AP Style Update: Style and Grammar Basics

AP Stylebook

[Editor’s Note: One of the most popular articles on prnewsonline.com is a review and summary of AP style. We took that as a sign and decided to deliver a series of AP style updates for newsworthy topics. Previously, the series looked at terms for writing about cryptocurrency and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and finance, among other topics.]

For this installment, we explore grammar basics of AP style that writers use on a daily basis. 

occupational titles: 

Only capitalize formal titles used before an individual’s name. Titles that serve as occupations should be lowercase. Also lowercase titles when they are not used with an individual’s name. 

Examples: 

Pope Francis, the current pope, left the Vatican for a world tour.

The baseball team went to visit President Joe Biden at the White House.

The dentist, Joe Smith, spoke to the council of doctors.

 

composition titles: 

These guidelines apply to titles of books, movies, plays, poems, albums, songs, operas, radio and television programs, lectures, speeches, and works of art:

  • Capitalize all words in a title except articles (a, an, the); prepositions of three or fewer letters (for, of, on, up, etc.); and conjunctions of three or fewer letters (and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet, etc.)
  • Put quotation marks around titles (“The Star-Spangled Banner,” “Star Wars,” “Game of Thrones,” “To Kill a Mockingbird”) except the Bible, the Quran and other holy books, and books that are primarily catalogs of reference material (almanacs, encyclopedias, etc.) 
  • Do not use quotation marks around software titles (WordPerfect, Windows), apps, video games or board games (Super Mario Brothers, Uber, Monopoly)

Examples:  

I’ve never seen “Star Wars,” but I’m excited to watch it. 

My friends host a Guitar Hero competition every year.

 

state abbreviations/U.S.:

Always spell state names whether on their own or in conjunction with a city, town, village, etc. The only time a state is abbreviated is when used in a dateline. Eight states are never abbreviated (Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas and Utah). Always spell United States on first reference, and use U.S.on second reference.

Use a two-letter postal code abbreviation only with a full address that includes zip code.

Do not abbreviate states in headlines or titles.

These are times when it is acceptable to use abbreviation: 

  • Lists
  • Tables
  • Datelines
  • Photo captions
  • Political party affiliation

State abbreviations: 

Ala. (AL) Md. (MD) N.D. (ND)
Ariz. (AZ) Mass. (MA) Okla. (OK)
Ark. (AR) Mich. (MI) Ore. (OR)
Calif. (CA) Minn. (MN)  Pa. (PA)
Colo. (CO) Miss. (MS) R.I. (RI)
Conn. (CT)  Mo. (MO) S.C. (SC)
Del. (DE) Mont. (MT) S.D. (SD)
Fla. (FL) Neb. (NE) Tenn. (TN)
Ga. (GA) Nev. (NV) Vt. (VT)
Ill. (IL) N.H. (NH) Va. (VA)
Ind. (IN) N.J. (NJ) Wash. (WA)
Kan. (KS) N.M. (NM) W.Va. (WV)
Ky. (KY) N.Y. (NY) Wis. (WI)
La. (LA) N.C. (NC) Wyo. (WY)

 

Examples: 

The caravan traveled to Buffalo, New York.

The house is for sale at 462 Blueberry Lane, Andover, NY 13278.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called for a vote on the bill.

 

numerals: 

Spell out one through nine. Use numbers for 10 and above, for units of measurement and age.

Examples: 

My 88-year-old grandmother loves lemon cake.

The team won nine games this season.

The bike sped up to 25 mph. 

 

percentages: 

Use the % sign when paired with a number. 

Spell percent when used at the beginning of a sentence.

Spell when using the word percentage, rather than percent, when not paired with a number. 

Examples:

My wife received a 9% raise this quarter.

Seventy-five percent of students want a new backpack this year.

The percentage of people agreeing is small.

 

time of day: 

Always use a numeral and punctuation for a specific time. Include a space between the number and a.m./p.m.. Time zone abbreviations are acceptable on first reference. 

Example: 

The event begins at 6:30 p.m. EST. 

 

acronyms:

Avoid on first reference, particularly if the audience is not familiar with the acronym. If using in second reference, include the acronym in parentheses on first reference. Use the following on first reference as they are widely recognizable: FBI, CIA, IRS, NASA, NATO, COVID.

Example: 

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are very popular with investors. Some NFTs sell for $20,000. 

 

more than, over: 

More than is preferred with numbers, while over generally refers to spatial elements. 

Examples: 

The company has more than 25 employees.

The cow jumped over the moon.

 

dates:

Capitalize the names of months in all uses. When using a month in a specific date abbreviate only Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov. and Dec. Spell \ when using alone, or with a year.

Examples: 

August 2022 is shaping up to be a very hot month.  

Nevada recorded Aug. 21, 2021 as the hottest day on record. 

 

age: 

Always use figures for age. Add hyphens when used as an adjective before the subject or when expressed as a noun. When using an age range, do not use an apostrophe.

Examples: 

The man is 55 years old.

The 22-year-old graduate was well on her way to a promising career.

The TV show is for 8-year-olds.

The man is in his 40s.

 

among/between: 

Use between when talking about two items, among when referencing more than two.

Examples: 

Mom split the cookies between Joe and Jill.

The funds were divided among various educational departments.

 

affect/effect:

Affect means to influence, while effect means to cause. Effect as a noun means result. 

Examples: 

This game will affect the standings.

Her limp was the effect of a wounded ankle.

 

fewer/less: 

Fewer refers to individual items while less is used to describe bulk or quantity. 

Examples: 

We received fewer applications than expected. 

I have less money saved than I thought.

I have less than $100 in my wallet.

I have fewer than 100 people to call today.

Nicole Schuman is senior editor for PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalogal