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.

Not a subscriber? AP Stylebook Online subscribers can:

  • View the entire archive -- 19,958 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. Would you put a comma before the concluding conjunction in a complex series if there are only two item's listed? For example, the hospital had difficulty in quickly obtaining bodies from the nearby university, and wanted to find a cheaper alternative. – from Portland, Ore. on Sat, Aug 30, 2014

A. No comma when the subject of two clauses is the same and isn't repeated in the second. See WITH CONJUNCTIONS section of the "comma" entry.

Q. Which is correct -- consumer complaints, consumers complaints or consumers' complaints? Thank you – from Virginia, XX on Sat, Aug 30, 2014

A. In AP stories, it's usually consumer complaints.

Q. Would you capitalize the words in a theme month like National Library Sign-up Month? And would you capitalize the many other such commemorative months/days (whether federally recognized or not), like National Food Safety Month and National Bring Your Pet to Work Day? – from Moccasin, Ariz. on Sat, Aug 30, 2014

A. No, we don't automatically capitalize or even mention theme days or months in news stories. Some are transparently promotional.

Q. The style book lists health care as two words, but in more and more ap stories, I'm seeing it hyphenated, especially as a modifier: health-care law, health-care programs, etc. Clarification on hyphenation? – from Glenside , Pa. on Sat, Aug 30, 2014

A. It's health care, health care law, health care system, health care reforms, etc., etc.

Q. Following the capitalization rules associated with "Police Department," would the same rules apply in this case? Washington County Drug Task Force is the official name of the agency -- so, freestanding, should Task Force retain its capitalization, as the name of a specific agency? i.e. "the Task Force." Or should it be "the task force" (no capitalization) when standing alone? – from Moccasin, Ariz. on Fri, Aug 29, 2014

A. Lowercase the short version: task force.

Q. Which is correct in this context - our staff is in disagreement: "The outages are scheduled for Saturday between 1 and 11 a.m. EDT" or "The outages are scheduled for Saturday between 1 a.m. and 11 a.m. EDT" – from Evanston, Ill. on Fri, Aug 29, 2014

A. The outages are scheduled Saturday from 1 a.m. to 11 a.m. EDT.

Q. Which is most appropriate: phaseout, phase out, or phase-out? The specific sentence example is: The company is facing an imminent system phase-out. Thanks! – from St. Paul, Minn. on Fri, Aug 29, 2014

A. It's phaseout, one word in the dictionary spelling.

Q. Is it subsite or sub-site? – from Boston on Fri, Aug 29, 2014

A. One word in a proper name: Market Street Subsite.

Q. Could you please let me know whether we should use market caps or market capitalizations? Thanks. Shareholder activism has seen a strong resurgence since 2008, and is currently approaching the historic levels seen prior to the financial crisis. With a significant growth in funds under management globally as well as new funds being set up, activists are now targeting corporates across sectors, market caps and geographies. – from London on Fri, Aug 29, 2014

A. AP financial stories use the term market caps.

Q. Hi. There is one Ask the Editor entry regarding drowning, but the answer is unclear whether you guys were saying to call something a "drowning" or "near-drowning" if the person didn't die. Can you please clarify? The police department said it is classified as a drowning whether or not there is a fatality. What is AP's stance? If someone did not die, can we still follow the police department's lead in calling it a drowning? Thanks for you help. – from Moccasin, Ariz. on Thu, Aug 28, 2014

A. Drowning means to die by suffocation in water. If the drowning victim is revived, he or she survived a near-drowning.

Q. Does use of the word lax demonstrate an opinion by the writer? – from Chevy Chase, MD on Thu, Aug 28, 2014

A. It might unless there's direct attribution or the term is used to summarize information from an individual in a position to know.

Q. Following up to the question about capitalizing transportation network company -- In part the response was TNC may be used in follow-ups, but not enclosed in parentheses. Does this mean on first reference we should not include (TNC) after spelling out transportation network company? (i.e., Would this be wrong? "If you work for a transportation network company (TNC), you should ...") I checked the acronyms/abbreviations entry and the second reference entry but can't determine what's correct. – from Seattle on Thu, Aug 28, 2014

A. Do not include TNC in parentheses or set off by dashes after spelling out the term, as explained in AVOID AWKWARD CONSTRUCTIONS section of the "parentheses" entry.

Q. When free agent is used as an adjective, should it be hyphenated? Ex: The free agent shooting guard is looking to sign with a playoff contender. – from Seoul, XX on Thu, Aug 28, 2014

A. No hyphens in free agent shooting guard.

Q. What is AP style for using the plural form a singular word, namely "yes" and "no"? For example: "How did you turn those nos into yeses?" Is that spelling corrent? – from Washington D.C., N.Y. on Thu, Aug 28, 2014

A. Go with the dictionary plurals: noes, yeses.

Q. Is it Bond girl or Bond Girl for the actresses who have had starring roles in the long-running series of James Bond movies? – from Charlotte, N.C. on Thu, Aug 28, 2014

A. In AP stories, Bond girl.

Q. Would AP capitalize Transportation Network Company, as in "If you work for a Transportation Network Company (TNC), you should ..."? For reference, it is the "ride sharing" industry that companies like Uber and Lyft belong. – from Seattle on Thu, Aug 28, 2014

A. AP stories lowercase transportation network company or companies. The abbreviation TNC may be used in follow-ups, but not enclosed in parentheses.

Q. In an event program, we have two special sessions for first-time attendees. First Timers Breakfast and First Timers Reception. Possessive or not? Thanks! – from Reston, Va. on Thu, Aug 28, 2014

A. These are descriptives rather than possessives, spelled as you have them.

Q. Whale watching or whalewatching? – from Seaside, Calif. on Thu, Aug 28, 2014

A. In AP stories, whale watching.

Q. We are a school and are renaming our parent teacher association. We are the Saints, so the new name is going to be Saints Spirit. Should it be Saints' Spirit or just Saints Spirit? Thank you for your help! – from suffolk, Va. on Thu, Aug 28, 2014

A. Leave the group name as a descriptive: Saints Spirit.

Q. If I am referring to history and the siege of a town, would it be the Siege of Boston or the siege of Boston? – from Farmington, Maine on Thu, Aug 28, 2014

A. The British siege of Boston during the Revolutionary War.

Q. Is it permissible to use the phrase "swipe logs," or "swipe card records" to describe the used of a plastic card with magnetic properties to activate a door lock or raise a parking garage gate, or is another description preferred? – from Mason, Ohio on Thu, Aug 28, 2014

A. AP stories have used swipe card records.

Q. A baseball player is sometimes designated for assignment, often abreviated DFA. In the sentence "John Smith was DFA'd", what is the correct form for the past tense of the abreviation? Thank you. – from St. Paul, Minn. on Thu, Aug 28, 2014

A. Written out as designated for assignment. The abbreviation DFA is used in headlines. The past tense in a quoted sentence could be DFA'd.

Q. When used as a unit of measurement, can "gallon" be abbreviated as "gal."? If so, is it with or without a period? – from Bloomington, Ind. on Thu, Aug 28, 2014

A. AP spells out gallon, with the exception of mpg, acceptable in all references for miles per gallon.

Q. The company's first overseas business (is/was) an organic food store, launched in 2010. Which is correct? is or was – from Virginia, XX on Wed, Aug 27, 2014

A. Using was and first suggests that the company has added additional overseas enterprises since 2010.

Q. Ice bucket challenge - uppercase or lowercase? – from Crete, Neb. on Wed, Aug 27, 2014

A. It's lowercase.

Q. Is within capitalized in a title? – from San Francisco on Wed, Aug 27, 2014

A. Capitalized as a principal word. See "composition titles" for the guidance.

Q. Should a comma be used when a business name that includes Inc. is part of the sentence? For instance, in the following sentence should there be a comma after the period? "Harcourt, Inc., was awarded the contract." – from , Loma Linda, Calif. on Wed, Aug 27, 2014

A. No, don't set off Inc. with commas in a corporate name. See the Stylebook's "incorporated" entry.

Q. In a Web-based training we include in the second slide a list of acronyms and their meanings. Would that qualify as first reference? – from Jacksonville, Fla. on Wed, Aug 27, 2014

A. Evidently the meanings explain the acronyms, so that should work.

Q. In an article title referencing a government official, how could I word the title for this individual? "Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Western Hemisphere Affairs provided insight..." Or would it be correct to say "DoD official provided insight..." – from Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras on Wed, Aug 27, 2014

A. It's a long title, so you might use a shorthand form on first reference, such as a Defense Department or Pentagon official said XYZ. On second reference, use the name and title in apposition: John Doe, assistant secretary of defense for Western Hemisphere affairs, ....

Q. Q: We're a publication that covers transportation and the term "downspeed" is frequently used. Wondering whether this is under the AP prefix rule? Or, should it be down-speed (rather than creating a word)? Thanks much. -- from Arlington, Va. – from Arlington, Va. on Wed, Aug 27, 2014

A. The term downspeed is occasionally used in AP stories about sailing races, such as downspeed tack. The one-word spelling should also be correct in transportation contexts.

Q. Any AP style guidelines on shortening agricultural to Ag, ag or AG? We use the term often in quotes and content for farming-related stories. – from Elkton, Md. on Wed, Aug 27, 2014

A. AP stories related to farming frequently used ag in headlines. An example: 17 ag operations in Virginia get federal funds. Within a text, the abbreviation might appear in a quote or in a shorthand term related to agriculture.

Q. Can you clarify the use of commas around time zone abbreviations? I understand not to set off abbreviations with commas, but should one be included between the time zone abbreviation and the day? Examples: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday; or 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST Monday through Friday. – from Louisville, Kentucky on Wed, Aug 27, 2014

A. The day usually precedes the time in AP usages, with the hours preceded by a comma: Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-8 p.m. EST.

Q. is it "the 30-credit-hour program" or "the 30-credit hour program"? Assume it can't be rewritten. – from Saint Louis, Mo. on Wed, Aug 27, 2014

A. Make it plural without hyphens: the 30 credit hours program.

Q. Is it proper to use a date to begin a sentence? For example: Oct. 27, the company will host an employee picnic. Or, is it preferable to either use "on" prior to the date at the beginning of a sentence or move the date. For example: The company will host an employee picnic Oct. 27. – from Heathrow, Fla. on Wed, Aug 27, 2014

A. The second option is better: The company will host an employee picnic Oct. 27.

Q. When listing your credentials on a resume, should it read Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, or Bachelor of Arts in political science? – from Washington on Wed, Aug 27, 2014

A. Bachelor of Arts in political science. Capitalize a degree specialty only if it's a proper noun: e.g., Bachelor of Arts in English.

Q. Does this sentence conform to AP style? The parcels range in acreage from .50 acres to 102 acres. – from St. Paul , Minn. on Wed, Aug 27, 2014

A. Singular for the partial acre reference: from .50 acre to 102 acres.

Q. I saw a recent question regarding "open source technology" where Ask the Editor advised to not hyphenate it because it's considered a noun phrase. What about other combining forms with "open source" such as "open source analytics"? A question from 2013 had an answer stating that as a compound modifier, it would be hyphenated. Does that still hold true or should all uses not be hyphenated? Thanks! – from Cary, N.C. on Wed, Aug 27, 2014

A. Compared to 2013, open source terms are increasingly spelled without hyphens in AP news stories.

Q. In this phrase would you put a comma after "nonprofit" or not? "the nonprofit pediatric medical center" – from , Gary, Indiana on Tue, Aug 26, 2014

A. No comma after nonprofit.

Q. What is the correct way to write the expression "boy oh boy"? For example, "Do you like candy? Then boy oh boy have we got something for you." Thank you. – from Whittier, Calif. on Tue, Aug 26, 2014

A. "Do you like candy? Then boy, oh, boy have we got something for you."

Q. We've reported on a story where a man was threatened and kidnapped by two men, one of whom was wielding a sword. There's an entry for gunpoint, but nothing for 'swordpoint.' What's the style: swordpoint as a noun, sword-point as an adjective? – from Wilkes-Barre, Pa. on Tue, Aug 26, 2014

A. Based on the dictionary idiom, sword's point.

Q. Lampshade or lamp shade? – from Austin, Texas on Tue, Aug 26, 2014

A. It's lampshade in Webster's New World College Dictionary.

Q. Hello, we've come across a management concept called Talent Development Reporting Principles. It appears the consensus is to write it as TDRp on second reference, even though "Principles" is a keyword. Should we follow the industry preference (TDRp) on this or make it "TDRP" on second reference? – from Chicago on Tue, Aug 26, 2014

A. I don't find this term in AP stories. If it's a trademark or brand name, the term would be capitalized on first use. How widely it is recognized could determine whether the all-caps abbreviation is acceptable on second reference. Alternatively, it could be a shorted form: the talent reporting system, or similar.

Q. In the sentence " He bought 50 45-foot-long boards," would you use figures or spell out "fifty"? – from Sagamore Hills, Ohio on Tue, Aug 26, 2014

A. Correct with the figure 50.

Q. When giving a rang of numbers, could you use a hyphen instead of using the word "to"? For example, the company shareholders would lose 20 - 30 cents a share. Side question: Would you also put a dollar sign and period before the numbers? – from Portland, Ore. on Tue, Aug 26, 2014

A. The company shareholders would lose 20-30 cents a share, without a dollar sign or period before the numerals.

Q. Hello. Why does AP follow the corporate styling and use full caps for the RAND Corp.? It's not a true acronym, and the letters aren't individually pronounced. AP styles Ikea and Visa initial cap, despite the companies' preference. – from New York City on Tue, Aug 26, 2014

A. AP stories generally use Rand Corp. these days.

Q. I've noticed a trend in recent years of people saying and writing "sooner than later" instead of "sooner rather than later." Do you have an opinion about this? – from San Antonio on Tue, Aug 26, 2014

A. I'd stick with the idiom: sooner rather than later.

Q. Is it "click-bait" or "click bait" or "clickbait" when referring to content that is designed primarily to get readers to click on a tab or site? – from New York on Tue, Aug 26, 2014

A. A recent AP story spelled it click-bait.

Q. Is it "Fewer than 5 percent of students..." or "Less than 5 percent of students..."? I've reviewed the entries for fewer/less and percent and can't find a clear answer. One example states that "she was fewer than 60 years old" is wrong" because it refers to a general amount, not individual years. Would this be the same for students? Thanks. – from Buffalo, N.Y. on Tue, Aug 26, 2014

A. Less than 5 percent of students ...

Q. I asked the following question and got the following response: "Q. I'm curious: What was the reason for AP's removal of the hyphen in "mind-set" as it appears in Webster's? %uFFFD from Arlington, Va. on Mon, Aug 25, 2014 A. The 2008 Stylebook settled on "mindset" (one word), an exception to the first spelling in Webster's New World College Dictionary, which says "also mindset." The Stylebook's two backup dictionaries list mindset first." But that didn't answer my question. What I was asking is the specific reason or rationale for AP's settling on "mindset" (one word). – from Arlington, Va. on Tue, Aug 26, 2014

A. Common usage.

Q. Is this correct? "The wheres and hows" of how to do something. It's not "where's" and "how's" is it? Thanks. – from Chicago on Mon, Aug 25, 2014

A. Correct spelled as the wheres and hows.

Q. Is it "breastmilk" or "breast milk"? – from Atlanta on Mon, Aug 25, 2014

A. AP stories favor breast milk, two words.

Q. When discussing hemophilia, is it that the general disease (hemophilia) is lowercase, while specific types are upper case (Hemophilia A, etc)? Or are they all lowercase? For example, this sentence: He had Hemophilia A himself and fought to help others with hemophilia. – from Clinton Township, MI on Mon, Aug 25, 2014

A. Both uses of hemophilia are lowercase, though A for the type is capitalized.

Q. In the sentence, "They were city dwellers turned country folk," would just one hyphen suffice, between "dwellers" and "turned," or would AP editors hyphenate everything between "city" and "folk"? – from Evanston, Illinois on Mon, Aug 25, 2014

A. The phrasing is clear without hyphens.

Q. Is it antiharassment or anti-harassment? – from McLean, Va. on Mon, Aug 25, 2014

A. Hyphenate anti-harassment.

Q. What is the correct punctuation for a time and date, e.g., 8 a.m.-10 a.m. Aug. 23. Is there a comma between the time and date? – from Ardmore, Okla. on Mon, Aug 25, 2014

A. It's 8-10 a.m. Aug. 23 without a comma between time and date. For hourly times crossing noon or midnight, use both abbreviations: 11 a.m.-1 p.m. or 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Q. Does this qualify as a sentence that needs a period? Thanks. "If only you could dance" – from Clemmons , N.C. on Mon, Aug 25, 2014

A. Yes, a period if the sentence stands alone, or a comma after dance if an attribution is added: "If only you could dance," she said.

Q. Is using "and/or" acceptable? – from Falls Church, Va. on Mon, Aug 25, 2014

A. We avoid this bureaucratic construction in news stories. Either word suffices.

Q. What if I'm writing a more informal weekly column instead of a news article and want to use the word "bucks" instead of dollars? 200 bucks? Two-hundred bucks? – from Clarksburg, W.Va. on Mon, Aug 25, 2014

A. Fine to use bucks in a casual context. The amount can be a numeral unless it starts the sentence.

Q. I'm curious: What was the reason for AP's removal of the hyphen in "mind-set" as it appears in Webster's? – from Arlington, Va. on Mon, Aug 25, 2014

A. The 2008 Stylebook settled on "mindset" (one word), an exception to the first spelling in Webster's New World College Dictionary, which says "also mindset." The Stylebook's two backup dictionaries list mindset first.

All contents © copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved.