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 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Aug. 02, 2022

Should the acronym include a possessive in the following example?
"The Food and Literacy Center's (FLC's) objectives are available to read online."
Or should it be:
"The Food and Literacy Center's (FLC) objectives are available to read online."

Answer

We don't put acronyms in parentheses following the full name. Our abbreviations and acronyms entry says:

AVOID AWKWARD CONSTRUCTIONS: Do not follow the full name of an organization or company with an abbreviation or acronym in parentheses or set off by dashes. If an abbreviation or acronym would not be clear on second reference without this arrangement, do not use it.
Names not commonly before the public should not be reduced to acronyms solely to save a few words.

Also: A few universally recognized abbreviations are required in some circumstances. Some others are acceptable, depending on the context. But in general, avoid alphabet soup. Do not use abbreviations or acronyms that the reader would not quickly recognize.

Your example is another reason not to do it. There's no good way to punctuate it.

If you must include the acronym in parentheses, your best bet is to rephrase: Objectives of the Food and Literacy Center (FLC) can be read online.


Question from Vermont, on Aug. 01, 2022

Dear Editors:

I know the forum has taken this question before, but several years have passed. Is B.C. still preferred to BCE? 

Please let me know. Thanks for all you do. 

Answer

It's under consideration. For now, we continue to use B.C.


Question from Franklin, Tennessee, on July 15, 2022

Would like tips on navigation. For example looking for whether you spell out first instance of an acronym. Don't see that when I search "acronym." Looking for whether you spell out instances of United States when it stands alone. Don't find that when search "United States," or "abbreviations." Thank you.

Answer

When I search online for "acronym," I get the abbreviations and acronyms entry. That one doesn't appear to directly address the question of whether we spell out on first reference (the answer is yes, except for acronyms that are acceptable in all references, such as FBI; those are listed individually throughout the book).

When I search online for "United States," I get that entry (which doesn't address the question). So I search for U.S. and find the answer. Either United States or U.S. is OK when standing alone. If you're using the print book, the lengthy index in the back is very helpful. 


Question from Washington, District of Columbia, on July 11, 2022

Why does AP use all caps for the organization GLAAD? Since it's pronounced as a word, shouldn't it be Glaad?

Answer

It conforms with our general style for abbreviations of five letters or fewer, including COVID, SEPTA, DARPA, COBRA. We also use all-caps for some others that are widely known by that style, such as NASCAR and UNICEF.

Question from Danville, California, on July 08, 2022

I am working on a finance operations handbook for a client and have used the AP Stylebook abbreviations for states when listed. They would like to use the postal abbreviations. Several state abbreviations are listed and separated by commas. (i.e., Client will always file in Calif., Mass, N.J., N.Y. and Pa. if .......) Is there a particular preference as to which version should be used here??

Answer

For starters, in AP style we spell out state names except in datelines and photo captions. So our style is: The client will always file in California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania if ...

Of course, you could choose to follow a different style or create your own. If you or your client prefers postal abbreviations, that's your choice as well. We use postal abbreviations only in full addresses that include a ZIP code.


Question from on July 27, 2022

Would park ranger be capitalized if used as a title? 
"During the flood, Park Ranger John Smith was able to help a family to safety." 

Answer

We'd consider park ranger to be a job description, not a title. However, if the organization considers it a title, then it's capitalized before a name. More detail is in the titles entry.



Question from Aliso Viejo, California, on July 25, 2022

In a previous entry, a question was asked about the proper capitalization of "Greater Seattle area." The response was to lowercase "Greater" and use the term "greater Seattle area." Does that same rule apply to Toronto when the acronym "GTA" and the phrase "Greater Toronto Area" are commonly used for that area? The preferred Canadian style seems to be capitalizing each word.

Answer

We would still write greater Toronto area in our stories for broad audiences. If you are writing for a specific audience (say, Toronto residents) that are accustomed to a different style, then it's certainly fine to use the local style.


Question from on July 21, 2022

Should legislature be capitalized when used to refer to a foreign body (when that word itself isn't part of the name)? For instance, if we're talking about the British Parliament, and we call it a legislature to vary the word choice in another reference. Is it a Legislature or a legislature?

Answer

Lowercase legislature in that use, since it's not part of the proper name. I'm not sure I would use legislature in that case, though. It could sound as if you don't know the name of the organization and are mentally back in the U.S. ...

Looked at another way, in the U.S. we don't see a need to vary the word choice. And we wouldn't refer to the Minnesota Legislature as parliament on another reference.




Question from on June 07, 2022

Is it Negroni cocktail or negroni cocktail?

Answer

It's Negroni cocktail, with the proper name element capitalized. Webster's New World College Dictionary provides the background:

Negroni  n. [[It, said to be after C. Negroni, count in Florence who invented this combination of ingredients (early 1900s?)]] [often n-] a cocktail of gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth


Question from New York, New York, on June 07, 2022

Hi,

I've reviewed the cryptocurrency/blockchain entry, but would just like confirmation/clarity on the following:

Any reference to a cryptocurrency, whether the blockchain technology or the coin itself, should now be lowercase. Before I believe the technology was capitalized, but coins were lowercase.

Thanks for the help!

Answer

We revised the guidance this year to make it all lowercase.


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?

Thanks!

Answer

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

months 


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

Answer

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 Boulder, Colorado, on May 16, 2022

If an event starts on the hour but ends on the half hour (or any other time) do you use :00 and :30? Or just :30 for the "off hour" time? For example, which is correct: the event is from 6:00-7:30 or 6-7:30?

Answer

The latter is correct.


Question from Louisville, Kentucky, on April 19, 2022

How is the holiday, 4-20, written?

Answer

We use a slash: 4/20.


Question from Kalamazoo, Michigan, on April 14, 2022

Has AP determined a consistent way to reference the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.  Does it conform to rule for dates: Jan. 6?  Or is there a special rule that makes it January 6th or January Sixth? 

Answer

It follows our standard style for dates: Jan. 6.


Question from Indianapolis, Indiana, on July 11, 2022

In a feature story on a beef cattle farm, I am mentioning that in addition to selling cuts (steaks, ground beef, etc.), the family sells beef the traditional way, which refers to sections of a carcass. For example, if you are buying the meat from an entire steer, that's called "a whole beef," and if you're buying half a carcass, that's called "a half beef," often shortened to just "a whole" or "a half." But these days (freezer space being what it is for most people), you can also get "quarters," "eighths" and "sixteenths." My question is, should I spell out "sixteenths"? My instinct says yes, but I can't figure out if I have a good reason for this or not. The sentence in question is, "While they continue to offer on-farm sales of wholes, halves, quarters, eighths and sixteenths, they have expanded their marketing in several ways."

P.S. I just love the 'Ask the Editor' section! I check it often, even when I don't have a specific question.

Answer

I love Ask the Editor too, for the great variety of questions we get! Thank you for both your appreciation and your question.

You're probably not surprised when I say we don't have specific guidance on style for measurements of beef sections. But my instinct agrees with your instinct. Do what makes sense to readers.  And wholes, halves, quarters, eighths and 1/16ths is just weird. "Weird" is my technical term for it. Go with sixteenths for consistency and readability.


Question from Federal Way, Washington, on July 08, 2022

Here's a puzzler:
a) Figures are used for all numbers in ratios.
b) Spell out numbers at the beginning of a sentence.

I have two sentences that begin with ratios. Following the two pieces of guidance above, these sentences would look like this: "One in 2 school-aged children are not in school. One in 3 schools have been damaged or destroyed."

Spell out all, put all in figures, or leave the funny-looking mix?

Answer

Are the ratios exact? In other words, are 50% not in school and 33.33% of schools damaged or destroyed? If they're not exact, you could say: About 1 in 2 and about 1 in 3.

Or: Half of school-aged children. A third of schools ...

If you have to use the ratios and they have to start the sentences, I'd spell it out: One in two  and One in three ...


Question from Virginia Beach, Virginia, on July 06, 2022

If you were talking about a span of grade levels that combine both numbers under ten and ten or over in a school would you say:
  • grades three through 12
  • grades 3-12
  • grades three through twelve
  • grades three-12

Answer

I'd use the numerals for consistency, even though we usually use lowercase for grades nine and under.


Question from Cincinnati, Ohio, on June 22, 2022

Hello. My company eagerly embraces many trendy management philosophies that often come with their own subsidiary buzzwords. I see you recommend lower case for "lean process" but capitalizing Agile as a formally named methodology. Within the lean process are steps acolytes have dubbed the "8 wastes" and "5 whys." Would you spell out the numerals, and would you capitalize these subprocesses?

Answer

This is a bit outside what we cover. Our style, of course, in general is to spell out one through nine  – with a whole bunch of exceptions. So far, trendy management philosophies and their subsidiary buzzwords aren't included in the exceptions. And we avoid excessive use of uppercase. So in theory, we'd probably prefer "eight wastes" and "five whys." BUT: It appears from my online searches that if you want to fit in with the crowd that does use those terms, the numerals and the capital letter is the way to go. Often, individuals or groups do need to vary from our formal style to suit their own needs and audiences. You might even do without the quotation marks, if your audience is familiar with the terms. Just choose a style that seems consistent with what most of your audience and/or users use and understand, and stick with it.




Question from Washington DC, on June 08, 2022

I seem to recall that you recently changed AP style to use the % sign instead of spelling out the word percent. But the guide still says to spell it out. Did you reverse that decision, or am I imagining it all?

Answer

Where are you seeing guidance to spell it out? This is the current entry, which has remained unchanged since we started using the % sign a few years ago:


percent, percentage, percentage points 


Use the % sign when paired with a number, with no space, in most cases (a change in 2019): Average hourly pay rose 3.1% from a year ago; her mortgage rate is 4.75%; about 60% of Americans agreed; he won 56.2% of the vote. Use figures: 1%, 4 percentage points.

For amounts less than 1%, precede the decimal with a zero: The cost of living rose 0.6%.

In casual uses, use words rather than figures and numbers: She said he has a zero percent chance of winning.

At the start of a sentence: Try to avoid this construction. If it’s necessary to start a sentence with a percentage, spell out both: Eighty-nine percent of sentences don’t have to begin with a number.

Constructions with the % sign take a singular verb when standing alone or when a singular word follows an of construction: The teacher said 60% was a failing grade. He said 50% of the membership was there.

It takes a plural verb when a plural word follows an of construction: He said 50% of the members were there.

Use decimals, not fractions, in percentages: Her mortgage rate is 4.5%.

For a range, 12% to 15%, 12%-15% and between 12% and 15% are all acceptable.

Use percentage, rather than percent, when not paired with a number: The percentage of people agreeing is small.

Be careful not to confuse percent with percentage point. A change from 10% to 13% is a rise of 3 percentage points. This is not equal to a 3% change; rather, it’s a 30% increase.

Usage: Republicans passed a 0.25 percentage point tax cut. Not: Republicans passed a 0.25 percentage points tax cut or Republicans passed a tax cut of 0.25 of a percentage point.

Question from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on June 27, 2022

I am having trouble figuring out the verb tense when a sentence contains a list. For example, which of the two is correct:
"I wanted to ask if there is additional information, documents, or resources you have access to."
Or,
"I wanted to ask if there are additional information, documents, or resources you have access to."

Should it be "are" because there are multiple things listed, or should it be "is" because the first listed item, "information," is singular. I also get confused because this list uses "or" instead of "and." I imagine that if this list used "and," it would be more evident that the verb tense should be plural.

Answer

It should be is, for the reason you surmise. 

Or make it easier on yourself:

"I wanted to ask if there are additional documents, resources or other information you have access to."  (Because this is a very simple series, we don't use the Oxford comma.)

And by the way, I have a Little Free Library here in Philly. Thank you for all you do!


Question from Bangalore, on June 23, 2022

It displays the total number of tasks that need/needs to be executed based on the filters selected.

Which is correct here? Do we apply "the expression 'the number of' takes the singular verb" rule here?

Answer

Does the number need to be completed, or do the tasks need to be completed? I guess you could argue for the former. But I'd use the latter: the total number of tasks that need to be completed ...


Question from Denver, Colorado, on June 15, 2022

When the boundaries of a city and county are identical, as in the City and County of Denver, should the combination take a singular verb, as in "The City and County of Denver is..."?

Answer

I see from https://www.denvergov.org that there is an entity formally called the City and County of Denver (as opposed to the general terms the city and county of Denver).

If you are referring to that entity, use the singular verb: The City and County of Denver is planning a program to help people pay property taxes.

Note: Generally our style is to use lowercase: the city of Philadelphia. But I could see arguments for capitalizing in the Denver case when referring to the government entity. It helps specity the actual government organization and activities related to it, vs. general references to the area.

But if you're talking generally about Denver city and county, use lowercase. Or often simply Denver works. 




Question from Tokyo, on June 07, 2022

I've searched for an answer to this perennial question, but haven't found it -- apologies if I've missed it!

Should we use a plural or singular verb here? Prevent or prevents?

"The shame and fear that they will not be believed prevent many male victims from speaking about their experiences."

Answer

In this case, it clearly is two distinct concepts: the shame, and the fear that they will not be believed. So use a plural verb, as you have it.


Question from Washington, District of Columbia, on May 26, 2022

I thought I read in the stylebook that "staff" is singular and used the way "group" and "team" are used. As in, "the staff/group/team is outside" or "staff/group/team members are involved." But not, "the staff/group/team are joining us." But I don't see "staff" as an entry. Could you please clarify whether "staff" is always singular? Thank you.  

Answer

Staff generally takes a singular verb. There may be times when plural works better and isn't necessarily wrong. Or, better, here's my response to a similar question last year:

I'd rephrase it, which has the added benefit of making people sound more like people. Staff members at the hospital ...


Question from Phoenix, Arizona, on Aug. 04, 2022

Would you say 30 years' experience (apostrophe) or 30 years experience (no apostrophe)?

Answer

It's 30 years' experience. Here's the guidance from the possessives entry:

QUASI POSSESSIVES: Follow the rules above in composing the possessive form of words that occur in such phrases as a day's pay, two weeks' vacation, three months' work, five years' probation. The apostrophe is used with a measurement followed by a noun (a quantity of whatever the noun is). The examples could be rephrased as a day of pay, two weeks of vacation, three months of work, five years of probation.
No apostrophe when the quantity precedes an adjective: six months pregnant, three weeks overdue, 11 years old.


Question from San Marcos, Texas, on Aug. 04, 2022

Call center employee or call-center employee? Is there a right answer to this or is it a judgement call?

Answer

It's a judgment call, as are many questions about hyphens. In this case, I'd think the term call center is recognizable as a single phrase, like real estate, emergency room, chocolate chip cookie, climate change. The hyphen doesn't add any clarity. So: call center employee, real estate agenty, emergency room doctor, etc. The hyphen entry provides much more detail.



Question from Greenville, South Carolina, on Aug. 03, 2022

We take ownership of our customer’s needs or should it be,  We take ownership of our customers' needs?

Answer

.... of our customers' needs (unless you have only one customer). Or, alternatively (with bold to show the two changes): We take ownership of each customer's needs.



Question from Atlanta, Georgia, on Aug. 02, 2022

Which version of this sentence is correct? (with or without the comma after "liver"

We offer one of the shortest wait times in the country for children needing a liver, and have performed more than 600 liver transplants since our program began. 

We offer one of the shortest wait times in the country for children needing a liver and have performed more than 600 liver transplants since our program began. 



Answer

Here's the guidance from the comma entry:

WITH CONJUNCTIONS: When a conjunction such as and, but or for links two clauses that could stand alone as separate sentences, use a comma before the conjunction in most cases: She was glad she had looked, for a man was approaching the house.
As a rule of thumb, use a comma if the subject of each clause is expressly stated: We are visiting Washington, and we also plan a side trip to Williamsburg. We visited Washington, and our senator greeted us personally. But no comma when the subject of the two clauses is the same and is not repeated in the second: We are visiting Washington and plan to see the White House.
The comma may be dropped if two clauses with expressly stated subjects are short. In general, however, favor use of a comma unless a particular literary effect is desired or if it would distort the sense of a sentence.

So, no comma in your example. Of course, my preference would be to break it into two sentences. We offer one of the shortest wait times in the country for children needing a liver. We've performed more than 600 liver transplants since our program began.




Question from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, on Aug. 01, 2022

I note a style point in today's WaPo that I have long thought ought to be AP's style as well: the hyphenation of "infectious-disease specialist." I mean, really, who'd want to pay money to visit the unhyphenated version?

Answer

I understand what you're saying, and certainly we do recommend a hyphen in constructions that can be open to misinterpretation. But we believe this term, particularly during these pandemic times, is quite well known enough not to need a hyphen for clarity.


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.

Answer

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)?

Answer

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


Question from West Lafayette, Indiana, on Aug. 03, 2022

Hello from Purdue University!
Looking for guidance on cleanroom vs. clean room. Hope you can decide this issue!

Answer

Hello to Purdue!

Webster's New World College Dictionary uses two words, and we concur: 

clean room  a room, or other enclosed area, designed to create and maintain an atmosphere virtually free of such contaminants as dust, pollen, or bacteria: used in hospitals, laboratories, etc.

Merriam-Webster also uses two words.

Of course, be sure the meaning is clear and include a definition if necessary. It's not just any random room that is tidied up ...



Question from on Aug. 01, 2022

With the rising interest in buying secondhand items, our editors are torn between preloved and pre-loved for our style guide—and the answer doesn't seem clear. Please advise!

Answer

The pre- entry says: Follow Webster’s New World College Dictionary. Hyphenate if not listed there.

The dictionary doesn't list preloved. Thus: pre-loved.



Question from Roseville, California, on July 29, 2022

Why is it preoperative and postoperative, but preop and post-op? The hyphen in post-op doesn't jive with the hyphen rule or the full word form. And would intraoperative and intraop be correct? 

Answer

I think you're looking at the Webster's New World College Dictionary section of your Stylebook Online. I don't know why the dictionary uses post-op but postoperative. I agree with you that it's best to be consistent. I'd go with preoperative, postoperative, preop, postop. As long as the meaning is clear in the context. If I see preop and/or postop out of context,  I don't recognize them at first. I'm going to go on a preop vacation.  ?

And no hyphen in intraoperative, intraop. I wouldn't use those terms for general audiences, though.



Question from Kansas City, Missouri, on July 29, 2022

I see pretrial has no hyphen according to AP. So after a trial, would it be: posttrial or post-trial?

Answer

We don'nt have an  entry on pretrial. You're looking at the Webster's New World College Dictionary section of your Stylebook Online subscription.

As for the question, that gets us into dictionary differences and consistency issues again. According to our guidance, it's post-trial since Webster's New World College Dictionary doesn't list posttrial. But, Merriam-Webster does list posttrial. Why, you might ask, does WNWCD make it pretrial but no posttrial? I do not know. After the trial works just fine, too, and is much easier to read.





Question from Somerville, Massachusetts, on July 20, 2022

Is the phrase "code switch" hyphenated or not, one word or two? As in to change the way you speak or act depending on who you're with.

Answer

Hyphenate code-switching as a noun, if you have to use it. I wouldn't use it as a verb. Neither Webster's New World College Dictionary nor Merriam-Webster recognize the verb form. And both limit its definition to the linguistics or language meaning. Also, of course, many readers would have no idea what you're talking about. So I'd define it, at a minimum (unless you are sure that your specific audience understands) or use more words as you did in your question. (Interesting that in your question itself, you felt a need to define it!)



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