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 -- 22,203 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. The PGA writes its event THE PLAYERS Championship with the first two words in all capital letters. Does AP have a style for this? Do we run it that way too? – from Stuart, Fla. on Fri, May 01, 2015

A. In AP stories, it's the Players Championship. Only the P and C are capitalized and "t" is lowercase unless starting a sentence.

Q. Say the official name of a facility is the Tomah VA Medical Center. A colleague tells me it would be weird to call it the "Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center," since not even the facility itself uses that name. Is it OK to use "Tomah VA Medical Center" on first reference? Or would I need to say something along the lines of "... a Veterans Affairs medical facility in Tomah ..." before ever using the official name? – from Madison, Wis. on Fri, May 01, 2015

A. In AP news stories, Veterans Affairs Hospital, usually preceded by the city, is spelled out on first reference for clarity. VA is then used on second reference.

Q. My question pertains to the capitalization of the drug methedrine. I checked the "Ask the Editor" archives for guidance and found an entry stating that generic names are not capped. But is methedrine a generic drug or is it a brand name? – from Erie, Pa. on Fri, May 01, 2015

A. The dictionary describes it as a former trademark now used as the drug methamphetamine. Spell methedrine lowercase.

Q. Is wind related or wind-related correct? as in ...the damage is wind related – from Portsmouth, Va. on Fri, May 01, 2015

A. Doesn't require a hyphen based on the dictionary entry for related (adj.).

Q. In the sentence below, can I use the word THEIR instead of HIM AND HER? We take a holistic view of each student and focus on their development. – from Boca Raton, Fla. on Fri, May 01, 2015

A. If you want to use "their," tweak the sentence for noun-pronoun agreement: We take a holistic view of students and focus on their development.

Q. A Floridian asked a few days ago: Which is correct in sentences? Most important or most importantly? See example below: Before the start of the school year, our program managers will meet with all employees to share our plan and vision, provide key timelines and, most importantly, listen and answer any questions. You responded: The adverb form as written is customary in such sentences. I beg to differ. Importantly means in an important way, so following your guideline would make that sentence mean "... listen and answer any questions in an important way." It should be "most important," as shorthand for "what is most important is that ..." – from Hyannis, MA on Fri, May 01, 2015

A. Of course if you substitute "in an important way" for most importantly in the original sentence it makes little sense. Instead, check the dictionary example for adverb usage: He left and, more importantly, never came back.

Q. How should the term black market be presented? (Both lowercase, both uppercase, black only uppercase, etc.). Thank you. – from Indianapolis on Fri, May 01, 2015

A. Two words for the term, both spelled lowercase within a sentence.

Q. Is "oriental" appropriate as a generic term to describe decor, as in "Everything from an Alaskan totem pole to oriental pillows and handcrafted items %uFFFD including their own homemade quilts and woodcarvings %uFFFD complete their d%uFFFDcor and remind them of their adventures together." Thank you. – from Detroit on Fri, May 01, 2015

A. Probably acceptable as design term. However, it shouldn't be used for Asian people or countries. See the Stylebook entry.

Q. Regarding the 15-year-old survivor pulled from the rubble of the April 18 earthquake in Nepal: What is the correct spelling of his name? AP has used Pempa Tamang, but Los Angeles Time put an editor's note in stories that teen's name is Pemba Lama. Thanks. – from Edison, N.J. on Thu, Apr 30, 2015

A. AP using the name as provided by Nepalese rescuers, who got it directly from the youth.

Q. Is city capitalized when referring to a specific city? for example, The city expects an increase in tourism. – from Los Angeles on Thu, Apr 30, 2015

A. It's the city spelled lowercase.

Q. Is it acceptable/fair/accurate to refer to Israel as the Jewish State? A reporter is writing a story on Israel, but trying to avoid repeating the name of the country too many times. Any ideas for subsequent references? – from Arlington, Va. on Thu, Apr 30, 2015

A. Israel defines itself as the "Jewish state" %u2014 a term that was contained in the country's declaration of independence in 1948. However, a bill to make the Jewish state designation official stalled in the Israeli parliament because of opposition from the country's Arab citizens. Use the term with caution.

Q. If you are using semicolons to set off a complex series, and the sentence does not end with the series, should a semicolon or a comma be used after the last item? I am inclined to use a semicolon, as in this example: John Williams, M.D.; Michael Johnson, M.D.; and Robert Adams, M.D.; will begin operating at our new facility next month. – from Cincinnati on Thu, Apr 30, 2015

A. Try rewriting to avoid needless repetition: Surgeons John Williams, Michael Johnson and Robert Adams will begin operating at our new facility next month.

Q. I am wondering about the plural of Peabody Award. Here is the sentence. There are no set number of Peabodies awarded each year, and an award is only given when a panel of 17 judges unanimously agree. Would it be Peabodys like BlackBerrys or would it just be better to recast the sentence? – from Orysia, New York City, N.Y. on Thu, Apr 30, 2015

A. For plurals, use Peabody awards or honors.

Q. Would the Las Vegas strip be capped? – from Farmington, Maine on Thu, Apr 30, 2015

A. Yes, it's the Las Vegas Strip.

Q. Which is correct: May 4, 1-2 p.m. OR 1-2 p.m., May 4. Date first or time first? – from Oakbrook Terrace, Ill. on Thu, Apr 30, 2015

A. AP calendars of upcoming news generally list event, time, date and place in that order.

Q. What would be the best fix for current wording of "... led by Chief Surgeon Dr. John Doe%uFFFDand..."? I thought maybe: "the chief surgeon, Dr. John Doe%uFFFDand..." but something seems not quite right with that. Thank you. – from Richmond, Va. on Thu, Apr 30, 2015

A. An alternative would be Dr. John Doe, chief surgeon.

Q. Is this correct as written: "The Davis Mountains are one of three major sky island ecosystems in Texas, in which isolated mountains are surrounded by a %uFFFDsea%uFFFD of desert." I think 'are' in the first sentence is appropriate, since mountains is plural. My manager thinks it should be 'is' because it is a singular region. I counter that we would use 'is' if we were using a construction like 'Davis Mountains range' or 'Davis Mountains ecosystem.' Thoughts? – from Austin, Texas on Thu, Apr 30, 2015

A. I'm with you in using the plural verb with Davis Mountains.

Q. Which should be first in alphabetizing the follow company name: L'Orange Lombardini – on Thu, Apr 30, 2015

A. Better check with the company for its preference.

Q. A 2014 "Ask the Editor" says the term "old school" should not be hyphenated in any usage. According to Merriam Webster, however, old school should be hyphenated when used as an adjective: "That is an old-school dance move." "He's wearing a pair of old-school sneakers." Do you mind weighing in on this question again? Should Merriam Webster's recommendation be followed -- hyphenating the adjective use? Thanks. – from St. George, Utah on Wed, Apr 29, 2015

A. Webster's New World College Dictionary, Fifth Edition, changed the spelling to old-school (adj.). The previous edition spelled it unhyphenated in all uses. AP generally follows that dictionary when a spelling isn't in the Stylebook.

Q. Is it acceptable to have a headline such as -- Company A's net profit triples in March -- matched with a lead that says -- the profit NEARLY tripled in March? Or must the headline also say -- nearly triples in March? – from Virginia, XX on Wed, Apr 29, 2015

A. The headline shouldn't overstate what's in the story.

Q. Your answer on series of whole sentences and use of commas seemed to infer that they would be used at times before the 'and.' In this example, with the subjects being different, would it make sense to use the comma. The environment is unforgiving, the ship is in pieces, and the claustrophobic passageways are peppered with vicious sentry robots. – from Chicago on Wed, Apr 29, 2015

A. Better as two sentences: The environment is unforgiving. The ship is in pieces, and the claustrophobic passageways are peppered with vicious sentry robots.

Q. Hi--following up on the answer you gave about use of commas in a sentence that has three independent clauses. The phrases are too short to be using semicolons. Here is the sentence: "It%uFFFDs a good grid, it%uFFFDs level and there%uFFFDs a 6-mile loop around the island." So is a comma required after the "and" before "there's a 6-mile loop ..."? – from Chicago on Wed, Apr 29, 2015

A. In this compound sentence, you can leave out the second comma because the last two clauses are short and closely related.

Q. Is it ok to just say "millions" without referring to what the millions is? For ex. "He gave millions to the cause." Do I need to say millions of dollars? – from Smithtown, N.Y. on Wed, Apr 29, 2015

A. Yes, if it's clear from the context that the sentence refers to big bucks. It's a little informal that way, but common in conversational English.

Q. What is the correct way to address a letter - the same letter - that is going to two different people at the same place? – from Altamonte Springs, Fla. on Wed, Apr 29, 2015

A. Put both names on separate lines atop the actual address.

Q. Hi, I'm writing to ask about comma usage with conjunctions. The stylebook says that if you are linking two clauses that could each stand alone as separate sentences, use the comma. My question is, what if you are linking THREE clauses, each of which has a subject and verb (and could stand alone as sentences)? Do you use the comma in front of the last clause? That would seem to violate the "series" rule, but it would be in keeping with the independent clause rule. We are stumped as to which rule takes precedence here. – from Chicago on Wed, Apr 29, 2015

A. You might consider using semicolons to separate the independent clauses. Alternatively, three separate sentences might be clearer.

Q. Would it be, "It's a word of mouth initiative, giving people the chance to ..." or "It's a word of mouth initiative giving people the chance to ..."? – from Portland, Ore. on Wed, Apr 29, 2015

A. The phrasing doesn't require a comma. However, the dictionary hyphenates word-of-mouth (adj.).

Q. Why would "freshman" be acceptable when AP strives for gender-neutral language? Shouldn't "first-year" be standardized with that rule in mind? – from Bainbridge Island, Wash. on Wed, Apr 29, 2015

A. The dictionary defines freshman as a beginner, a novice, a student in the first year of college or a ninth-grader. Depending on the context, AP stories may use either freshman or first-year student.

Q. Is greywater one word or two? – from Oak View, Calif. on Wed, Apr 29, 2015

A. Webster's New World College Dictionary, Fifth Edition, favors grey water, two words, for household wastewater, one word.

Q. If I'm referring to a New York apartment in the east 60s, would I capitalize "east"? – from Chicago on Wed, Apr 29, 2015

A. Capitalize the East 60s based on the compass point guidance in the Stylebook's "addresses" entry.

Q. I need a clarification on an earlier submission. In July, I asked if the AP had a position on the trend to uppercase the "t" in "the" when using it as part of a proper name in the middle of a sentence. The answer was that the "t" should be lowercased in all usages. However, everything I've seen coming from the AP since then seems to contradict this. As an example, a story in January by religion writer Rachel Zoll referred to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and the AP itself is always referred to as The Associated Press in AP stories. Today's obituary for "Louie Louie" singer Jack Ely says he was the lead singer for The Kingsmen. Which is correct as per AP style? – from Findlay, Ohio on Wed, Apr 29, 2015

A. Exceptions are Stylebook spellings that capitalize The in formal names on first reference: The Associated Press, but AP or the AP in follow-ups. The New York Times, but the Times in follow-ups. Other entries with a capital T: The Church or Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The Walt Disney Co. Generally AP stories don't capitalize the definite article in names of music groups: e.g., the Beatles. Evidently, The Kingsmen is a usage exception, based on the obituary you cite.

Q. I can not find anything on capitalization of "the state" when it refers to a government body. It's confusing because in some of the examples i found, I'm not certain if "the state" is in reference to "the state of Flordia" or a government. In this sentence, would state be capitalized? The group should be commended for fulfilling their obligations towards the state. – from Brooklyn, N.Y. on Wed, Apr 29, 2015

A. Lowercase the state.

Q. The Stylebook states that all state names should be spelled out in the body of the text whether standing alone or with a town, village, or military base. However, the captions section of the Stylebook says to use state names in accordance with AP Stylebook guidelines (which is to spell out), but then provides examples of captions with the state name abbreviated, with no instruction provided to that effect. Please clarify which is appropriate. – from Ft Meade, Maryland on Wed, Apr 29, 2015

A. Because of space restrictions, state names are generally abbreviated with cities in photo captions. State names are spelled out in captions when standing alone.

Q. In a headline, should the first word following a semi-colon be capitalized if it is not a proper noun? – from Oklahoma City on Wed, Apr 29, 2015

A. Not in an AP headline, which caps only proper nouns or the first word in a full sentence following a colon.

Q. When referring to the plural abbreviation for genetically modified organisms, is it "GMOs" or "GMO's"? – from Victoria, Texas on Tue, Apr 28, 2015

A. GMOs for plurals.

Q. Which is correct: "...if you or someone you know were" or "...if you or someone you know was"? And why? – from Harrisburg, Pa. on Tue, Apr 28, 2015

A. See the "subjunctive mood" entry.

Q. Is a department name (Product Development and Sourcing) in a company capitalized? – from Raleigh, N.C. on Tue, Apr 28, 2015

A. Based on the stylebook's "organizations and institutions" entry, lowercase names of internal elements that are widely used generic terms in news stories. However, companies often go their own way on such issues.

Q. There are a variety of terms used to refer to people whose primary language is not English. The terms "non-English speaker" and "English-language learner" are only two examples. Does the AP have a preferred term that it uses, or does the AP recommend using "people-first language," such as "person who speaks limited English"? – from Odenton, MD on Tue, Apr 28, 2015

A. Other possibilities: A person who speaks limited English. Someone learning English as a second language

Q. Which is preferred: electronic health record (EHR) or electronic medical record (EMR)? – from Savannah, Ga. on Tue, Apr 28, 2015

A. Either, and it's the record on second reference rather than an abbreviation.

Q. Is the hyphen correct in "law-enforcement officer," since "law-enforcement" is a compound adjective? – from Fort Wayne, Ind. on Tue, Apr 28, 2015

A. Three nouns in the unhyphenated noun phrase.

Q. Is it same-sex marriage or same sex marriage? same-sex or same sex? – from Washington on Tue, Apr 28, 2015

A. It's same-sex marriage with a hyphen in same-sex.

Q. What are the thoughts on using "yea or nay" in copy? – from University City, Mo. on Tue, Apr 28, 2015

A. It has a place in some situations, such as legislative votes. Mostly, yes or no works well in reporting choices or dilemmas.

Q. Would you cap horde in the term Mongol horde? The dictionary doesn't. – from Orysia, New York City, N.Y. on Tue, Apr 28, 2015

A. No, but it's Golden Horde for the Mongolian khanate of the 13th century.

Q. Is long-standing always hyphenated, even when not followed by a noun? "Our policy is long-standing"? Thank you! – from , Alexandria, Virginia on Tue, Apr 28, 2015

A. Yes, this adjective is hyphenated as in your sentence.

Q. Hi, Can you please offer more guidance on copyright usage?? Currently, we are working with a Visa product and I need to know if the copyright symbol must be used with every Visa mention or only when it is attached to an exact product, such as "Visa%uFFFD Prepaid Card." Please explain. – from Miami on Tue, Apr 28, 2015

A. AP capitalizes a product or brand name without a copyright or registered symbol, which cannot be transmitted through all computer systems: Visa Prepaid Card. Your situation may differ so check locally on the particulars.

Q. Is it "home share" or "homeshare" when referring to sharing economy accommodations like Airbnb and HomeAway? – from Kansas City, Mo. on Tue, Apr 28, 2015

A. Two words in home share, but home-sharing plan with a hyphen.

Q. Please clarify about abbreviating states in stories. Previously, state abbreviations were used. Now, the "state names" entry indicates to spell out all 50 states in stories. Am I reading this correctly? – from Lubbock, Texas on Tue, Apr 28, 2015

A. Yes, see the "state names" entry for a full explanation.

Q. Is it "downtown" or "down town?" – on Mon, Apr 27, 2015

A. You'll find the spelling as an example in the "down" prefix entry: downtown.

Q. Is the expression "drugged driving" acceptable or advisable to use when describing a person driving while high or on some kind of drug? – from Madison, Wis. on Mon, Apr 27, 2015

A. It has been used in a few AP stories, also in headlines. It seems rather informal, though. Driving while impaired by drugs is an alternative.

Q. All the entries I see anywhere explaining the difference between "lay" and "lie" refer to something (including people) being laid down. But is it "What lies ahead" or "What lays ahead"? I'm assuming the former... Thanks – from Flagstaff, Ariz. on Mon, Apr 27, 2015

A. What lies ahead is correct.

Q. The sixth edition of the Publications Manual discusses bulleted lists on pages 64-65. What is not clear is how to handle lists with sub-bullets that are in outline form, not within a sentence. Is there a preferred style in the following example?: Objective 1.1: Increased scientific content on LGBTI issues and people at international psychological conferences. Progress Milestones Year 2 %uFFFD 5th Congress of the ASEAN Regional Union of Psychological Societies (ARUPS), Singapore, March 25-27 o Track of programming on LGBTI topics with 10 presentations %uFFFD Interamerican Congress of Psychology (SIP), Lima, July 12-16 o Track of programming on LGBTI topics with 10 presentations %uFFFD 52st Annual PAP Convention & 11th Biennial Conference of the Asian Association of Social Psychology (AASP), Cebu City, August 19-22) o Track of programming on LGBTI topics with 15 presentations %uFFFD 21st PsySSA Congress, September 15-18, Johannesburg o Track of programming on LGBTI topics with 15 presentations Year 3 %uFFFD International Congress of Psychology (ICP) (Yokohama, July 25-29, 2016 o Track of programming on LGBTI issues with 50 presentations %uFFFD 53st Annual PAP Convention (location and dates to be announced) o Track of programming on LGBTI topics with 15 presentations o 22nd PsySSA Congress, Cape Town, September 20 %uFFFD 23, 2016 o Track of programming on LGBTI topics with 15 presentations – from Washington on Mon, Apr 27, 2015

A. The Chicago Manual of Style might be helpful on this topic. AP Stylebook doesn't get into sub-bullets.

Q. Is the word "incidence" a plural noun already? – from Detroit on Mon, Apr 27, 2015

A. Perhaps in a collective sense. However, the dictionary uses incidences in an example similar to yours.

Q. Which is appropriate: "One in six people DO not get enough to eat" or "One is six people DOES not get enough to eat"? – from Louisville, Ky. on Mon, Apr 27, 2015

A. One in 6 people does not get enough to eat. See the "ratio" entry.

Q. Is "for" necessary here: The government will call early elections? The government will call FOR early elections? Thanks. – from Austin, Texas on Mon, Apr 27, 2015

A. The first suggests that the government has the power to set elections on its own. The second suggests that other bodies are involved in the decision.

Q. When referring to an association's board chair, what is the proper wording? ABC Association Chair John Doe OR ABC Association Board Chair John Doe? – from Madison, Wis. on Mon, Apr 27, 2015

A. Use the spelling of the formal title preceding the name.

Q. How many cities/states can you have in a dateline? Is three too many? E.g., "HILLSDALE, Mich., GREENSBORO, N.C., and BATON ROUGE, La. -- May 1, 2015 -- Today..." Thank you very much!! – from Chicago on Mon, Apr 27, 2015

A. One city or location in an AP dateline. See "datelines" entry.

Q. Do I include the final slash line when giving a blog address, like the following: www.guardianprotection.com/blog/ Or should I just stop with 'blog'? Thanks – from McLean, Va on Mon, Apr 27, 2015

A. Render the blog address as written by the blogger, including final slash.

Q. When referring to the 24 "CO-OPs" created in various states under the Affordable Care Act, should the full phrase, "consumer operated and oriented plans," be capitalized? – from Madison, Wis. on Mon, Apr 27, 2015

A. If you need to use the term, better lowercase in a brief definition describing the state co-ops.

Q. Hi, Do you have any updated guidance on the use of "LGBTQ"? We have been using it as such, without periods, and spelling it out on first reference in copy. Thank you. – from , San Francisco on Mon, Apr 27, 2015

A. The AP Stylebook entry is LGBT. The National Gay & Lesbian Journalists Association avoids using the Q because it can stand for either questioning or queer, or sometimes both. However, LGBTQ may be used in quotations or for formal names of organizations or events.

Q. When writing out URLs for either presenting on a web page or in a publication, it seems that many URLs do not require that people type in the http:// prefix, and some sites do not require typing in the www prefix. Additionally, some sites may be trying to brand an easy-to-remember URL (random example, Google.com). The style guide directs us to always include http:// and www. Is this true even if the site prefers publishing a ULR without those prefixes? Thanks in advance for your help with this. – from St. Paul, Minn. on Mon, Apr 27, 2015

A. We also use the shorter address form in some cases. However, the full URL address with http:// may offer more protection in linking to a website.

Q. My article refers to the %uFFFDGreat American Songbook%uFFFD (the canon of important American 20th-century popular songs), and I see that other sources capitalize it as such. But it seems that %uFFFDgreat American songbook%uFFFD would be a better way to render it because it isn't an actual book. How would you render it? Thanks. – from Millburn, N.J. on Mon, Apr 27, 2015

A. In AP stories, usually written as the Great American Songbook without quotes.

Q. In this sentence, is the correct word "incidence" "incidences," or "incidents?": "Detroit has some of the nation's highest incidence of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes." – from Detroit on Mon, Apr 27, 2015

A. Use the plural incidences.

Q. The term for when an album is released - "dropping" - jargon or well-enough known? – from Mount Pleasant, S.C. on Mon, Apr 27, 2015

A. Perhaps in a casual reference or a direct quote. Using release is clearer, though.

Q. Is it acceptable to use a colon after a question mark, as in the presentation heading "Did I Say That?: A Guide to Active Listening", or would it be better to omit the colon? Thanks, J.J. – from Fanwood, N.J. on Mon, Apr 27, 2015

A. No colon after the question mark, which ends the sentence.

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