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A review of AP style and how it’s used in publications
Professional writers always follow a style guide. All spelling,
punctuation and formatting in professional writing must consistently
follow the style of the publication for which it is intended. The Associated
Press Stylebook (often referred to as AP), is the primary style and usage
guide for most newspapers and news magazines in the United States.
The book is updated annually and is around 400 pages long.
Style guides vary enormously, and it's important that you don't mix one
style guide with another. For example, The Chicago Manual of Style uses
serial commas whereas AP does not use them. For a while, you will have
to look everything up. Don't let that discourage you. As you become
familiar with a style guide, you'll learn to make many of the correct
choices instinctively. If you have been using one style guide for some
time and then have to use a different one, you'll have to go back to
looking things up for a while until you shift mental gears.
Your publication must be consistent in its style. One article should not
follow one style and another article follow a different style.
A Quick Look at The Associated Press Stylebook
• provides most entries under individual listings
• uses familiar abbreviations or acronyms that should not be placed in parentheses
immediately after their full names
• recognized groups (such as FBI or CIA) may be identified fully at first reference or
not at all
• refers to AP Stylebook or first-listed abbreviation in Webster's New World
Dictionary for use of caps and periods. For abbreviations not listed, uses caps and
omit periods (for example The American Association for Clinical Chemistry would
appear as AACC)
• uses a.m. and p.m.
• prefers traditional abbreviations for state names (Calif.) except for the eight
states that are never abbreviated (Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas, Utah, Hawaii
• usually omits periods, but check individual listings to be sure
• prefers lower case in general
• capitalizes proper nouns, trade and brand names
• capitalizes formal titles used immediately before a name
• lower cases names of job descriptions
• lowercases words derived from proper nouns that don't depend on the original for
meaning (roman numerals)
• lowercases all forms of government (federal, state and local)
• capitalizes geographic and structural names, including Capitol and Washington
• in titles of works, capitalizes the first, last and all major words, prepositions and
conjunctions of four or more letters
• capitalizes the first word after a colon only if an independent clause follows
• if no individual listing, check Webster's New World Dictionary and use the
lowercase form if given
• uses hyphens to avoid ambiguity
• hyphenates unit modifiers, two-thought compounds (like socio-economic), some
prefixes and suffixes (especially to avoid duplicated vowels and tripled
consonants—consult individual word entries), compound proper names and
• hyphenates modifiers that occur after the verb "to be" (He is well-known) and
some numbers and fractions
• uses quotation marks to set off names of books (except the Bible and reference
books, catalogues, and directories), movies, television shows, works of art, poetry
and speeches. Doesn't use quotation marks with names of newspapers and
• spells out whole numbers under 10 and follows that general rule even for two or
more numbers in the same sentence
• always uses figures for time, money, decimals, and percentages (even those under
• advises applying the same general rules to ordinal numbers
• expresses fractions less than one in words (two-thirds) and uses figures and words
for large numbers (3 million)
• doesn't allow a sentence to begin with a figure. If the first word of a sentence must
be a number, the words must be written out; the one exception is in the case of a
year (2007 was a very good year. ).
• doesn't use the serial comma
• uses the apostrophe with plurals of a single letter (three R's), but not with plurals
of numerals or multiple letters
• to show possession, adds 's to singular common nouns ending in s unless the next
word begins with an s (the hostess's invitation, the hostess' seat)
• adds only an apostrophe to singular proper names ending in s'
• doesn't add an apostrophe to words ending in s that are descriptive (teachers
• when in doubt, check The Associated Press Stylebook for each mark
• The Associated Press Stylebook is organized like a dictionary. For spelling, style
and usage questions not covered in the book, consult Webster's New World
Dictionary. When consulting the dictionary, use the first spelling listed, unless a
specific exception is noted in the stylebook.
A Few Thoughts on Punctuation & Grammar
Hyphens, En Dashes & Em Dashes
The hyphen divides a word between syllables at the end of a line.
The hyphen joins the elements of certain compound words.
Examples: sky-blue walls, happy-go-lucky.
The hyphen is used in non-inclusive numbers, such a telephone numbers and social
Example: Please call the front desk at 965-6311.
Example: The account number is 019-5432-01807.
The en dash replaces the conjunctions ―to‖ or ―through‖ in expressions of time.
Examples: Monday–Wednesday, March–July, 9 A.M.–10 P.M.
The en dash replaces the conjunctions ―to‖ or ―through‖ in expressions
involving numerical sequence.
Example: pp 4–8, Chapters I–V, Exhibits 3–5.
The en dash separates figures (numerals) and letters, often indicating the
start of a subcategory or a further breakdown.
Examples: Public law 85–2, Appendix 2–B, WTOP–TV
The en dash replaces the conjunction ―and‖ in expressions like AFL–CIO and AM–
The em dash shows that a further explanation is coming.
Example: Oil, steel, and wheat—these are the sinews of industrialization.
The em dash signals a sudden change in thought in a sentence.
Example: When the stockpile was sold—indeed, dumped as surplus—sales were hit
The em dash introduces a list, each item of which completes an introductory.
Example: After a cursory examination, we wondered —
if Jones had consulted anyone before making the decision;
if Brown knew Jones;
if Braun was as surprised as everyone else.
Compound adjectives that precede a noun are usually hyphenated. Compound
adjectives such as "real-life examples," "hand-picked olives," and "cold-pressed olive
oil" are hyphenated. However, when you say ―Our olives are hand picked,‖ the word
―picked‖ becomes a verb, which means that ―hand picked‖ is not hyphenated
Example: China imports thousands of mass-produced shoes to the U.S. each week.
Example: Our very fine Italian leather shoes are not mass produced.
Adverbs that end in "-ly" are not hyphenated when used in a compound phrase.
Correct: The brightly lit room made us squint our eyes.
Wrong: The brightly-lit room made us squint our eyes.
Correct: Lucy is a happily married woman.
Wrong: Lucy is a happily-married woman.
Correct: Please memorize the most commonly used copyediting marks.
Wrong: Please memorize the most commonly-used copyediting marks.
When numbers appear at the beginning of a sentence
When numbers appear at the beginning of a sentence, that number would be spelled
out regardless of any inconsistency this may create. For example—
One hundred ten men and 103 women will receive advanced degrees this
Forty in Hollywood, is like 50 anywhere else in the world.
―Was‖ versus ―Were‖
"If I were a hopeless cad, I would never apologize."
In this case, ―were‖ is a subjunctive verb. Subjunctive verbs show up when you state
something that is contrary to fact. Tevye, the main character in the musical Fiddler
on the Roof, sings ―If I Were a Rich Man‖ with the sadness of a man who knows that
he’ll never be anything but poor. Tevye’s song is about a condition contrary to fact—
something that is not true. When used as a subjunctive verb, ―were‖ expresses a
condition contrary to fact.
If Donovan were an honorable spy, he would not reveal atomic secrets to the
The reason why this is subjunctive is that Donovan is NOT an honorable spy and he
IS going to reveal the atomic secret.
Correct the following three sentences—
If I was president, I would have asked the Martian colony to secede.
Ludmilla would have been happier if she was in the Marines.
Avoid split infinitives. In other words, don’t split your ―to be‖ verbs.
Sometimes it’s awkward not to split verb tenses, but avoid when possible.
Wrong: Be sure to promptly reply to the invitation.
Correct: Be sure to reply promptly to the invitation.
Correct: Be sure to reply to the invitation promptly.
Parallel Sentence Structure
Parallel sentence structure is created when grammatically equivalent forms are used
in a series, usually of three or more items, but sometimes only two. Using parallel
structure helps to give paragraph coherence. The repeated parallel structures
reinforce connections among ideas and they add both tempo and sound to the
Faulty parallelism usually results when you join nonmatching grammatical forms.
Wrong: Love and being married go together.
Correct: Love and marriage go together.
Correct: Being in love and being married go together.
Wrong: Having a solid marriage can be more satisfying than the acquisition of
Correct: Having a solid marriage can be more satisfying than acquiring wealth.
Correct: A solid marriage can be more satisfying than wealth.
Correct: Differing expectations for marriage not only can lead to disappointment
but also can make the couple angry.
Wrong: Differing expectations for marriage not only can lead to disappointment
but also makes the couple angry.
Quotation Marks, Question Marks, and Exclamation Points
Rule One: If you quote a question, put the question mark inside the quotation
―Are you trying to kill me?‖ asked Felonia as she shook her fist at the piano
As she eyed his lunch, she continued, ―How could you eat a tuna sandwich
while hoisting a piano?‖
Rule Two: If the entire sentence is a quotation, put the question mark outside the
Did he say, ―I was just giving you a free piano‖?
Did he add, ―I can’t give you a bit of my sandwich because I ate it all‖?
Rule Three: For those rare occasions when both the quoted words and the sentence
are questions, put the question mark inside the quotation marks. Do not
use two sets of quotation marks.
Did the mover really ask, ―Is that lady for real?‖
Did Felonia ask, ―What’s the number of a good lawyer?"
Correct the following sentences—
Did Lulu say, ―I wish a piano would drop on me so that I could sue?‖?
Did Lulu say, ―Does he think I’m so ugly that he had to drop a piano on me?‖?
Subject and Verb Agreement
1. The following pronouns take a singular verb:
each anyone someone one
every anybody no one nobody
either everyone somebody everybody
2. Plurals of Latin and Greek words take a plural verb:
3. "A number of . . . . " takes a plural verb:
A number of people were in the park.
4. "The number of . . . ." takes a singular verb:
The number of chores we have prevents us from doing our reports.
5. Compound subjects that used the conjunction "and" takes a plural verb.
Aging and impairments impose great hardships on citizens.
6. A compound subject joined by anything other than "and," such as "as well as,"
"in addition to, or "along with, "takes a singular verb if the main subject is
Aging, as well as impairments, imposes great hardship on citizens.
7. A compound subject joined by "or" takes a verb that is in agreement with the
subject closest to the verb:
Ill health or misfortune afflicts everyone at some point.
When ill health, misfortune, or disabilities afflict us, we know who our
8. "Either . . . or" and "neither . . . nor" follow the same rule that applies to "or":
Neither money nor talent was lacking.
Neither money nor men were lacking.
9. Some plural nouns take singular verbs:
Nouns that are plural in form but singular in meaning usually take singular
verbs. In all doubtful cases, consult a good dictionary.
News travels faster than ever in this age of satellite communication.
Economics is a fascinating subject.
Words that regularly treated as singular include:
aesthetics, astronautics, economics, genetics, linguistics, mathematics,
measles, mumps, news, physics, and semantics.
Words regularly treated as plural include:
blue jeans, slacks, trousers, scissors, and suds
10. Some nouns can take either singular or plural verbs:
A few nouns that end in "-ics" (such as athletics, acoustics, and statistics) are
considered singular when referring to an organized body of knowledge and
plural when referring to activities, qualities, or individual facts.
Athletics is required of each student. (Activity in games is required of
Athletics provide excellent recreation. (Various games provide excellent
Acoustics is an interesting study.
The acoustics in the auditorium are good.
A collective nouns names a group that is thought of as a unit. A singular collective
noun generally requires a singular verb; a plural collective nouns, like other plural
nouns, requires a plural verb. Following are examples of collective nouns:
army crowd herd platoon
audience den jury police
band faculty league public
chorus family membership quartet
class flock mob staff
clergy gang navy team
community government number varsity
council group orchestra
A singular collective noun that refers to a single unit requires a singular verb.
The team refuses to eat at Joe's Diner.
A flock of geese is flying south for the winter.
A singular collective noun that clearly refers to members of a group as individuals
requires a plural verb. (If the plural verb sounds awkward to you, insert "members
of" before the collective nouns.)
The faculty have been assigned to various committees.
The band are going to their homes.
The members of the band are going to their homes.
When a subject is a plural collective nouns, it requires a plural verb.
The teams refuse to eat at Joe's Diner.
Several flocks of geese are flying south for the winter.