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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. When referring to single letters, should those be uppercase? As in: "Colombians want America to know that the country's name is spelled with an o and not a u." – from Seattle on Sun, Feb 07, 2016

A. Lowercase these letters.

Q. Why do U.S. and U.K. take periods and EU and USSR do not? Is it because one is a country and the other is a collection of countries? And then, why does U.N. takes periods? Because it is an organization of a collection of countries? Thanks for taking the time to answer. Noelle Knox (former AP editor/now editor for Politico Europe) – from Brussels, Belgium on Sun, Feb 07, 2016

A. Most two-letter abbreviations, including U.S., U.K., and U.N., take periods. An exception is EU without periods, the formal style of the European Union. For longer abbreviations in which individual letters are pronounced, use all caps and no periods: e.g., USSR. See CAPS, PERIODS section of the Stylebook's "abbreviations and acronyms" entry for elaboration.

Q. The program was "born" out of a gift from an alumnus. Is it "borne" or "borne"? Thank you! – from , on Fri, Feb 05, 2016

A. The correct spelling is born.

Q. Is "best in class" hyphenated when it is not used as a modifier or to refer to an award? Example: "The business is trying to establish itself as best in class." How about after a form of the verb "to be," such as "events that are best in class"? In the latter case, rewriting to "best-in-class events" isn%uFFFFt an option. – from Boston on Fri, Feb 05, 2016

A. It's fine without hyphens.

Q. What's the correct way to write a period of time, for example, a conference that runs from Feb. 4 to Feb. 14? Also, "The rainy reason runs from March-November"? – from San Diego on Fri, Feb 05, 2016

A. The conference is Feb. 4-14. The rainy season runs from March to November.

Q. Is NHL acceptable on first reference? – from , Harrisburg, Pa. on Fri, Feb 05, 2016

A. Yes.

Q. Hi, any chance of changing "voice mail" to "voicemail" in the stylebook? It seems like that entry dates back to 2007 and that most dictionaries recognize it as one word now. If you run a Google search of site:ap.org with "voice mail" in quotation marks and compare it to "voicemail," it shows that the one-word version appears 1,440 times versus 239, so the one-word option seems to align with conventional AP usage too. The logic made sense beforehand, when it was not as common of a term, but it seems like a good time to make a change. Thanks for taking a look. – from New York, N.Y. on Fri, Feb 05, 2016

A. It's under consideration.

Q. Can you state the guidelines for the use of a plural acronym ending in "S"? For example, we use CS frequently to stand for Clinical Specialists. Sentence example: "The CSs are meeting in room one." Should it be CSs or CS's? Thank you!! – from Dallas on Fri, Feb 05, 2016

A. By the MULTIPLE LETTERS section of the "plurals" entry, make it CSs.

Q. Would it be "There was a 13-percent increase in college acceptance rates" or would it be "13 percent" – from Lenexa, Kan. on Fri, Feb 05, 2016

A. With percent or percentage, there's no hyphen linking the figure and the term.

Q. What are the preferred usages for instinctive and instinctual? For example, in this sentence - "Whether we are aware of it or not, we instinctually assign value to every aspect of the dining experience." Would "instinctively" be more correct? – from New York on Thu, Feb 04, 2016

A. Use instinctively, the dictionary's adverb form.

Q. I know Scripture is capitalized when referring to the writings in the Bible, but what about the Good Word, and other references to the Scriptures? – from Indian Trail, N.C. on Thu, Feb 04, 2016

A. Lowercase such expressions.

Q. Season ticket holders or season tickets holders? – from Oklahoma City on Thu, Feb 04, 2016

A. It's usually season ticket holders in AP stories. Some stories hyphenate the first two words as a modifier, but the noun phrase form without hyphens seems just fine.

Q. Bio-metric, with a hyphen? (keyword: biometric) – from St. Paul, Minn. on Thu, Feb 04, 2016

A. It's biometric.

Q. In a quote, do you use a numeral for an age under 10 or spell it out? – from Seattle , Wash. on Thu, Feb 04, 2016

A. Yes, ages are expressed in numerals.

Q. My news editing class is having a hard time understanding the difference between less and fewer. Could you give us a better example? – from Detroit on Thu, Feb 04, 2016

A. In general, use fewer for count nouns: fewer than six cars. Use less for nouns of mass: less paper, less paint. There are exceptions, however, in some common expressions: e.g., write the jingle in 25 words or less.

Q. Hello! Are we talking chinook or Chinook? ... I work for a federal water agency and so I read a lot of salmon stories. I found your ruling in 2008 that chinook is not to be capitalized but I see a shift to more consistently capitalize Chinook in the press the last few years, namely the Sacramento Bee and LA Times. Will you please clarify or reconsider your ruling? Thanks! – from , Sacramento, Calif. on Thu, Feb 04, 2016

A. The dictionary uses capitalized Chinook for the Indian people of the Columbia River valley and the spoken tribal language. However, chinook salmon is spelled lowercase in Webster's New World College Dictionary, the Stylebook's main reference.

Q. AP Style says to use a comma before the concluding conjunction in a series if an integral element of the series also uses a conjunction. The phrase "I had orange juice, toast, and ham and eggs for breakfast" makes sense, but what about this sentence: "The overall focus is on helping our customers feel empowered and inspired to make purchases, take on projects, or utilize our ideas so they can get more out of their living space." Would there be a comma before the "or"? Or is an integral element only considered one that is at the end of the sentence before the terminal conjunction and not at the beginning? – from Dover, N.H. on Thu, Feb 04, 2016

A. If the second element of the series included more description of the kind of projects, a series comma would be helpful.

Q. When referring to a fashion collection such as the Simply Vera Vera Wang collection, should "collection" also have title caps? – from Williamstown, MA on Thu, Feb 04, 2016

A. It's lowercase collection.

Q. Does decision-making typically have a hyphen? Or just when used as a compound modifier? For example, in this sentence, should there be a hyphen? "We have confidence in our decision-making regarding the care of our patients." Thanks! – from Dallas on Thu, Feb 04, 2016

A. AP stories hyphenate decision-making in all uses.

Q. What are the correct ways to abbreviate south and southeast when referring to an area in Lebanon in a headline? – from Beirut, Lebanon on Thu, Feb 04, 2016

A. AP headlines occasionally use S. Lebanon when space is tight.

Q. Is Bigfoot one word, or two (Big Foot)? And, is the plural Bigfoots or Bigfeet? – from Guthrie, Okla. on Wed, Feb 03, 2016

A. It's Bigfoot. Express plurals with an accompanying noun: Bigfoot creatures, Bigfoot sightings.

Q. Would it be weekly jobless claims numbers or weekly jobless claim numbers? Rewording to the numbers for weekly jobless claims might be a less awkward sentence structure, but the author prefers not to keep the original text intact. – from St. Peterburg, Fla. on Wed, Feb 03, 2016

A. In AP stories, it's written weekly jobless claims. No need to add numbers to the phrase.

Q. Is it seasonlong or season-long? (For example, "The event is a seasonlong commitment.") – from Palm Springs, Calif. on Wed, Feb 03, 2016

A. ... season-long commitment.

Q. In sports, is "reserve/future contract" an appropriate use of a slash? The slash style entry would suggest no, but I see it with a slash and with a hyphen in AP stories. – from St. Paul, Minn. on Wed, Feb 03, 2016

A. Hyphenate reserve-future contract.

Q. Does AP prefer to use one or two of the letter S in focused/focussed and focusing/focussing? – from San Francisco on Wed, Feb 03, 2016

A. The preferred spellings are focused and focusing.

Q. If a driver runs into a cyclist -- when both are in motion in the same direction, e.g. he rear-ends her -- is this a "collision"? – from Oakland, Calif. on Wed, Feb 03, 2016

A. Yes, but the fuller description of the circumstances should be included.

Q. What is AP doing with the phrase Fight for $15? – from Farmington, Maine on Wed, Feb 03, 2016

A. Usually written as you have it, sometimes with lowercase campaign appended.

Q. Winning percentages in sports stories typically are written with the decimal in front of the number (.652 winning percentage), but wouldn't that actually indicate a winning percentage of 0.652 percent, rather than 65.2 percent? – from Crystal Lake, Illinois on Wed, Feb 03, 2016

A. Like a batting average in baseball, a winning percentage is expressed in three figures following a period, but not preceded by a zero.

Q. Re tenth vs. 10th: Following examples in the guide, we would say "10th in line" but "one-tenth the time it takes to cook"? Thanks – from New York on Wed, Feb 03, 2016

A. Correct. As a casual usage, one-tenth may be spelled out in this instance.

Q. Should I say "He was recognized for the work he did within his company" or "in his company" – from Lenexa, Kan. on Wed, Feb 03, 2016

A. The second. Or, he was recognized for his work in the company.

Q. Do I capitalize the name of a company's departments such as governmental affairs or communications or strategic operations? – from Montgomery, Ala. on Wed, Feb 03, 2016

A. Generic or commonplace department names are lowercase in AP news stories, though organizations tend to cap them.

Q. Is it sign off or sign-off? The expected turnaround time for sign-off on each test plan is two business days. – from Houston on Wed, Feb 03, 2016

A. In AP stories, it's signoff (n.), sign off (v.).

Q. Does AP have guidance on the term nanobrewery/nanobrewer? – from Phoenix on Wed, Feb 03, 2016

A. AP stories have used the terms to describe small-scale breweries that produce beers and ales for local pubs.

Q. Would a comma separate independent clauses in one sentence that is a quote with attribution? Example: "She didn't eat her cake, and that is fine with me," Smith said. – from Indianapolis on Tue, Feb 02, 2016

A. Correct.

Q. I note that AP capitalizes "Highway Trust Fund" in referring to the fund from which the federal government subsidizes transportation projects. I'm just wondering what the underlying principle is, since the fund is mainly a accounting repository for federal gasoline tax revenue and not an institution. – from Washington on Tue, Feb 02, 2016

A. Indeed, the federal Highway Trust Fund is generally capitalized as a formal name in AP stories. No doubt AP adopted the uppercase spelling from government usage. Yes, it's debatable.

Q. I know that AP style suggests no comma before the conjunction in a simple series. However, what if there are three equal adjectives in a sentence that all modify the noun. Would a comma be required before the "and" in the following sentence, since all three adjectives are equal: "....science and technology policy, education, and workforce issues." Thanks for your help. – from Boulder, Colo. on Tue, Feb 02, 2016

A. No, though the simple series might be made clearer by changing the order: science and technology, workforce issues and education.

Q. Is it, "did you lose something?" or "did you lose some thing?" Spell check keeps flagging "something." – from Grants Pass, Ore. on Tue, Feb 02, 2016

A. In that phrase, something is correct.

Q. Though it is standard to refer to it as "Air Force Base" in all story references, is it OK to use AFB in headlines? – from Atlanta on Tue, Feb 02, 2016

A. Yes.

Q. Quick question on half-ages: on March 13, 2015, you suggested users should spell out the words - "Once you reach age 70 and a half ..." Prior to this, on Nov. 14 and Oct. 29, 2014, you suggested figures and fractions instead - "7 1/2 years old" and "1 1/2" years." Final answer? Thanks! – from Greenwood Village, Colo. on Tue, Feb 02, 2016

A. Yes, mixed numbers, including ages, are generally expressed with fractions. So 70 1/2 is the better option.

Q. It would seem like AP would use "pre-caucus" as one word in compliance with the stylebook's entry for "pre-." It's not listed among the stylebook's exceptions, and "pre-" isn't preceding a proper noun. So why does AP use the word hyphenated? – from Austin, Texas on Tue, Feb 02, 2016

A. Using the guidance in the "pre-" entry, pre-caucus is a hyphenated coinage not found in the dictionary.

Q. When you finish a sentence with a state abbreviation, should you use a double period? For example, should there be another period at the end of "She was born in New York, N.Y."? – from Durham, N.C. on Tue, Feb 02, 2016

A. No, one period.

Q. Is it acceptable to include the conference name in the date line of a news release? Which would be correct? Mobile World Congress, BARCELONA, Spain. Feb. 22, 2016 %uFFFF MOBILE WORLD CONGRESS, BARCELONA, Spain. Feb. 22, 2016 %uFFFF BARCELONA, Spain. Feb. 22, 2016 %uFFFF – from Dallas on Tue, Feb 02, 2016

A. An AP news story uses only the geographical location in the dateline. The conference name could be used in the headline and within the story text.

Q. Is "swath" or "swathe" preferred (both are in the dictionary entries)? And are the plurals "swaths" and "swathes" respectively? The question is about the phrase "large swaths (or swathes) of land." – from Durham, N.C. on Tue, Feb 02, 2016

A. In the context of land, swath is the correct spelling for a width or zone. Add "s" for the plural: swaths. The other term, swathe (v. and n.), means wrapping or enveloping, such as with a bandage.

Q. The entry for quotation marks says to use three marks when two quoted elements end at the same time, but what if three or more quoted elements end at the same time? Should a writer use marks to end each quoted element, or only three in total? i.e., would this quote read: %uFFFFSometimes I just say, %uFFFFI don%uFFFFt feel like telling the story, so I%uFFFFm just going to say, %uFFFFWe met through friends,"' Jones said. or: %uFFFFSometimes I just say, %uFFFFI don%uFFFFt feel like telling the story, so I%uFFFFm just going to say %uFFFFWe met through friends,"'" Jones said. – from De Soto , Kan. on Mon, Feb 01, 2016

A. Punctuate the passage as two separate quotes within quotes: "Sometimes I just say, 'I don't feel like telling the story.' So I'm just going to say, 'We met through friends,'" Jones said.

Q. In the Q & A interview format, if the interviewee states a quote from someone else, should the double or single quote marks be used around that quotation? – from Oak View, Calif. on Mon, Feb 01, 2016

A. For the Q&A format, use double quote marks within the text to denote a quote from someone else.

Q. Personnel: singular or plural verbs? Sentence: Active-duty personnel make(s) the military a large employer. – from Mount Pleasant, S.C. on Mon, Feb 01, 2016

A. Use the plural verb in line with persons, the dictionary's primary definition of personnel.

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