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Ask the Editor provides answers, clarification and guidance on style issues that go beyond the pages of the AP Stylebook. Before posing a question to AP editor David Minthorn, search the accompanying style archives for your topic. With thousands of questions and answers on file, your topic has very likely been covered. For typical style questions and responses, visit Ask the Editor FAQ.

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Ask the Editor questions from the past week:

Q. I learned that "due to" does not mean "because of" and instead means "caused by." So "The game was postponed due to rain" is incorrect, but obviously we see it all the time ("The postponement was due to rain" would be correct.) Merrium-Webster says "due to" and "because of" are interchangeable. What's your policy? Thank you. – from Philadelphia on Fri, May 22, 2015

A. Webster's New World College Dictionary, the Stylebook's main reference, lists caused by and resulting from as the primary definitions of "due to." The second definition is because of. Purists would no doubt favor the first meaning.

Q. How would you hyphenate well before a phrase? The clause, "All were very well thought out" has appeared in my publication. Should it be "well-thought out" or "well-thought-out" or "well thought-out, or should it just stay as it is? – from Rexburg, Idaho on Fri, May 22, 2015

A. No hyphens required in very well thought out.

Q. Would the usage be: We have an Instagram? Or some other wording? – from Phoenix on Fri, May 22, 2015

A. We have Instagram.

Q. Can you clarify WHY the verb is 'has' and not 'have' in the following sentence? There are two different opinions in my office and we'd like to know which is right. For the last seven years, staff from the LGFCU Commercial Lending department has participated in the event to show their support for the members they serve. – from Raleigh, N.C. on Fri, May 22, 2015

A. The problem is agreement. Staff is a collective noun, which usually requires a singular verb and pronoun. But the sentence uses a singular verb -- has participated -- and a plural pronoun -- their. The sentence would be better rephrased with a plural subject to solve the agreement problem: For the last seven years, staffers (or staff members) from the LGFCU Commercial Lending department have participated in the event to show their support for the members they serve.

Q. If a business' name is in lowercase, should I write it in lowercase or capitalize the first letter of the first word? Ex: The party occurred at dream nightclub. OR The party occurred at Dream nightclub. – from Gainesville, Fla. on Fri, May 22, 2015

A. If you retain the lowercase spelling in line with the nightclub's preference, it might be clearer to rephrase: The party took place at the nightclub named dream.

Q. The standard for AP heading style seems to be sentence-style capping (%uFFFDdown%uFFFD style). Yet, in some environments following AP style, headline-style capping (%uFFFDup%uFFFD style) is used for the titles both of articles and sections within articles. I cannot find a headline-style guideline spelled out anywhere in the stylebook. In the AP approach to headline-style capping, would you cap the root word in a hyphenated compound? Would you cap the second element of a hyphenated compound if it would be capped on its own? Would you cap the particle in a phrasal verb? Would you cap prepositions of four words or longer? Five words or longer? Would you cap the first and last words, regardless of whether they would otherwise be lowercase? (I assume that coordinating conjunctions, articles [a, an, the], the infinitive marker, and at the very least short prepositions are down. Unless, of course, they follow a colon or are the first or last word in the phrase.) __________ AN ASIDE (not necessary to reproduce! just to let you know I have searched) I did see this answer to a question submitted on June 24, 2104: See the Online section of the %uFFFDheadlines%uFFFD entry, which specifies all words up. But I can find no such entry. The online entry for headlines says only this: All AP stories need a short headline and a long headline. Only the first word and proper nouns are capitalized. Exception: First word after colon is always uppercase in headlines. Sorry, the question is lengthy because I am looking for specifics. – from Redwood City, Calif. on Fri, May 22, 2015

A. Some publications capitalize the main words of a headline, including hyphenated compounds, prepositions of four or more letters and both parts of "to be" verbs. Others are down as you list them. See NYT and WSJ headlines for examples.

Q. Is the word "approximately" necessary before exact numbers? A comment was made to include approximately before all distances, thanks – from Austin, Texas on Fri, May 22, 2015

A. I wouldn't as a rule use approximately or about in front of every numerical distance. The hedging term would be appropriate if the distance is an estimate.

Q. Should it be "mobile-friendly" or "mobile friendly"? I have seen this phrase hyphenated in many uses, but according to the AP section on hyphens, modifiers ending in ly shouldn't be hyphenated. Can you confirm the correct usage? – from Kansas City , Kan. on Fri, May 22, 2015

A. No hyphen needed in mobile friendly.

Q. Is "what ifs" the correct way to use this phrase? – from University City, Mo. on Thu, May 21, 2015

A. Correct.

Q. Which is preferred? The park is open noon-5 p.m. Sunday. or The park is open noon-5 p.m. Sundays. – from Chicago on Thu, May 21, 2015

A. It depends on the context. In a list with other days of the week using singular, Sunday would conform. Standing alone, the plural Sundays indicates a recurring or regular opening.

Q. How does AP handle "head to head" and "neck and neck"? Webster's New World College Dictionary seems to contradict itself, saying it's "neck and neck" (no hyphens) but "head-to-head." Thanks. – from Austin, Texas on Thu, May 21, 2015

A. The dictionary hyphenates head-to-head (adj., adv.). For neck and neck, the dictionary doesn't hyphenate this example: the candidates are neck and neck in the polls.

Q. Hyphen in "wrongful-death lawsuit," or is it a common enough phrase to not be necessary? Still, we might want to be very clear we are not describing the lawsuit as wrongful. Thanks. – from St. Paul, Minn. on Thu, May 21, 2015

A. In AP stories on lawsuits, wrongful death isn't hyphenated.

Q. Should the phrase GI Bill be capitalized? – from Cottleville, Mo. on Thu, May 21, 2015

A. Yes, it's short for GI Bill of Rights in the Stylebook example.

Q. Is it "provides" or "provide" in this sentence?: The earnings from her gift provides $100,000 for our work this year, and every year, to be used where funds are needed most. – from Des Moines, Iowa on Thu, May 21, 2015

A. The earnings ... provide ...

Q. Webster's New World College Dictionary lists kickoff as one word for all uses. Is that the style that AP uses too? – from Williamsport, Pa. on Thu, May 21, 2015

A. No. In the "football" section of Sports Guidelines, the AP Stylebook lists kick off (v.), kickoff (n., adj.).

Q. Can you use fine-tune as a verb, i.e., fine-tuning? – from Plantsville, Conn. on Thu, May 21, 2015

A. Yes, the verb forms in the dictionary are fine-tune, fine-tuned, fine-tuning.

Q. Are online publications italicized when referring to them? – from Red Bank, N.J. on Thu, May 21, 2015

A. AP news stories don't use italics. Instead, for example, blog names use the name as spelled by the writer, capitalizing the first letter and other main words. Don't enclose the name in quotation marks unless it's an unusual spelling that might otherwise be unclear.

Q. When writing about "grey matter" like in the brain, is it gray matter or grey matter? Normally grey vs gray is a cultural difference, but in the case of a proper noun, what is the correct version of gray/grey? – from Eden Prairie, Minnesota on Thu, May 21, 2015

A. It's gray matter with an "a."

Q. I am reading an article about the spread of Sanskrit in India and came across this sentence: As such, Sanskrit has never been the language of the majority of India's population, especially in East and South India, where local languages developed independent of Sanskrit. Should east and south be capitalized? in this case these areas are not designations the like Southern U.S. Or do they get capped because they are regions of the country? – from Orysia, New York City, N.Y. on Thu, May 21, 2015

A. AP stories from India lowercase the area designator: east India, south India, northern India, etc.

Q. Would it be accurate and fair to say that Israel party controls the Palestinian territories of Gaza Strip and the West Bank? – from , Belleville, N.J. on Thu, May 21, 2015

A. You probably mean "partly" controls. Israel has guarded settlements, roads and fences in the West Bank, along with security forces in certain areas. It controls land access to the Gaza Strip along the common frontier, which is heavily guarded.

Q. Looking for a style ruling on "bunker-buster" bombs please: quote marks or no quote marks? hyphen or no hyphen? And is it "buster" or "busting," as we've seen both? Thanks! – from Tel Aviv, XX on Thu, May 21, 2015

A. Often hyphenated as a compound modifier but not enclosed in quotes: bunker-buster bomb.

Q. According to previous Ask The Editor entries, you hyphenate "second-highest" as an adjective (second-highest building). What about "second most" -- e.g. second most valuable commodity. – from Tokyo on Wed, May 20, 2015

A. The phrase is clear without hyphens.

Q. Made-to-order is hyphenated, but would you hyphenate "to order" in this sentence: We knew restaurant-style meant making a lot more of the food to order, so that mean more grills. – from Chicago on Wed, May 20, 2015

A. No hyphen in food to order.

Q. roboticly or robotically, as in "the experiments are operated roboticly/robotically." – from Tampa, Fla. on Wed, May 20, 2015

A. Use the adverb spelling robotically.

Q. When used AFTER the noun it modifies, is state-of-the-art hyphenated or not? The sentence: "The technique was considered to be state-of-the-art at the time." Thank you! – from NJ on Wed, May 20, 2015

A. Yes, the adjective is hyphenated in the dictionary.

Q. The Numerals entry says this: In general, spell out one through nine: The Yankees finished second. He had nine months to go. Use figures for 10 or above and whenever preceding a unit of measure. However, "months" is a unit of measure, so shouldn't it be "He had 9 months to go"? – from Madison, Wis. on Wed, May 20, 2015

A. Months vary in days, so figures under 10 in such descriptions are spelled out: nine months.

Q. Smart-home technology or smart home technology? – from Houston on Wed, May 20, 2015

A. While sometimes hyphenated, it's better as a noun phrase: smart home technology.

Q. Is it grant-making or grantmaking? Two word hyphenated or one word? For example, "We are a grantmaking/grant-making not-for-profit organization." Or, "the grantmaking/grant-making process can be intensive." – from San Antonio on Wed, May 20, 2015

A. AP stories hyphenate grant-making.

Q. Are types of fruit capitalized? Such as honeycrisp apples. – from West Lafayette, Ind. on Wed, May 20, 2015

A. Most apple variety names are capped: Honeycrisp apples.

Q. Can we get some information on how AP refers to data rates in telecommunications? For example, we would write %uFFFD100Gbit/s%uFFFD but sometimes it%uFFFDs written as %uFFFD100G%uFFFD. Some people think it depends upon the context and that different conventions must be followed depending on formality. – from Brough, XX on Wed, May 20, 2015

A. See the Stylebook's "byte" and "bit" entries. Also, search on those terms in Ask the Editor archive for a number of examples.

Q. Would you hyphenate zip-ties when it's not used as a modifier? As in, "Don't forget zip ties, scissors, power strips, extension cords and hoses." – from Chicago on Wed, May 20, 2015

A. Looks fine without a hyphen, a la the Stylebook's zip line.

Q. Hi - nine years later, is this answer still current for the U.S. HHS? Q. We are looking for clarification on the correct abbreviation for Department of Health and Human Services. Is it HHS or DHHS? The department calls itself HHS throughout its Web site, but this is not stated in the AP Stylebook. %uFFFD from St. Charles, Ill. on Mon, May 15, 2006 A. AP style in the abbreviation is HHS. – from Renton, Wash. on Tue, May 19, 2015

A. Yes, AP stories use HHS in abbreviating the Department of Health and Human Services ..meaning, on second reference and in headlines.

Q. Are there any rules when writing dollar amounts in this format: $300/person? – from West Lafayette, Ind. on Tue, May 19, 2015

A. It's $300 per person ... a $300-per-person event.

Q. Do you need the word "degree" in the following sentence: He received his B.A. degree from..... Also, since I have limited copy space, can I abbreviate B.A., M.A., etc. – from springfield, Ill. on Tue, May 19, 2015

A. He received his bachelor's degree from ... Abbreviate B.A., M.A. or other degree in a list. For elaboration, see "academic degrees" entry.

Q. If a movie title contains "Part 2" but the promotional materials provide no punctuation to set it apart, what is the policy? My example is "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2." I feel like it needs something. – from Kansas City, Missouri on Tue, May 19, 2015

A. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2"

Q. When talking about a portion of a decade, would it be mid-'90s or mid-90s? – from WAXAHACHIE, Texas on Tue, May 19, 2015

A. Make it mid-'90s or mid-1990s. The apostrophe indicates dropped digits.

Q. Chef and Executive Chef. I think the former would generally be a job description and the latter a title - agree? – from Mount Pleasant, S.C. on Tue, May 19, 2015

A. AP stories generally lowercase both as job descriptions.

Q. Is that "laser-like focus" or "laserlike focus"? – from Bangalore, Karnataka, India on Mon, May 18, 2015

A. Make it laserlike, per guidance in the "-like" entry.

Q. Is it Ahi tuna or ahi tuna? I don't see it in the Food Guidelines. – from Chicago on Mon, May 18, 2015

A. It's ahi, Hawaiian for yellowfin tuna.

Q. I am aware that in the body of text AP spells out percent; however, in a table containing a column of percentages is is OK to use the percent symbol (%). It was my understanding that in this instance, as well as in text with space limitations, use of the percent symbol is within AP guidelines. – from Charlotte, N.C. on Mon, May 18, 2015

A. It's listed in the Stylebook as a nontransmitting symbol. In many cases the symbol cannot be sent by AP computers or be received by subscriber computers. Type "percent."

Q. Local California papers now seem to be using the term 'megadrought' in stories. Should it be 'megadrought' 'mega-drought' or should we try to stay away from the term all together? – from Chico, Calif. on Mon, May 18, 2015

A. The term "megadrought" has appeared in several AP stories, enclosed in quotes on first reference to a yearslong lack of water affecting a large area.

Q. Which is preferred: ...for (1)..., (2)... and (3).... or for 1)..., 2)... and 3)...? Also, are semicolons or commas used between the entries?" Thank you. – from Omaha, Neb. on Mon, May 18, 2015

A. Within a text, the second format is often used, with items separated by semicolons.

Q. A growing number of colleges are capitalizing "the" in their official names. Any AP Style guidance for an organization trying to develop a consistent style on this question? – from via New York on Mon, May 18, 2015

A. AP news stories generally don't include the capitalized definite article in a school name: e.g., University of Texas, Ohio State University and George Washington University. Especially in sports stories, school names are typically shortened to Texas, Ohio State and George Washington. This is AP usage guidance, rather than an AP Stylebook entry. We recognize that schools and related associations have their own policies and styles, which may include capitalized "The" in formal names and news releases.

Q. I know the guidance is to use "noon" as opposed to 12 p.m., but is "noon" a globally-understood term? Or if you're writing for a global audience, should you use 12 p.m.? – from Chicago on Mon, May 18, 2015

A. Both noon and midnight signify a part of the day that is ending, not beginning. So the terms stand alone without an hour figure or a.m. or p.m. The terms are understood globally.

Q. Hi! Can "always" be hyphenated as a compound modifier? For example, "always tough New England teams" (cannot be rewritten). Thanks! – from Exeter, N.H. on Mon, May 18, 2015

A. No hyphen with always (adv.).

Q. I cannot find the answer to this and am editing a dissertation due tomorrow. If one says, "one and one-half hours" is this the correct expression? The sentence currently reads "One and one-half hours were devoted to . . . " Is it best to change it to "90 minutes"? – from Vernon Hills, Ill. on Mon, May 18, 2015

A. It's OK as written. Or, informally: One and a half hours ...

Q. Local clubs and organizations often select residents of the month and a student of the month: Carrington Manor selected John Doe as its Resident of the Month for May. Oconto Falls High School selected John Does as its Student of the Month for May. Would these titles/awards be uppercase? Would you enclose in quote marks? – from Green Bay, Wis. on Mon, May 18, 2015

A. It's OK to capitalize a formally named award. No quotes needed.

Q. What term would you recommend to refer to a cell or mobile phone number a business card which will be used globally? This would correspond to Tel., which is typically used for a land line. Some countries use the term Mobile, some Cell, others have other variations. Please advise which term is most universal. Jane Smith Tel. 212 333 4444 ??? 212 555 6665 – from Norwalk, Conn. on Mon, May 18, 2015

A. Cellphone is widely understood for a hand-held calling device carried by an individual.

Q. If there is a Twitter handle in a story (i.e. (at)MaryLeeShark) is there a specific guideline to use Twitter handles? Would it be better in a story to use (at)MaryLeeShark or @MaryLeeShark? – from Tuscaloosa, Alabama on Sun, May 17, 2015

A. AP news stories use the at sign or @. For the news systems of some subscribers, it will be converted to (at).

Q. How often should I attribute the information if I have many paragraphs with content coming from the same source? – from San Francisco on Sun, May 17, 2015

A. See the Stylebook entries on "attribution," "ellipsis" and "quotation marks" for guidance and examples.

Q. The adjective "openly" is becoming entrenched in a fixed phrase: "openly gay." The phrase is used commonly in reference to people, notably celebrities or politicians, who publicly acknowledge or publicize their sexual orientation. AP has used the phrase in many news stories, reporting, e.g., "Two other lawmakers in Ireland's 166-seat legislature are openly gay." (AP, Jan. 28, 2015). It seems to me, though, that such use of "openly gay" does not precisely match the definition of "openly," which means "without concealment or prevarication"; the intended meaning of "openly gay" appears closer to "self-proclaimed." Consequently, "openly" can be superfluous when referring to gay individuals. May I ask your view? Thank you. – from Davis, Calif. on Sun, May 17, 2015

A. Openly should be used only when relevant in a news story. The National Lesbian and Gay and Journalists Association provides this explanation for openly gay/lesbian:

Q. In writing for a state government that adopts AP style, would I capitalize the following: Attorney General's Office, Attorney General, Safe Drinking Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS), Water Quality Control Division, Compliance Assurance Section, – from Evergreen, Colo. on Sun, May 17, 2015

A. The Stylebook says to capitalize attorney general only when it is used directly before the officeholder's full name. Using the Stylebook's entry on "act," capitalize the term when part of the name of pending or implemented legislation: Safe Drinking Water Act. The other commonplace terms are lowercase as explained in the INTERNAL ELEMENTs section of "organizations and institutions" entry.

Q. This specific question isn't made clear anywhere that I can find. When referring to two people with the same last name, one should use both their first name and surname for clarity. BUT, can you weigh in on this specific instance? If a story is dealing with ONLY John Smith for the first 12 paragraphs, and Jim Smith, his father, his only introduced in the very last paragraph, is it necessary to use John Smith's first and last name throughout the story? Or is it clear enough to only use his first and last name AFTER his father has been introduced? – from , Moccasin, Ariz. on Sat, May 16, 2015

A. In this instance, John Smith on first reference, Smith thereafter until Jim Smith, his father, enters the story. At that point, use both Jim Smith and John Smith to avoid confusion.

Q. Is it Democratic Republic of Congo or Democratic Republic of the Congo? I see it written both ways on reliable websites. – from Wheeling, W.Va. on Sat, May 16, 2015

A. Officially the second using the.

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