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 Middletown, Delaware, on Dec. 11, 2023

Although a common acronym for our business writing, I'm assuming AP would say to spell out computer numerical control for CNC on first reference? 


We would, yes. If it's so commonly known among your readers that spelling it out on first reference would look silly, then don't spell it out. But if at least some of your readers might not understand, then it's best to spell it out.

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 Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Feb. 28, 2024

My Legal department changes "the company" to "the Company" in our internal communications. For example, "We have an experienced team that works collaboratively to support the Company in its goals." 

I understand it's common practice in a legal document, but we argue to no avail that it's unnecessary in an intranet story or internal email because "company" is a common noun. I see one previous similar question, but can you help us put this to rest by confirming in this example that the common noun shouldn't be capitalized? Thanks so much!


The corporate world does love its capital letters. But you are correct: In our style, the word company standing alone is lowercase because it's not a proper noun. You may be fighting a losing battle, however. It's pretty common for companies to do their own thing when it comes to capitalization. We, however, strongly agree with you.

Question from Charlotte Hall, Maryland, on Feb. 02, 2024

Is the illness Lung Cancer capitalize?


No. Here's the entry: 


Do not capitalize diseases such as cancer, emphysema, leukemia, hepatitis, etc.
When a disease is known by the name of a person or geographical area identified with it, capitalize only the proper noun element: Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Ebola virus disease, etc.
Other than in direct quotations, avoid such expressions as: He is battling cancer. She is a stroke victim. Use neutral, precise descriptions: He has stomach cancer. She had a stroke. They are being treated for malaria.

Question from Portland, Oregon, on Jan. 31, 2024

For paid family and medical leave, do you advise lowercasing it or capitalizing it when it's used as a descriptive term and not part of an official name? I assume if it's part of an official program or department name, then we would capitalize it? 


Lowercase as a descriptive term. Uppercase in a department name. Capitalize the Family and Medical Leave Act. As for individual programs, determine whether it's necessary to use the formal name (which often can be clunky) or if a shorter, descriptive approach could work.

Question from Overland Park, Kansas, on Dec. 05, 2023

Title case question: When writing about no-see-ums (the insects also known as biting midges), are all three words capitalized in title case? Is it No-See-Ums or No-see-ums?


Lowercase no-see-ums, according to both Webster's New World College Dictionary and Merriam-Webster.

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 Washington, on Jan. 31, 2024

What is the accepted way to reference a decade in AP style? Is it to spell it out (ex. 1960s) or can it be shortened (ex. '60s)?


Either is fine. The longer form is more formal and the shorter more informal, so use what's appropriate for your piece and your audience.


Use Arabic figures to indicate decades of history. Use an apostrophe to indicate numerals that are left out; show plural by adding the letter s: the 1890s, the '90s, the Gay '90s, the 1920s, the mid-1930s


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 Mitchellville, Maryland, on Feb. 27, 2024

Which is correct: 2 years or two years


Two years. Unless it's an age, in which case it's 2 years old.
We have owned our car for two years. Our car is 2 years old. (Weird? Yes.)

Question from Lawrence, Kansas, on Jan. 21, 2024

I do not see guidelines on how to treat %/percent within a direct quote under the most recent style change. If a source says the word "percent," and that is used within a direct quote, should it be "%" or "percent"?


If it's a spoken quote, use the % sign. If it's a written quote, use the style used by the writer. The guidelines are in this section of the quotations in the news entry:

When quoting spoken words, present them in the format that reflects AP style: No. 1, St., Gov., $3. But quotes should not be changed otherwise for reasons of style. If the speaker says towards, do not change it to toward.

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

Question from 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 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 on March 13, 2024

I know the AP doesn't use italics as a style. Does it differentiate between the application of quotes for something spoken vs. something thought (or a rhetorical flourish or emphatic reaction)? An example (in a Q&A):

I got a call today from someone. And this person said, "I’ve been depressed for a long time and I’ve never been able to articulate what that's like to my wife. And we watched your show and now I feel like she gets it." And I was like, That was the intent of the show — to have these conversations.

I don't want to mislead readers into thinking "that was the intent of the show" was something the source actually said.


We'd recommend paraphrasing rather than using the direct quotation. I realize that's not really possible in a Q&A. The issue isn't as much style as it is clarity for the reader. And clarity in this situation is hard to accomplish when using the direct quotation.

I think I'd do it this way, with the parenthetical (thinking) and the quote marks: 

I got a call today from someone. And this person said, "I’ve been depressed for a long time and I’ve never been able to articulate what that's like to my wife. And we watched your show and now I feel like she gets it." And I was (thinking) like, "that was the intent of the show "— to have these conversations.

Question from Washington, District of Columbia, on March 08, 2024

In a recent Q&A, you said you wouldn't hyphenate "machine learning" as an adjective.
 A 2023 answer said you would hyphenate "deep learning" as an adjective. Would you recommend instead leaving them both open for consistency?


Some terms are regarded as a single phrase: real estate license, emergency room doctor, parking lot attendant. The first two words in each of those aren't hyphenated because they are, in effect, a single phrase.

Our artificial intelligence expert say machine learning is regarded as a single phrase and shouldn't be hyphenated. But that's not the case with deep learning.

Of course, what's a single phrase to one person may not be a single phrase to another person. There's a lot of gray area.

If you prefer to hyphenate both, or not hyphenate both, that's up to you and is fine.

Question from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Feb. 19, 2024

Hello! In our stories, we use a lot of dates with a month but no year. The "months" entry specifies to set off the date with commas if it has a day, month and year and to not use a comma for month and year alone, but does a day-and-month date need commas? i.e. "I received the call mid-afternoon on Sunday, Jan. 28,  that it was time." Thanks!


Yes, you need the commas in that construction.

Question from Chicago, Illinois, on Jan. 26, 2024

We're having a disagreement in the office about how to handle quotation marks and multiparagraph quotes. The general rule is to drop the closing quotation mark on the first paragraph and then do an opening quote for the next paragraph, using a closing quote for the last paragraph. 

I always understood this to be the rule for quotes with attribution only in the first paragraph, and then the missing quotation mark implies the attribution carries over to subsequent paragraphs. But what about long quotes that have an attribution by the same author in the second or subsequent paragraphs ("she continued" or "he added")? Would you still drop the quote at the end of the paragraph? Or do you use quotation marks at the beginning and end? Or would you get rid of the attribution altogether and stick with the rule? Thank you!


First, we would advise against quotations that long unless there is a very good reason for it. Beyond that, I'm having a little trouble picturing where you propose to put the second or third attribution. I'm assuming something like this (and here we go with cat ipsum ...)

"Push your water glass on the floor wack the mini furry mouse. Throwup on your pillow cuddle no cuddle cuddle love scratch scratch but stare out the window paw your face to wake you up in the morning but sleep on my human's head destroy the blinds for meow to be let in," she said. "Love and coo around boyfriend who purrs and makes the perfect moonlight eyes so i can purr and swat the glittery gleaming yarn to him (the yarn is from a $125 sweater) you have cat to be kitten me right meow find empty spot in cupboard and sleep all day, miaow then turn around and show you my bum have a lot of grump in yourself because you can't forget to be grumpy and not be like king grumpy cat sleep all day whilst handler is at work, play all night whilst handler is sleeping.

"Don't wait for the storm to pass, dance in the rain that box? i can fit in that box, the fat cat sat on the mat bat away with paws," she continued. "Find something else more interesting the dog smells bad terrorize the hundred-and-twenty-pound rottweiler and steal his bed, not sorry russian blue or eat prawns daintily with a claw then lick paws clean wash down prawns with a lap of carnation milk then retire to the warmest spot on the couch to claw at the fabric before taking a catnap yet peer out window, chatter at birds, lure them to mouth.

"Scratch at the door then walk away chew on cable jump on fridge eats owners hair then claws head scoot butt on the rug so car rides are evil. Check cat door for ambush 10 times before coming in please let me outside pouty face yay! wait, it's cold out please let me inside pouty face oh, thank you," she said as she finally neared the end of this quote. "Rub against mommy's leg oh it looks so nice out, please let me outside again the neighbor cat was mean to me please let me back inside. Love you, then bite you cats are cute. Give attitude look at dog hiiiiiisssss and spill litter box, scratch at owner, destroy all furniture, especially couch i cry and cry and cry unless you pet me, and then maybe i cry just for fun, but a nice warm laptop for me to sit on and leave buried treasure in the sandbox for the toddlers for shed everywhere shed everywhere stretching."

You might also introduce the whole thing with a sentence and a colon.

Keirin, slowly emerging from anesthesia after her spay surgery, said to her handler:

"long quote.
"long quote.
"long quote.
"the end."

Question from Portland, Oregon, on Jan. 24, 2024

Hi Editors. How do I punctuate multiple city/state combinations in a sentence? For example, "He went to Cherry Hill, New Jersey; Provo, Utah; and Brainerd, Minnesota." Is what I have correct, or should I separate the cities/states by commas instead of semicolons? Sorry if the answer already appears somewhere. I couldn't find it. Thanks!


What you have is correct. See this section of the semicolon entry:

TO CLARIFY A SERIES: Use semicolons to separate elements of a series when the items in the series are long or when individual segments contain material that also must be set off by commas:
He is survived by a son, John Smith, of Chicago; three daughters, Jane Smith, of Wichita, Kansas, Mary Smith, of Denver, and Susan, of Boston; and a sister, Martha, of Omaha, Nebraska.
Note that the semicolon is used before the final and in such a series.

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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