Ask the Editor

Forgot your password? | Lost Username?

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.

Already a subscriber? Log in here.

Not a subscriber? AP Stylebook Online subscribers can:

  • View the entire archive -- 23,329 answered questions and counting!
  • Submit questions to Ask the Editor
  • Search the complete Ask the Editor archive
  • View listings by categories (such as abbreviations, capitalization, figures, numerals, titles, etc.)

Annual subscriptions start at $26/year for individuals. Subscribe now or learn more.

Ask the Editor questions from the past week:

Q. Regarding company names: I understand that I must include the full name at least once and that I may shorten the name in all other instances. Questions: 1) Do I get to choose how to shorten the company name? 2) Do I have to set that shortened version in parentheses after the full name%uFFFDmuch like the treatment when acronyms will be used in place of a full spelled out name? Or can I just start the shortened version of the name? – from Minneapolis on Fri, Sep 04, 2015

A. 1) A shortened name should follow guidelines of the Stylebook's "company names" entry. 2) AP doesn't do that. Use the shortened version instead.

Q. Hi, noticing a trend in the shortening of Saudi Arabian King Salman's name in a few recent AP stories. Can you confirm the name style/length used on first and second reference, please? Examples here: http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_WHITE_HOUSE_SAUDI_KING?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT and here: http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/M/ML_SAUDI_US?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT Thanks! – from Gainesville, Fla. on Fri, Sep 04, 2015

A. In AP stories from Riyadh and elsewhere, Saudi Arabia's King Salman on first reference. In follow-ups he's Salman or the king.

Q. What is the preferred AP Style for punctuating lists when it's not a how-to article? (e.g. 10 top ways to save money) Bullets or numbers? – from Raleigh, N.C. on Fri, Sep 04, 2015

A. See IN LISTS section of the "dash" entry in Punctuation Guidelines.

Q. Which is the preferred spelling, pre-recession or prerecession? – from Columbus, Ohio on Fri, Sep 04, 2015

A. By the "pre" guidelines, if the spelling isn't listed in the Stylebook or in the dictionary, hyphenate it" pre-recession.

Q. Is the name of a track set in quotes? E.g., At the Alliance 2016 conference, the Customer Relationship Management track will cover seven sessions about customer relationship management. – from san francisco, Calif. on Thu, Sep 03, 2015

A. That term would not be capitalized or enclosed in quotes in a news story.

Q. Can you shorten a company name when referring to it for the second (or third or fourth etc) time? – from Minneapolis on Thu, Sep 03, 2015

A. Yes, see "company names" entry. Shortened names may be used on first reference, but the full name should appear at least once in a news story.

Q. What is capitalization rule of for specific plant and animal common references? Is it Wild geranium or wild geranium? Gray fox or gray fox? – from Adel, Iowa on Thu, Sep 03, 2015

A. Both names are lowercase. See "animals" and "plants" entries for details.

Q. I understand AP lowercases music designations such as gold and platinum, but what about genre categories? Descriptions like "Adult Contemporary" and "Active Rock" often appear in releases talking about radio stations and print publication charts. – from Lewiston, N.Y. on Thu, Sep 03, 2015

A. Musical genres are lowercase in news stories.

Q. Is the name of a specific conference track put in quotation marks? – from san francisco, Calif. on Thu, Sep 03, 2015

A. What do you mean by conference track? What's the context?

Q. Can you refer to physical therapy as PT on second reference? – from Nashville, Tenn. on Thu, Sep 03, 2015

A. PT has several meanings. Usually it's clearer to repeat the term instead of using the abbreviation.

Q. Why do so many AP crime stories now include a sentence such as "It was not clear whether she had an attorney"? Why would that matter? – from Syracuse, N.Y. on Thu, Sep 03, 2015

A. An attorney would normally speak for a person named in a criminal case.

Q. When we write about 2 million people, do we spell out two million or write it as 2 million? Numbers less than 10 are spelled out, but what about when we're referring to millions and billions? – from Garland, Texas on Thu, Sep 03, 2015

A. Use the numeral in that case: 2 million.

Q. Is it peace building, peace-building or peacebuilding when used as a noun or adjective? – from Philadelphia on Thu, Sep 03, 2015

A. Two words as a noun. The term may be hyphenated as a modifier.

Q. When discussing the day (not specific to any month, and not the horror film series) that people consider unlucky, is it "Friday the thirteenth," "Friday the Thirteenth" or "Friday the 13th"? – from , Atlanta, Georgia on Thu, Sep 03, 2015

A. Friday the 13th using the ordinals guidance in the "numerals" entry.

Q. When listing a span of time in a sentence and the start time is a.m. and the end time is p.m., do you use either an em dash, an en dash or a hyphen, and would you place spaces surrounding it? Thank you! – from East lansing , MI on Thu, Sep 03, 2015

A. AP hyphenates such times without extra spaces: e.g., 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Q. Another agreement question: "Selling signage and securing league sponsors are/is an important part..."? Confusing to me because we're taking two items and describing them as one unit. – from Harrisburg, Pa. on Thu, Sep 03, 2015

A. Suggested rephrase: Selling signage and securing league sponsors are important parts of ...

Q. Is it nurses station or nurses' station? Appreciate your help! – from Encinitas, Calif. on Thu, Sep 03, 2015

A. Make it a descriptive without an apostrophe for possession: nurses station.

Q. The former Serbian leader - Milo%uFFFDevi? or Milosevic without the accent marks? Similarly, Goran Hadzic (Had%uFFFDi?), Franjo Tudjman (Tu?man), and Radovan Karadzic (Karad%uFFFDi?)? If it matters, our magazine can transmit accent marks... – from Farmington, Maine on Thu, Sep 03, 2015

A. AP spells those names without accent marks.

Q. Would war be capped in a reference to Balkan War criminals? – from Farmington, Maine on Thu, Sep 03, 2015

A. No. Lowercase war in such references.

Q. What are the verb and gerund forms for steam iron? I see it in print both hyphenated and unhyphenated? Thanks – from Virginia, XX on Wed, Sep 02, 2015

A. The dictionary entry is steam iron (n.). Verb forms would likely be hyphenated: e.g., She steam-ironed the shirt.

Q. Is is okay to use "through to" in reference to a particular period, i.e. "...from June through to September..." – from New York on Wed, Sep 02, 2015

A. Use either preposition but not both. From June through September means June 1 through Sept. 30. From June to September means June 1 to Sept. 1 or very early in that month.

Q. What do you advise for "hard copy" used as an adjective? Example: For security purposes, we require you complete a [hard-copy or hardcopy or hard copy] application form. – from Denver on Wed, Sep 02, 2015

A. In the dictionary, hard copy is two words.

Q. Would on demand be hyphenated in this headline: On Demand Online Seminar – from Newtown Square, Pa. on Wed, Sep 02, 2015

A. Wouldn't think so, though "on demand" has an imperative tone that seems misplaced with seminar.

Q. Question mark inside or outside quotation marks? In what ways might your "small steps" also be "giant leaps?" – from Tulsa, Okla. on Wed, Sep 02, 2015

A. The question mark refers to the whole sentence, so place it outside the second set of quotation marks.

Q. Which is correct - "ship-borne" or "shipborne"? – from Slidell, La. on Wed, Sep 02, 2015

A. No hyphen in shipborne, meaning carried by a vessel.

Q. I know there are various schools of thought on hyphenation on this. Does AP prefer mid-to-late, mid to late or something else entirely? For example: One suspect is described as being young, possibly in middle school; the other man is in his mid-to-late 20s, with a thin build. – from Lakeland, Florida on Wed, Sep 02, 2015

A. Hyphenate as a compound modifier: mid-to-late 20s.

Q. Would there be a hyphen or no hyphen between the words "poorly" and "trained" in this sentence? "My in-laws own a poorly trained, demon poodle." Side question: Is there a comma after "trained"? – from Portland, Ore. on Tue, Sep 01, 2015

A. Make it poorly trained, demon poodle.

Q. I know that the correct phrase is "bid for the 2024 Olympic Games." But what about reversing the phrase (for headline purposes) %uFFFD is it "2024 Olympic bid" or "2024 Olympics bid"? – from Palmdale, Calif. on Tue, Sep 01, 2015

A. 2024 Olympics bid

Q. Denver has a 16th Street Mall. In a story is numeric the correct form, or should it be Sixteenth Street Mall? – from Littleton, Colo. on Tue, Sep 01, 2015

A. It's the 16th Street Mall.

Q. gently-used or gently used clothing – from , on Tue, Sep 01, 2015

A. This adverb isn't hyphenated: gently used clothing. See "-ly" entry for background.

Q. So PC is ok for first reference of personal computer? – from Ballston Spa, N.Y. on Tue, Sep 01, 2015

A. When the context is obvious, PC is acceptable in virtually all uses for personal computer.

Q. Limited Liability Company or limited liability company? I say lowercase because it's not the proper name of a company, just a corporate structure, but there are those who say otherwise.... " – from Oklahoma City on Tue, Sep 01, 2015

A. In AP business stories, it's LLC as part of a company name: Smith Co. LLC. Standing alone, spell out the term lowercase.

Q. Although "Pledge of Allegiance" is capitalized, would further references of it as simply "the pledge," need to be capitalized also? – from Biddeford, Maine on Tue, Sep 01, 2015

A. Lowercase the pledge in follow-ups to the capitalized term.

Q. Is "ed tech" acceptable for educational technician? – from Biddeford, Maine on Tue, Sep 01, 2015

A. For general audiences, the term is clearer when spelled out.

Q. Is "the company will debut its lowest profile product to date" correct or would lowest profile and/or to date by hyphenated? – from San Diego , Calif. on Tue, Sep 01, 2015

A. No hyphens needed.

Q. Is "credentialed" a word? I am proofreading someone else's work and have serious doubts about this. – from West Palm Beach, Fla. on Tue, Sep 01, 2015

A. Yes, it's a verb.

Q. Is "can allow" redundant? (e.g., some contracts can allow you to turn cash value into ...) – on Tue, Sep 01, 2015

A. Using "can allow" suggests a possibility rather than a certainty. If that's the intention, it's not redundant.

Q. Please verify if it would be southern United States or Southern United States. Thank you. – from Hickory, N.C. on Tue, Sep 01, 2015

A. It's the Southern U.S. or the Southern United States, a region.

Q. How does the AP abbreviate inches per second and inches per minute – from Houston on Tue, Sep 01, 2015

A. See the "inches per second" and "ips" entries. By extension, the same holds for inches per minute.

Q. Is it ever acceptable to remove the %uFFFDThe%uFFFD in sentences referring to newspapers that have that article in their titles (e.g., The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal), particularly in reference to best-selling authors, books or lists? Examples: The event will feature John Smith, a two-time New York Times best-selling author. John Smith, number one New York Times best-selling author, has written 15 books, all of them New York Times best-sellers. – from lakeland, Fla. on Tue, Sep 01, 2015

A. On first reference, The New York Times. On second reference, the Times is acceptable: The event will feature author John Smith, whose books were twice on The New York Times best-seller list. John Smith, whose book was No. 1 on The New York Times best-seller list, will be featured. The author has written 15 books, all listed as best-sellers by the Times.

Q. Is it nosedive for both the noun and verb? Thanks – from Seoul, XX on Mon, Aug 31, 2015

A. Yes, by the dictionary entry.

Q. What is the difference between a phrase and a sentence fragment? – from San Diego on Mon, Aug 31, 2015

A. A phrase is a sequence of two or more words that form a grammatical unit that is less than a complete sentence. A sentence fragment is a phrase or clause that is punctuated and capitalized as a sentence but does not constitute a complete grammatical sentence -- from The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style

Q. Are parentheses acceptable for simple sports statistics? Such as win-loss after a team name or when listing players to compare a particular stat. Chargers (4-3), Jackson (124 RBI). – from St. Paul, Minn. on Mon, Aug 31, 2015

A. Yes.

Q. What term would best describe heterosexual marriage? Is "traditional marriage" acceptable? – from Longview, Texas on Mon, Aug 31, 2015

A. The marriage of a man and a woman.

Q. What is the agreed-on term for "anchor baby," which is suddenly all the rage? – from Augusta, Ga. on Mon, Aug 31, 2015

A. A recent AP story quoted this definition of "anchor baby" in The American Heritage Dictionary: "Used as a disparaging term for a child born to a noncitizen mother in a country that grants automatic citizenship to children born on its soil, especially when the child's birthplace is thought to have been chosen in order to improve the mother's or other relatives' chances of securing eventual citizenship."

Q. I'm getting ready to have to use the word sty (or stye?) for the second time in a month on Dallas quarterback Tony Romo. Kinda quirky. I'm following the old rule of going with the first listing in the dictionary (sty over stye). Is that correct? Do we have a preference for "stye" instead? Thanks. – from Dallas on Mon, Aug 31, 2015

A. Yes, sty as the first spelling for the eye inflammation in Webster's NWCD, Fifth Edition.

Q. Is top of the line or top-of-the-line correct, with or without hyphens? – from Wichita, Kan. on Mon, Aug 31, 2015

A. Hyphenate this adjective, as in top-of-the-line quality.

Q. to do list or to-do list – from , on Mon, Aug 31, 2015

A. Hyphenate to-do list.

Q. RE: possessive apostrophe with a proper name: Would it be Wes' Wall or Wes's Wall. Not sure if this falls under the cited exception of Saint James's Palace. Also, what defines that exception? – from Irving, Texas on Mon, Aug 31, 2015

A. Use the s' for the possessive: Wes'.

Q. Any guidance on Denali/Mount McKinley? My kneejerk is to change usage to reflect the name change, and add an appositive when needed%uFFFD%uFFFD%uFFFDi.e. "Denali, once called Mount McKinley ..." – from , on Mon, Aug 31, 2015

A. ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- North America's tallest mountain will soon return to its previous name, Mount Denali, more than a century after the Alaskan peak was named to honor President William McKinley, who never set foot in Alaska.

Q. I am attempting to find guidance on service marks in the Stylebook. The term is referenced under other subjects, which tell me to go to the "service mark" entry; but when I do a search, there is no entry. Has it been deleted? If so, then all references to it should also be deleted. I hope, however, that the Stylebook will provide us with specific guidance on service marks. Thank you. – from Rocky River, Ohio on Mon, Aug 31, 2015

A. See the "brand names" and "trademark" entries. AP Stylebook annual editions had a "service mark" entry through 2010. It was folded into "brand names" in 2011, and service mark was inadvertently cited in the definition. The 2012 edition dropped the reference.

Q. Trade Promotion Authority. Lowercase? Or initial caps? And is TPA acceptable on subsequent references? – from District of Columbia on Mon, Aug 31, 2015

A. If it's a formally named agency, capitalize the name. You could use TPA on follow-ups though a term like agency or office would also do. If it's a generic description, spell it lowercase.

Q. Does one find something "in an app" or "on an app"? Thank you. – from San Antonio on Mon, Aug 31, 2015

A. The Stylebook's "app" entry defines it as a program that runs inside another service. By extension, "in an app" could be preferred usage, though I can't swear to it.

Q. We are a trade magazine and have long followed the AP guidelines on not using all caps for company and product names unless the letters are pronounced separately. For instance, Paccar, not PACCAR; Wabco, not WABCO. We get some pushback from companies that say we should use all caps for names that are trademarked that way. Am I interpreting AP style correctly in rendering, for instance, OnGUARDACTIVE as OnGuardActive? – from Torrance, Calif. on Mon, Aug 31, 2015

A. Yes, any number of companies use all caps in their promotions, but AP guidance restricts such spellings to names with letters that are individually pronounced. See the "company names" listings for examples. I don't find the brand you mention in AP stories. Your suggested spelling looks reasonable, though.

Q. What is AP's ruling on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership? Is TTP and TTIP acceptable in subsequent references after initially spelling it out? – from District of Columbia on Mon, Aug 31, 2015

A. AP stories have used "TTP" in quoting signs protesting the agreement. Our stories have used the full names, but agreement or pact is preferable to an unfamiliar abbreviation like TTIP.

Q. Should the verb in the following sentence be "has" or "have"? If you or the teacher has any questions, please contact... – from Washington on Mon, Aug 31, 2015

A. If you or the teacher have any questions ....

Q. What is the preferred style: "He ran for 20 yards on seven carries," or "He ran for 20 yards on seven carries"? – from Stillwater, Okla. on Sun, Aug 30, 2015

A. He ran for 20 yards on seven carries.

Q. In obituaries: Is it Prayer of the Faithful in caps, or should it be lower case? – from Barre, Vt. on Sun, Aug 30, 2015

A. For a Catholic mass, capitalize Prayer of the Faithful.

Q. Dear Editor: Does AP use (1) gofer, (2) go-fer or (3) gopher for an employee that runs errands? – from Mankato, Minn. on Sun, Aug 30, 2015

A. The dictionary's first spelling, which is gofer.

Q. Which is correct? "newsmagazine" or "news magazine?" – from Washington on Sun, Aug 30, 2015

A. Deferring to the dictionary entry, which is newsmagazine.

Q. In the case of police log items such as: Police arrested Abraham Lincoln, 19, of Gettysburg, on a charge of criminal trespassing. Is the comma needed after the town? Thank you. – from Peterborough, N.H. on Sat, Aug 29, 2015

A. Correct with comma. See WITH HOMETOWNS AND AGES section of the "comma" entry.

Q. Is it "land speed record" or "land-speed record"? – from Eden Prairie, Minn. on Sat, Aug 29, 2015

A. No hyphen in land speed record.

All contents © copyright 2015 Associated Press. All rights reserved.