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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. Your sole "nosedive" Ask-The-Editor item is at odds with the dictionary's "nose-dive" spelling -- which is it, "nosedive" or "nose-dive"? – from Shoreline, Wash. on Fri, Jul 22, 2016

A. It's nosedive (n.) and nose-dive (v.) in Webster's NWCD, Fifth Edition. My previous answer has been corrected. Thanks for outpointing.

Q. The FDA often omits the definite article "the" when referring to itself. For example, "FDA is responsible for protecting the public health by regulating drugs and devices." Many industry publications follow the FDA's lead and also omit it. Personally, I think it sounds awkward. What does AP style dictate? Do we follow the rules of grammar or defer to the Agency's usage? – from Salt Lake City on Fri, Jul 22, 2016

A. AP headlines use the abbreviation without the article, as in this example: FDA approves first dissolving stent for US patients. Within stories, however, it's the Food and Drug Administration on first reference and the FDA thereafter.

Q. I write about the life sciences. I've noticed that industry publications are inconsistent in their spelling/usage (plural vs. singular) of the term. Some use "life sciences' -- even when I appears as an adjective. For example, "Life sciences companies are subjected to stringent FDA regulations." Others use the single form when using it as an adjective. For example, "The life science industry is highly regulated." Our company, which follows AP style, uses the singular form in adjective phrases (ex: life science companies) but the plural form when its used as a noun (ex: "She works in the life sciences"). Has AP ever made an official ruling on this? – from Salt Lake City on Fri, Jul 22, 2016

A. In AP stories, generally it's the life science company (singular) and life sciences companies (plural). Also, news archives show the life sciences industry and life sciences industries.

Q. NW shows chatroom; there's a 2010 FAQ response that says chat room. Are you still using two words or should we follow the dictionary now? – from Washington on Fri, Jul 22, 2016

A. It's chat room, two words, in Webster's NWCD, Fifth Edition. This spelling also appears within the Stylebook in a social media context.

Q. Please help! This always stumps me. Can a clause with an implied subject be considered independent and therefore not subject to the comma before coordinating conjunction rule? For example: I was exhausted, but went to the concert anyway. Would the same rule(s) apply to longer, more complex sentences--or do I have to insert a comma before 'and' in the example below? EX: The design allows customers to easily scale up (or down) according to their needs and integrates with other third-party solutions so that data is streamlined throughout different business areas. – from Salt Lake City on Fri, Jul 22, 2016

A. No comma when the subject of the two clauses is the same and is not repeated in the second. See WITH CONJUCTIONS section of the "comma entry" for guidelines.

Q. Should U-17 and U-20, the age designations for national soccer teams, be written out, i.e., under-17 and under-20 soccer team? – from Columbus, Ohio on Fri, Jul 22, 2016

A. The abbreviations are widely used on first references in AP soccer stories.

Q. In this example: "The international celebration for Catholics was started by St. John Paul II in 1985," should John Paul be referred to as "Pope John Paul II" since he was a pope, and not a saint, at the time he started the event? The story is about World Youth Day. – from The Villages, Florida on Fri, Jul 22, 2016

A. By the Stylebook's "pope" entry, St. John Paul II on first reference. On second reference, John Paul. Make clear in the body of the story that he was a pope.

Q. What is the correct past tense of 'strike' when referring to a union's past strike? They struck? They striked? Nothing sounds correct. Many thanks! – from Houston on Fri, Jul 22, 2016

A. Generally formulated with the noun strike: The last strike was in 2010. The workers went on strike last week. Employees have been out on strike for a month.

Q. When a sentence begins with a percentage, should the number be spelled out, or should it be a numeral? Ninety percent of the surgeries ... or 90 percent of the surgeries ... ? – from Elgin, Ill. on Fri, Jul 22, 2016

A. Yes, spell out that figure to start a sentence.

Q. Semiautonomous or semi-autonomous? – from Portland, Ore. on Fri, Jul 22, 2016

A. Deferring to the dictionary's semiautonomous.

Q. In this sentence, "The dual obligation of being both healer and judge comprise our response in mercy and justice," should be "comprises," correct? (Because "dual obligation" is a collective noun, or because the verb goes back to "obligation" only and does not include the adjective?) – from Alexandria, Va. on Fri, Jul 22, 2016

A. Use a singular verb in this formulation. However, guides or shapes our response might be better word choices

Q. Example sentence: " The drone manufacturer's latest features a zoom lens inside its camera system that offers 16x magnification." Does AP prefer "x" or "times"? – from Portland, Ore. on Fri, Jul 22, 2016

A. Make it 16 times magnification.

Q. Referring to high speed broadband - is it 100 gigabit or 100-gigabit; 100 gig or 100-gig? Thanks – from Dublin , Ohio on Fri, Jul 22, 2016

A. It's a 100-gigabit network. Or, the bandwidth is 100 gigabits per second.

Q. Are ragu and ragout interchangeable? If yes, in your definition of Bolognese, you use ragu, but in a Q to the E, you say AP prefers ragout. Which is correct? Thank you! – from Belleville, XX on Thu, Jul 21, 2016

A. For the sauce of meat and vegetables, use ragout for French recipes and ragu for Italian dishes.

Q. Do we capitalize the phrase, "communist bloc" as in "Goods could not be brought outside the communist bloc"? Thank you. – from Belmont, MI on Thu, Jul 21, 2016

A. Lowercase communist bloc.

Q. I can't seem to find the answer to this: Is it okay to abbreviate million or billion in a headline when you are referring to dollar amounts? For example, $10M or $8B ... – from Washington on Thu, Jul 21, 2016

A. Correct.

Q. In the phrase "about 15 to 20 words," is it correct to use the word "to" as shown, or should it be written as "about 15-20 words"? – from Kansas City, Mo. on Thu, Jul 21, 2016

A. Either way is fine.

Q. Hello. I know there's an entry from 2008 where it says it should be "rain forest" (two words), as opposed to "rainforest" (one word). Just wondering if you've changed your take on this particular spelling, since eight years have passed since then. Most sources use the one-word version, so I've been wondering. Thanks. – from San Francisco on Wed, Jul 20, 2016

A. I now see that the Stylebook's main reference has gone over to the one-word spelling: rainforest. In its previous edition, Webster's New World College Dictionary used the two-word spelling. In the absence of a Stylebook entry or usage, we generally follow the current dictionary entry: rainforest.

Q. I know that both "Alabaman" and "Alabamian" are correct, but can you tell me which is preferred by editors? – from Montgomery, Ala. on Wed, Jul 20, 2016

A. Alabamian is preferred, based on a check of AP news archives. Alabamian is also the primary spelling in the dictionary.

Q. In text where the use of "he or she" is necessary, what is the preferred usage? "he or she" OR he/she? Same question for "his or her" or his/her? – from Baldwin City, Kan. on Wed, Jul 20, 2016

A. When necessary, use he or she. However, consult the "his, her" entry for elaboration.

Q. Is the company "Airbnb" or "AirBnb" with capitalization? – from St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wed, Jul 20, 2016

A. AP stories use Airbnb.

Q. Which of the following constructions would be correct: "the Chicago-to-Fort-Wayne-and-Ohio passenger rail service" or "the Chicago-to-Fort Wayne-and-Ohio passenger rail service"? In other words, would "Fort Wayne" be considered a single entity in the adjective phrase? Thanks! – from Fort Wayne, Ind. on Wed, Jul 20, 2016

A. It's so much easier on the eyes without hyphens: the Chicago to Fort Wayne and Ohio passenger rail service.

Q. Is up to date supposed to be hyphenated in this setance? It's after the noun but still seems like a compound modifier. As the superintendent, her is in charge of keeping equipment up-to-date on safety. – from AE, AP on Wed, Jul 20, 2016

A. Yes, probably clearer as written in this formulation. Don't you mean she is in charge, rather than her?

Q. The dictionary gives "Heads up!" as the interjection, and "heads-up" as the adjective, describing an activity as being performed alertly ("playing heads-up baseball"). What about the noun (I called to give her the heads-up)? – from Vancouver, Wash. on Tue, Jul 19, 2016

A. It's heads-up (n.) in Webster's New World College Dictionary, Fifth Edition, the Stylebook's main reference.

Q. Is this text format correct: Through an improved customer experience, Playhouse Square hoped to increase online ticket sales, simplify the purchase process, encourage customer research and streamline season ticket holder renewals. Or should it be "By employing" an improved customer experience, etc – from Westlake, Ohio on Tue, Jul 19, 2016

A. Try tightening: With better customer service, Playhouse Square ...

Q. Has the rule about hyphenating century when used as an adjective changed? In several AP stories this week, I've seen it left as two words, as in this example: Also in Centro is the Portuguese Royal Reading Room, a 19th century gem of soaring jacaranda hardwood bookshelves and stained glass windows, tucked into the newly rehabilitated Praca Tirdentes. Thanks! – from New York on Tue, Jul 19, 2016

A. No, the Stylebook includes several examples of the hyphenated -century as a modifier preceding a noun.

Q. On May 19, 2011, you mentioned that "demo'd" would be OK in a direct quote. So could we write "demo'ing" or "demo-ing"? My client really wants to avoid using the word "demonstrating," as their purpose is casual in tone. Thanks. – from Flagstaff, Ariz. on Tue, Jul 19, 2016

A. AP news archives show one use of the gerund form of demo (n.). It's spelled demo-ing within a direct quote.

Q. Are you still hyphenating "e-newsletter?" – from Boone, N.C. on Tue, Jul 19, 2016

A. Yes.

Q. Would you confirm your guidance on whether to capitalize Section in this instance? "The securities class action asserted Section 10(b) and 20(a) claims." What if we were to say, "The securities class action asserted claims under Sections 10(b) and 20(a)"? Thanks. – from New York on Tue, Jul 19, 2016

A. For the plural, sections 10 (b) and 20(a). For guidance, see third graf of the PROPER NAMES section in the "capitalization" entry.

Q. Capitalize title of person attributed to a quote whose title is: chair of the board of supervisors of x county? – from Truckee, Calif. on Tue, Jul 19, 2016

A. A title following a name is spelled lowercase. That seems to be the better choice with a lengthy title like this.

Q. If Hillary Clinton wins the election, what will Bill's official title be? Former President? First Man? etc.? – from Jackson, Miss. on Tue, Jul 19, 2016

A. Another title hasn't been publicly discussed by the Clinton campaign. He remains former President Bill Clinton.

Q. I've only seen the term spoken word referenced here once and it was referring to spoken-word performance. Is the term written as spoken word or spoken-word when just referencing the term alone? Also, is it redundant to use the phrase spoken word poetry? – from Las Vegas on Mon, Jul 18, 2016

A. Standing alone it's the spoken word.

Q. onsite or on-site? as a noun? He worked onsite. – from Hartford, Conn. on Mon, Jul 18, 2016

A. The Stylebook spelling is on-site for all uses.

Q. My organization has an event called Ladies Night. Is it Ladies Night or Ladies' Night? Additionally, if I describe the event (so not using it as a proper noun) and say "Come for a ladies' night out" does the rule change? Thanks. – from Plymouth, Minn. on Mon, Jul 18, 2016

A. Such formally named events are often spelled as a possessive in AP stories: Ladies' Night. By extension, ladies' night out for the generic term.

Q. If not found in AP or Webster's NWCD, assume two words? Cliffside and barstool in this case. – from Louisiana on Mon, Jul 18, 2016

A. AP news archives show a clear preference for bar stool, though the one-word spelling also appears in some stories. Archive usage is mixed on cliffside vs. cliff side. A number of locations use the compound spelling, including Cliffside, N.J. As a generic description, the two-word spelling is frequently used.

Q. Is it "move in" or "move-in" as in the day a building is ready for occupancy? – from Maumelle, Ark. on Mon, Jul 18, 2016

A. We hyphenate move-in as a modifier: move-in day. Standing alone, it wouldn't require a hyphen: The building is ready for move in.

Q. The following is confusing. Is it missing some punctuation? "in" When employed to indicate that something is in vogue, use quotation marks only if followed by a noun: It was the "in" thing to do. Raccoon coats are in again. – from New Rochelle, N.Y. on Mon, Jul 18, 2016

A. In the second example, in isn't enclosed in quotes because it's followed by the adverb again.

Q. Is it "second annual" or "2nd annual" when referring to an event conducted every year? – from Golden, Colo. on Mon, Jul 18, 2016

A. Spell out second using the ordinals guidance. See "annual" entry specifying that annual applies only when an event has been held at least twice in succession.

Q. Multiple of buyer's agent? Buyers' agents or buyers agents? I've seen both. – from Arnold, Mo. on Mon, Jul 18, 2016

A. Probably buyers' agents as the plural of buyer's agent. The descriptive form without the apostrophe may also be correct in some contexts.

Q. Quick question: Which is correct, concerning, me/my, my/I 1) Communication between me and my siblings stopped once I became my father's caregiver. 2) Communication between my siblings and I stopped once I became my father's caregiver. Thanks! – from Washington , District of Columbia on Mon, Jul 18, 2016

A. The first is correct.

Q. Is it stepping-stone, steppingstone or stepping stone? I can't find a consensus. – from Portland, Ore. on Mon, Jul 18, 2016

A. The dictionary's primary spelling is steppingstone, one word.

Q. The response to the question about when to hyphenate toll free is still confusing. Please clarify these situations: Call us toll free at xxx-xxx-xxxx (we think this should not be hyphenated) Call our toll-free number 24/7 (we thought based on previous responses this would be hyphenated) Are we correct in our thinking? – from deerfield, Ill. on Mon, Jul 18, 2016

A. The dictionary lists two forms for this term -- adverb and adjective. Both are hyphenated, as your examples should be.

Q. I know in a sentence, we must spell out numbers under ten. What about in a question and answer series with all but one of the answers being over 10 as in the following? Is it ok to list the number 6? How much time is recommended to both plan for and execute a transfer of a business enterprise to family members? A. Six months B. 12 months C. 24 months D. 36 months – from Rockford, Illinois on Mon, Jul 18, 2016

A. Correct as written: A. Six months

Q. AP says to "Use figures for 10 or above and whenever preceding a unit of measure..." In the clause "the building will be eight floors tall" should "floors" be considered a "unit of measure"? – from Ipswich, MA on Mon, Jul 18, 2016

A. It's a description, rather than an exact measurement. so spell out eight floors using the Stylebook's basic rule for numbers under 10.

Q. In a September 2015 answer you imply an exception to the lowercase rule expressed for company names that otherwise present in all caps (for example, IKEA is Ikea). In that answer, you said: "A recent AP story referred to the 16th Annual deadCENTER Film Festival %uFFFF," thereby apparently allowing for the all caps portion of the festival name to be retained. Are you then saying that event names, generally, ought retain all cap composition if so designated by the event organizer? – from St. George, Utah on Mon, Jul 18, 2016

A. We tend to avoid unusual capitalization or letter combinations in event names, opting for more conventional spellings of titles.

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