fine. Our hyphen entry goes on at some length about how hyphen use is often a matter of choice.

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 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 ...

Question from on March 06, 2023

Hi Paula,
How does AP use "gigaproject"? Should it be one word like "megaproject"?
If it's okay to close it, would it be okay to write "... the giga- and megaprojects," or would it be better to use the full forms in both instances?
Thank you!


We don't use the term. I'd hyphenate it since it's not as widely known or accepted as megaproject. But if you're using both terms in the same story and the inconsistency bothers you, it's fine to go with one word. Please, no giga- and megaprojects. Use the full forms in both instances. Or maybe just super-big projects? Kidding.

Question from deep inside the hype machine, on Feb. 21, 2023

Is it overhyped or over-hyped? The over- entry says to follow Webster's, but it's not listed there. It also says that a hyphen is seldom used, and "overhyped" seems like a common enough term to have achieved word status.


We agree: overhyped.


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