Ask the Editor: Highlights

Ask the Editor is a forum on writing, style and phrasing issues that go beyond the pages of the AP Stylebook. AP Stylebook editor Paula Froke fields questions posed by subscribers to AP Stylebook Online. Below is a sampling of recent questions Paula has answered.

Click on a topic below to learn more about AP style:

Question from Washington, District of Columbia, on Oct. 12, 2023

Hi! Thanks for the thorough AI guidance. Wondering whether you're considering allowing AI on first reference. I know style evolves (internet used to be Internet, email used to have a hyphen). So, thinking most readers will understand AI on first reference. Thanks again.


Not at this time. But certainly that's something we'd consider in the future. 

Remember, a lot of people have trouble with AI without the periods, thinking we're talking about some guy named Al. And it's harder if there's not a spelled-out first reference.

Also, just because you and I understand AI on first reference doesn't mean my mom, my sister, and many other readers are as attuned.

Question from Little Rock, Arkansas, on Oct. 11, 2023

On first reference of an interstate, do you need to put the abbreviation in parentheses as you would an acronym when it's going to be used again? For example: "Interstate 49 (I-49) will be closed at Exit 21." Or can you just say Interstate 49 on first reference and I-49 on second reference?


We don't put abbreviations in parentheses. Our style would be Interstate 49 on first reference and I-49 on second reference.

Question from on Sept. 15, 2023

Hello, is PB&J acceptable for the sandwich? How about on first reference?


Yes, in our style it's acceptable on all references.

Question from Los Angeles, California, on Aug. 31, 2023

Do you still consider ESG an acronym that needs definition on first reference, or can it stand alone in all instances?


If your specific audience understands it, then you don't need to define it. As for me, I had no idea what it meant until I looked it up. I imagine that's the case for many general-audience readers. And remember, it's not in your interest to confuse or annoy your readers. But your specific audience may well be different in what readers understand without explanation.

Question from Bedford, New Hampshire, on Aug. 29, 2023

Hello - we are doing a report on short-term rentals, which we abbreviate to STRs. I am lobbying to abbreviate to STR. What say you? Thanks!


You're free to abbreviate the term. But we won't. General readers would have no idea what that means. And as you probably know, we aim to avoid most abbreviations and acronyms.

Question from Richardson, Texas, on Nov. 16, 2023

Should Black be capitalized in historically Black colleges and universities?


Yes. Here's the relevant section of the race-related coverage entry:

historically Black colleges and universities U.S. colleges and universities established before 1964 with the mission of educating Black Americans. The schools were founded at a time when Black students were barred from many institutions that served white people. Before these accredited, degree-granting institutions were created, no structured higher education system for Black students existed. There are approximately 100 such schools now, and they admit students of any race.
HBCUs is acceptable on second reference and in headlines. HBCU is acceptable as a modifier on second reference: HBCU students. Refer to an individual school as a historically Black college or a historically Black university. Don’t use HBCU for one college or university.

Question from on Oct. 31, 2023

Would you capitalize "inspector general" in a sentence like: The Department of Homeland Security's inspector general issued a report...


We never capitalize titles when they follow a name. Only when they come directly before a name.

Question from on Oct. 31, 2023

Hello: If using Z for a reference to sleeping, should it be Z's or z's? I'm not certain based on the plural entry for single letters. Thank you.


Merriam-Webster goes with z's, lowercase, and we will too.

Question from KANSAS CITY, Missouri, on Oct. 24, 2023

Do you capitalize "it's" in a title? Here's the usage: Top 5 Things to Know About Epilepsy (And it’s Not What You Would Expect!) (And I think it should be "And They're Not What ..., but we don't usually change presentation titles, although I did mention this one.)


Yes, capitalize It's in a composition title. And I agree with you that They're is correct. I also question the use of the exclamation point, which lends a sort of light tone to what appears to be a serious topic.

Question from on Oct. 19, 2023

Should kibbutz be capitalized when used in a proper name, as in Kibbutz Holit or Kibbutz Be'eri? I've seen it both capitalized and lower case, and sometimes phrased as "the kibbutz of Be'eri."  Wondering if there is an official style on this.


It's Kibbutz Holit as the full proper name. But shortened or in a form that's not the full proper name: the kibbutz of Holit or the Holit kibbutz.

Question from Casper, Wyoming, on Sept. 11, 2023

Hello Paula!

I have a question that is driving me crazy. Here is the sentence in question:

The event will begin with a social hour and cash bar, followed by dinner at 6:30 p.m. Cavigelli’s presentation will start at 7, followed by a live auction at 7:30.

The director of this event wanted :00 after 7. When I explained that that was not AP Style, she responded with an email that included a photo of her 2017 AP Stylebook and this comment: “My copy doesn’t specify that 7:00 is objectionable.  Please list it as either p.m. or :00.”
Help! Which is correct, per AP?

Thank you!


There's a line between following AP style to the letter, and doing what's necessary to keep the customer satisfied (within reason).

It's true that we don't say 7:00 is objectionable. But when we say our style is 7 p.m., it's implied that our style is not 7:00 p.m.

The good news: She gave the option of including p.m. and I think that's a reasonable option. In our heart of hearts, we think the p.m. is pretty apparent (the presentation wouldn't start at 7 a.m. following a 6:30 p.m. dinner). But including the p.m. dresses up the stand-alone 7 a bit and wouldn't strike most people as odd. 

So how about: 

The event will begin with a social hour and cash bar, followed by dinner at 6:30 p.m. Cavigelli’s presentation will start at 7 p.m., followed by a live auction at 7:30 p.m.

Or if the organizers are really in love with :00, then go with it. We need flexibility ...

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

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 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Nov. 22, 2023

I have a question about the use of a percentage after a colon. I know that if what comes after the colon is a complete sentence, the first letter is capitalized. And if a percentage begins a sentence, the number and word “percent” are spelled out. But what happens when what comes after a colon is a complete sentence, but it starts with a percentage?

For example: Economic uncertainty has affected available options: 63% of survey respondents said they would delay making key decisions in the next three months.

Is that correct, or should 63% be spelled out sixty-three percent?

Thank you!


I'd do it with the number and the percent sign. It's a gray area, and we don't cover that specific question. But I think it reads more easily with the 63% after the colon rather than writing it out. 

Question from San Francisco, California, on Oct. 31, 2023

Should we spell out all big numbers at the start of a sentence? Here's an example: "2.64 billion consumers purchased a product online this year." Would you write "Two-billion-six-hundred-forty million consumers ...?" That seems a bit unwieldy. 


We would rewrite the sentence. I agree, writing it a large number like that just doesn't work. But why can't you say Some 2.64 billion or nearly 2.64 billion or more than ... whatever is accurate. Even something like: We're proud that 2.64 billion ...

I'm not convinced that the second decimal place is necessary. If you leave that out, you're definitely good with more than 2.6 billion ...

Question from on Aug. 24, 2023

If an age starts a sentence, do we still use the numeral or do we spell it out? Example: 7-year-old Nate likes to play or Seven-year old Nate likes to play?


Write it out at the start of a sentence. From the numerals entry:

AT THE START OF A SENTENCE: In general, spell out numbers at the start of a sentence: Forty years was a long time to wait. Fifteen to 20 cars were involved in the accident. An exception is years: 1992 was a very good year. Another exception: Numeral(s) and letter(s) combinations: 401(k) plans are offered. 4K TVs are flying off the shelves. 3D movies are drawing more fans.

Question from Virginia Beach, Virginia, on May 12, 2023

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 Minneapolis, Minnesota, on Oct. 30, 2023

Hello, my question is concerning comma usage in when introducing poem, book, and podcast episode titles. I've searched your site and have not come across clear direction, and appreciate any clarity you can provide using the examples below:

When introducing a poem title:
Option A
Benjamin Gucciardi reads his poem, "The Rungs."
Option B
Benjamin Gucciardi reads his poem "The Rungs."

And in referencing the episode title of a podcast:
Option A
This poem was featured in Benjamin's conversation with April, "The Poetry We're Reading Now."
Option B
This poem was featured in Benjamin's conversation with April "The Poetry We're Reading Now."


These fall under the category of essential or nonessential phrases. Read the full entry for details.

In your first example, the answer depends on whether Gucciardi has one poem, or more than one. If he has only one poem, the name of the title is nonessential and thus the comma is used. If he has more than one poem, the name of this one is essential and there is no comma in that construction.

In your second example, it depends on whether he has only one conversation with April. In that case, use the comma.

If he has more than one conversation with April, no comma.

I know this can be confusing. But I think the entry spells it out reasonably well.

Question from Washington, District of Columbia, on Sept. 30, 2023

Question about a subhed in a news story. Wording as published is:
On Florida’s Gulf Coast, a loose coalition of activists, officials and Trumpworld celebrities is building the world they want to live in
Seems odd to me to have to use a singular verb for coalition when the sentence is clearly about many people and the world they want to live in. Certainly it wouldn't be the world it wants to live in. Are there exceptions to the singular rule for certain constructions using words like coalition?


I have pages of notes about this, focusing on the concept of notional agreement and the principle of proximity. Grammarians have differing views. We don't address it thoroughly in the Stylebook, yet. But in short: You'd have plenty of support in using the plural are for the verb. I'm among those in support.

Question from Fortville, Indiana, on Sept. 29, 2023

I would love to get your thoughts on a question that comes up frequently at my organization regarding the use of the word "talent." The answer to this question is helpful, but suppose for reasons outside your control you needed to use this word to refer to multiple individuals. Which of the following examples would you prefer?
These three talents have the strongest performance. (Pluralize talent with an "s")
These three talent has the strongest performance. (Collective noun taking singular verb--this seems weird.)
These three talent have the strongest performance. (Treat plural of "talent" like "deer")


Could you possibly let the people outside your control know that the AP Stylebook editor strongly (VERY strongly) recommends against this use, and can't find support for it in major dictionaries? There's a distinct fingernails-on-chalkboard effect. I could go on. And on and on.

OK, but if you have to use it, I guess I'd choose the first option. Definitely not the second. Maybe the third. It's hard to say what correct usage is for something that's not correct usage however you do it ...

Question from Fargo, North Dakota, on Sept. 14, 2023

"Their passion and focus on agriculture are evident and apparent." 

Ignoring any other potential problems with this sentence, my proofreading team feels the "are" should be changed to "is." It sounds really odd to us otherwise. However, when two nouns are joined by "and," the verb should be plural. Is "are" here incorrect? Would you change it? (Assuming rewording isn't an option.)

Thank you! 


It depends on on whether you view passion and focus as one concept (taking a singular verb) or two distinct concepts (taking a plural verb). In your example, I agree that the are simply sounds odd (not that sounds odd is a technical term, but it matters). And certainly passion and focus can be viewed as one concept. So I agree: Use the singular is.

On another note, I question whether you need both evident and apparent. How about one or the other? The two together are redundant. (Maybe that's one of your other potential problems!)

Question from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Aug. 31, 2023

I have a question regarding plural subjects that act as a singular idea and the verb they take. As an example sentence: “The increasing severity and frequency of weather events have had a profound impact on the community.”

Grammatically, “severity and frequency” are a compound subject, so the sentence requires a plural verb. But “severity and frequency” also function as a singular idea. Would “has” being more appropriate verb in that sentence, or is this down to a judgment call?

Thank you!


It's a judgment call. In your example, I'd question whether severity and frequency is really a single idea. If  it is a single idea, indeed you would use a singular verb. But they strike me as separate ideas. I also think it could be argued either way. Definitely a judgment call!

Question from Tempe, Arizona, on Nov. 20, 2023

In this sentence, would there be a comma to break up the text? If so, what is the rule? 

Seventy-seven million Americans struggle with poor health literacy and with making sound health decisions, costing the U.S. economy $238 billion each year.


The punctuation is correct. But the wording implies that the Americans who struggle are costing the U.S. economy. I'm not sure you want to blame the victims.

Also, we'd  avoid starting the sentence with a number that needs to be written out.

Instead: Some 77 million Americans struggle with poor health literacy and with making sound health decisions. That costs the U.S. economy $238 billion each year.

And I assume you'll explain why those issues are causing added costs?

Question from on Nov. 20, 2023

AP style says to use "child care" as two words in all instances, but Webster's states to hyphenate it as an adjective ("a child-care center"). Which spelling does AP prefer for an adjective preceeding a noun?


As noted, we use child care, no hyphen, in all uses including as an adjective. We prefer our own style. If you prefer to hyphenate it, as Webster's New World College Dictionary does, you can.

Question from Washington, District of Columbia, on Nov. 09, 2023

How would you hyphenate "the opioid-overdose-rescue drug naloxone"? Two hyphens, like so, or is "rescue drug" the compound, so just one hyphen, like "opioid-overdose rescue drug"?


How about rephrasing to avoid that awkwardness. Really, it's impossible to read no matter how many hyphens you do or don't use. Instead: Naloxone, the opioid-overdose antidote, .... 

Question from Boston, Massachusetts, on Nov. 03, 2023

Hello, how would you punctuate this sentence? It is talking about a variety of TV programs.

 From My Life is Murder, an Australian drama starring Lucy Lawless (Xena: Warrior Princess); to Edward III: Britain’s Traitor King, a documentary that delves into the scandal that followed the monarch’s abdication; to the new fundraising special Freddie Mercury: The Tribute Concert ­-- our new content covers the genres your viewers crave. 


I'd break it into more than one sentence. Way too much going on there. Also, the "from ... to" is a false range. Instead, I'd suggest something like this, which also gets your point at the beginning of the sentence rather than the end (and retains your italics, though that's not our style):

 Our new content covers the genres your viewers crave. That includes My Life is Murder, an Australian drama starring Lucy Lawless (Xena: Warrior Princess);  Edward III: Britain’s Traitor King, a documentary that delves into the scandal that followed the monarch’s abdication; the new fundraising special Freddie Mercury: The Tribute Concert; and much more. ­

Question from on Oct. 26, 2023

Hello! Could you tell me which of the following is correct: over-invoicing and under-invoicing or overinvoicing and underinvoicing? Thank you!


It's a matter of style; there's no right or wrong. And when there is general guidance, sometimes it's best to deviate from that general guidance in some cases.

We do say the prefixes over and under generally don't take a hyphen. But to me, the terms overinvoicing and underinvoicing are hard, if not impossible, to read.

I'd use the hyphen. For the sake of the readers.

Question from Bradenton, Florida, on April 09, 2023

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 Indianapolis, Indiana, on Nov. 08, 2023

Could you help us understand why AP Style chooses to format health care as two words when Webster's New World College Dictionary (online) uses the one-word format as the default entry (providing two words as the alternate format)?
healthcare  n. the prevention and treatment of illness or injury, esp. on a comprehensive, ongoing basis: also written health care.
Just curious about the reasoning for sticking with two words, especially when many in the field format it as one word.


Safe to say that there are as many who prefer the two-word version as who prefer the one-word version. Merriam-Webster, a dictionary separate from Webster's New World, prefers two words. So does American Heritage Dictionary.

I don't know why the decision was originally made to go with two words; it was before my time on the Stylebook team. Since then, we have revisited a number of times and each time decided to stick with two words in the absence of an overriding reason to change and given the great support for the two-word version.

We will continue to discuss periodically.

Question from Williamsport, Pennsylvania, on Oct. 24, 2023

Is it "complements of the chef" or "compliments of the chef" ?


It's compliments of the chef.

Question from Northport, Alabama, on Sept. 28, 2023

Is free-throw hyphenated, or not, in free-throw lane and free-throw line?
The “basketball” entry includes spellings of frequently used words, including “free-throw line” (hyphenated). 
The “free throw lane” entry says, “a rectangular area under each basket between the free throw line and the end line ... ” (no hyphens in either). 
Thank you!


The first entry you note is indeed a Stylebook entry. As you note, we use the hyphen.
The second entry is actually from Webster's New World College Dictionary, which you can get as part of your Stylebook Online subscription. The dictionary doesn't use the hyphen.

You can choose which version you prefer. Both are correct; they are just different styles.

Question from wyoming, Michigan, on Aug. 28, 2023

I see the entry for saute does not have an accent mark. But Webster's does. It's my understanding that accent marks are saved for names, primarily. I know entree is also one I see both ways. Which is correct for saute and which is correct pertaining to entree? 


It's not a matter of correct vs. incorrect; it's a matter of style. AP uses accent and other diacritical marks only in people's names. Webster's New World College Dictionary uses them for some other words as well. Your choice on which you want to use.

Question from Rochester, Minnesota, on Aug. 21, 2023

Hi. Does AP prefer “dataset” or “data set”? “Dataset” appears several times in the updated “Artificial intelligence” entry, but there’s one instance of “data set.” “Data set” (two words) is the predominant spelling in the “Data journalism” and “News Values and Principles” entries. We want to double-check the preferred spelling. Thanks!


Thanks for asking! We are revising our style to use dataset, one word, in all uses. We've updated the sections that you note.


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