Please note that this guide is based on the AP Stylebook, last updated June 1, 2022.
This guide does not include everything contained in the stylebook. Rather, it aims to cover the most salient points and provide details of AP Style’s approach to key editorial issues.
Dictionaries and Other Authorities
The following should be used as additional authorities to AP Style:
Webster’s New World College Dictionary (use the first spelling listed unless AP Style specifies otherwise).
National Geographic Atlas of the World for place names not in Webster’s.
It wouldn’t be practical to list all the punctuation rules here. Instead, we’ve included those AP Style punctuation rules that might go against common practice.
Note that AP Style values consistency, so you can often determine what to do in a given situation by following related rules.
Otherwise, use standard U.S. English practice unless the client has requested another dialect.
- Always use ‘s if the word does not end in the letter s.
- Singular common nouns ending in s: add ‘s: the class’s inattention, the business’s opening day.
- Singular proper names ending in s: use only an apostrophe: Paris’ history, Achilles’ heel.
- Special expressions: words that end in an s sound and are followed by a word that begins with s: for appearance’ sake, for conscience’ sake, for goodness’ sake.
- Descriptive phrases: do not add an apostrophe to a word ending in s when it is used primarily in a descriptive sense: a teachers college, a writers guide. You’ll see this a lot in organization names.
- Inanimate objects: avoid excessive personalization of inanimate objects, and give preference to an “of” construction when it fits the makeup of the sentence: mathematics’ rules >> the rules of mathematics.
- Plurals of a single letter: include an apostrophe in single-letter plurals: he learned the three R’s and brought home a report card with four A’s and two B’s.
- Possessive of Jr./Sr.: John Smith Jr.’s house.
Brackets and Parentheses
- Avoid using square brackets.
- Use parentheses sparingly; consider rewording the sentence.
- Use em dash + space to introduce bullets (bullet points are also acceptable).
- Capitalize the first word.
- Always end in a period.
- Watch out for parallelism.
- Introduce the list with a short phrase + colon.
- Capitalize the first word after a colon only if it’s a proper noun or the start of a full sentence.
- Use a colon to introduce a direct quotation over one sentence long, either within a paragraph or as a block quote.
- Use a colon in interviews/reporting of dialogue/Q&As: Anthony: I disagree.
- Only use a serial comma if it’s required to make the meaning clear.
- Use a comma to separate an introductory clause or phrase from the rest of the sentence. It can be omitted from short introductory phrases if no ambiguity results from doing so.
- Use a comma when giving a person’s name and town/country, or between a place name and the country where it is located: John Smith, Tennessee; The Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim.
- Use a comma to separate similar/duplicated words: The question is, is this the right path to take?
- Use a comma separator in words <999 except in certain situations (e.g., 1460 kHz; Room 1001).
- i.e./e.g. are always followed by a comma.
- Use the parenthetical spaced em dash (sparingly).
- Use a dash before an author’s or composer’s name at the end of a quotation: “I’ll probably always be interested in this planet — it’s my favorite.” — Sagan.
- Do not use en dashes (use a hyphen for ranges).
- Use a space before and after an ellipsis.
- In a quotation, if the words before an ellipsis form a complete sentence, place a period before the ellipsis (. …).
- Follow a similar approach if another type of punctuation is required before the ellipsis (e.g., ? …).
- When material is deleted at the end of one paragraph and at the beginning of the one that follows, place an ellipsis in both locations.
- Use sparingly — only where it’s really warranted.
- Do not include a comma after an exclamation mark in dialogue: “Stop!” she shouted.
- Use hyphens to aid clarity. If it gets too confusing, then consider rewording the sentence.
- If you’re unsure whether a hyphen is required in a compound adjective, check its use in Webster’s New World College Dictionary.
- Don’t use hyphens in phrasal verbs, but do use them in compound verbs: he backed up the vehicle vs. they double-checked the results or she air-dried the strawberries.
- Words that are usually one-word compounds should be separated when a modifier is added. However, it’s difficult to think of an example of how this would work in practice: perhaps external-mail box?
- Do not use a hyphen with dual heritages (Italian American) but do use it with “Anglo-” when the word that follows is a capital (Anglo-Saxon but Anglophile).
- Prefixes that usually require a hyphen: self-, all-, ex-, half-.
- Suffixes that usually require a hyphen: -free, -based, -elect.
- Use a hyphen to avoid duplicated vowels (except ee): anti-establishment, preempt.
- Other examples; state-of-the-art, arm-in-arm, non-life-threatening, 5- and 6-year-olds, 10-to-12-inch needle.
- Co-: Keep the hyphen when used to create a word that indicates occupation or status (co-author, co-host, co-worker etc).
- Don’t use hyphens in e.g., fourth grade student, unless needed to avoid confusion.
- Use a period at the end of a rhetorical question if it’s more of a sentence than a question: Why not eat all the cake.
- Use a period in initials (no space between multiple initials): J.R.R. Tolkein. Avoid using single initials (J. Smith) unless it’s personal preference or the first name cannot be established.
- Use double quotation marks (nested single), except in headlines (use single).
- For quotations over two paragraphs: when the quoted material in the first paragraph is a full sentence, don’t include closed quotation marks at the end of the first paragraph: She said, “I think that’s a great idea. ¶ “Everyone should get a free cake.”
- Quotation marks are not used in Q&As.
- Use quotation marks to indicate irony.
- Use quotation marks to define unfamiliar terms upon first use.
- The dash, the semicolon, the colon, the question mark and the exclamation point go within the quotation marks when they apply to the quoted matter only.
See also Quotations in the Style section of this guide.
References and Third-Party Sources
AP Style doesn’t say much about references/citations. The following are some notes about the mention of creative works in text.
See also Third-party Sources in the Style section of this guide.
- Put all names of creative works in AP Style title case. Capitalize both parts of a phrasal verb and “to” in “to be.”
- Put quotation marks around: books, articles, songs, albums, paintings, movies (including “Star Wars”, “Star Wars” Day etc.), plays, poems, operas, radio/TV programs and episodes, lectures, speeches, event names, classical music (when using its popular name, e.g., Beethoven’s “Eroica”).
- Don’t put quotation marks around: holy books, almanacs, directories, dictionaries, encyclopedias, handbooks, sculptures, software, video/online games, classical music (official/numbered name, e.g., Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E flat major).
- Classical music: put the key in lowercase (C sharp minor). Put the instruments in lowercase if not part of the work’s official name but added as a description: … for harpsichord.
- AP does not use italics.
- Translate foreign titles into English unless they’re better known by their original name. Exception: musical compositions — refer to the work in the language it was sung in, unless in a Slavic language (translate works in Slavic languages).
- Capitalize “the” in newspaper/magazine names if that is the way the newspaper is known: The Times; The Economist.
- Poetry: If giving in-line, separate each line with a forward slash with a space either side (Despite the storms, / beauty arrives like). Follow the author’s approach to capitalizing the first word of lines.
Spelling, Capitalization and Form
Here are some (perhaps) non-standard approaches to spelling, capitalization and form found in AP Style. Only those that differ from Webster’s Dictionary (or do not clearly appear in it) are included here.
(If we’ve missed any out, please let us know!)
Tip: To confirm whether the first word in a Webster’s entry is capitalized, scroll down to look at the “other word forms” in the dictionary entry.
Here is a list of terms for which AP Style has stated a preference. Note that:
- The preferred term is given first, with the non-preferred term given in parentheses.
- Non-preferred terms that should never be used (outside of direct quotes) are *asterisked*.
- Additional information is given where needed.
- Most non-preferred terms can be used in direct quotes (with the exception of offensive or vulgar terms).
- Where AP Style doesn’t include a preferred term, the column is left blank.
- Further information about preferred terms relating to age, gender, disability and race is given in Inclusive Language in the Usage section of this guide.
Abbreviations and Acronyms
- Avoid “alphabet soup,” i.e., when there are too many acronyms for the sake of having acronyms.
- DO NOT DEFINE ACRONYMS: The Prudential Regulation Authority released a statement … The PRA said that … not The Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) released a statement … The PRA said that …
- Give an organization’s name in full on first use then use the acronym or shortened version thereafter. If it would not be clear what the acronym is referring to, don’t use it.
- Consider the audience when deciding how/whether to introduce or explain an acronym.
- Some acronyms are acceptable on first reference (then should be defined or explained in text). Some you need to use the full term and then the acronym thereafter. Finally, some (famous ones) use the acronym throughout, no definition required. These last are listed in Exceptions, below.
- Some common abbreviations: a.m./p.m.; No.; Corp.; Sept.; B.C.; Lt. Col.; Rep.; Sen., Dr.; Ave.
- Generally speaking, only use abbreviations when they accompany the noun they relate to (a numbered address in the case of Blvd., St. and Ave.): Room No. 23; 37 B.C; Lt. Col. Johnson; Washington Blvd.; 10 Castle St.; 20 Cornwall Ave. Don’t use No. in addresses, except for No. 10 Downing St.
- Don’t use periods in acronyms, but use them in most two-letter abbreviations: U.S., U.N., U.K., M.D. etc.
- Use the following abbreviations in all cases, no need to define:
911 (emergency number)
AT&T (company name)
ATM (automated teller machine
c.o.d. (cash on delivery)
CD (compact disc)
CIA (Central Intelligence Agency)
DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid)
dpa (Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH)
DVD (digital versatile disc),
E. coli (Escherichia coli)
f.o.b. (free on board)
FAQ (frequently asked questions)
FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation)
FM (frequency modulation)
GPA (grade point average)
GPS (global positioning system)
HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface)
IBM (company name)
Interpol (International Criminal Police Organization)
IQ (intelligence quotient)
IRS (Internal Revenue Service)
IT (Information Technology; don’t spell out in technical articles)
IV (intravenous line)
JPG/JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group)
LED (light-emitting diode)
mpg (miles per gallon; use with a figure, e.g., 40 mpg)
MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus)
NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People)
NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration)
NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization)
NBC (National Broadcasting Company)
OB-GYN (obstetrician gynecologist)
OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries)
PC (personal computer)
PDA (personal digital assistant)
PDF (portable document format)
PT (patrol torpedo) boat
PTA (parent–teacher association)
Q&A (questions and answers)
R&B (rhythm and blues)
radar (radio detection and ranging)
ROM (read-only memory)
ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps)
rpm (revolutions per minute; use in auto magazines etc.),
S&P 500 (Standard & Poors 500)
SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test)
SST (supersonic transport)
SWAT (special weapons and tactics)
Tass (tactical air-to-surface system)
U.K. (United Kingdom)
U.S. (United States)
UFO (unidentified flying object)
UHF (ultra-high frequency)
UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization)
UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund)
UPS (United Parcel Service) Inc.
URL (uniform resource locator)
USB (universal serial bus)
USO (united service organizations)
USS (United States ship)
VHF (very high frequency)
VIP (very important person)
Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity)
XML (extensible markup language)
ZIP (zone improvement plan) code
- Always abbreviate Jr./Sr. after names.
- Notable exceptions to the rule that two-letter acronyms use periods: AP (Associated Press), GI (Army-related), ID (identification), EU (European Union).
- Capitalize only the first letter or abbreviations and acronyms longer than five letters unless Webster capitalizes them. (To be honest, Webster capitalizes most of the famous ones, like UNESCO).
- Unusually capitalized acronyms: dpa (Deutche Presse-Agentur GmbH), app (application), MiG (Russian fighter plane).
- Do not abbreviate: associate, association, assistant, government, governor general, hertz (but, for kilohertz/megahertz, kHz/MHz are acceptable on second use), horsepower, International Space Station (i.e., don’t use ISS), justice of the peace, U.S. Marines (don’t use USMC), professor, route, terrace.
- Scientific names: Spell out genus/species on first use, then abbreviate the genus: Canis lupus; C. lupus.
- The genus is in uppercase, the species in lowercase.
- Avoid abbreviations after people’s names: John Smith, M.Sc., who has a master’s in business administration.
- Use abbreviations after people’s names if doing otherwise would be very cumbersome (e.g., if listing lots of people or in a table).
- Use abbreviations only after a full name, never after just a surname.
- Use Dr. in front of someone’s name who has a medical qualification, but only on the first mention.
- Don’t use Dr. for non-medical qualifications: Jane Smith, who has a doctorate in Spanish literature, will be joining us later.
- Professor: Never abbreviate. Lowercase before a name (except Professor Emeritus).
Courses and Departments
- Capitalize course titles and use Arabic numbers after them: Biology 104. Otherwise put into sentence case: he had an interest in biology.
- Academic departments: Use capitals only for proper nouns or when the department is given its full and proper name: the history department, the department of Spanish literature, University of Oxford English Department.
- Military academies: retain capitalization even if the “U.S.” is dropped: U.S. Air Force Academy/the Air Force Academy. Lowercase academy on its own.
- Bachelor’s, master’s degree — but Bachelor of Arts, Master of Science.
- GED is an adjective, not a noun: GED diploma, for example.
- Avoid unnecessary capitals.
- Generally, capitalize common nouns when they form part of a formal name or title (the River Nile); mentions not written in full (e.g., the river) would be made in lowercase.
- Generally, capitalize single nouns when they form part of a formal name/title/designation and lowercase plural (Size 12 but sizes 12 and 14, the Amazon and Nile rivers. The exception is formal titles + full names: Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
- Similarly: Chapter 3/next chapter; Channel 4/the other channel; the U.S. Census/census data; Captain Jones/the team captain etc.
- Capitalize words that are derived from a proper noun and still depend on it for their meaning: Christian, French, Marxist.
- Lowercase words that are derived from a proper noun but no longer depend on it for their meaning: french fries, venetian blind, epicurean.
- Capitalize brand/product names used in common parlance: Mace, Frisbee, Breathalyzer etc. Lowercase those that have now become common terms (e.g., linoleum). There are no instructions to say exactly how AP determines which is which.
- Use lowercase at all times for terms that are job descriptions rather than formal titles: the vice president of the company vs. Vice President Jones.
- Lowercase annual meeting.
- Capitalize the first letter of brands/products when they begin a sentence (e.g., iPhone/IPhone).
Collective Nouns and Other Singular/Plural Issues
- Nouns that denote a unit take singular verbs and pronouns.
- Plural team/group names and teams/groups with no plural form take plural verbs: the Yankees are winning; the Beatles are famous; Orlando Magic are playing.
- Single team/group names take singular verbs: Queen was formed in 1970.
- Couple: in the sense of two people: the couple were married. In the sense of a unit: each couple was asked….
- Each: takes a singular verb (each of the options is …).
- Emoji: the word serves as singular and plural.
- Group: takes the singular.
- Headquarters: can take singular or plural.
- Latin words: Latin-root words take the Latin ending (e.g., alumnus/i, medium/a) unless they have taken on English endings by common usage (e.g., syllabuses). Check Webster if unsure.
- Insignia: same for singular and plural.
AP Style datelines are a specific device used by journalists to indicate the location and date of a news story. They appear at the top of articles and take the form detailed below.
- CITY NAME, state abbreviation (or country name if outside the U.S.) date.
- Certain very well-known cities and regions don’t require a state or country.
- Never abbreviate: Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas or Utah.
- Never abbreviate: March, April, May, June, July.
- KANSAS CITY, Mo., May 2023.
- COLUMBUS, Ohio, July 4, 2023.
- LONDON, Sept. 2021.
- Use inverted commas to define foreign terms upon first use: “lunettes,” the French word for eye glasses.
- If a foreign word has been adopted into English, consider whether it is universally known by the intended audience. If it isn’t, then define as you would a foreign term.
- Include accent marks/diacritics when using a word in the original language, but remove them when the word is anglicized: Ou est le café? vs. Where is the cafe?
- Personal names: follow personal preferences, otherwise use the nearest phonetic equivalent in English.
- Lowercase particles (e.g., de, der, la, le, van, von) in names unless personal preference says otherwise.
- Vodou/Voodoo: the religious/ritual practice in Haiti and Lousiana, respectively. Avoid using lowercase voodoo e.g., voodoo rituals.
Numbers, Dates, Currency, etc.
- Numbers: spell out millions, billions. In headlines, K, M, B (thousands, millions, billions) are permitted when accompanying a number. No space: 10K, 10M, 10B. Don’t use a hyphen when used adjectivally.
- Spell out 1-9. Use figures for 10 or above; preceding a unit; when referring to ages of people/animals/events/things; in tables; in statistics; in sequences (Act 3; Size 12; Type 2); in mathematical usage; in military titles (unless they come after the name) and weapon names.
- Spell out numbers at the start of a sentence. Years and number/letter combinations can be left as is.
- Spell out numbers in formal language, rhetorical quotations and figures of speech.
- Data is (general; data journalism); data are (scientific contexts).
- Fractions: two-thirds, seven-fifteenths Use decimals for figures over 1, e.g., 1.33, 20.6.
- Minus signs: Use a hyphen as a minus sign. Spell out when relating to temperature (minus 5 degrees Fahrenheit).
- Plus signs: Use as part of a company/brand name. Otherwise spell out as “plus” (e.g., B-plus grade).
- Percentages: Use numbers and %, with no space. Spell out zero percent. Spell out at the beginning of a sentence (or, preferably, reword). Spell out percentage point (NB: this is different to percentage).
- Ordinals: Don’t use superscript, e.g., 10th Ward. Don’t use ordinals in dates.
- Ranges: repeat the unit symbol, a hyphen or “to” are both acceptable e.g., 12%-14%, $3 million to $5 million.
- Ratios: the ratio was 3-to-1, a ratio of 3-to-1, a 3-1 ratio (“to” omitted when the number precedes “ratio”).
- Roman numerals: Use Roman numerals for wars and to establish personal sequence for people and animals: World War I, Native Dancer II, King George V. Also for certain legislative acts (Title IX).
- Avoid tokenism and generalizations, recognize conscious and unconscious biases, avoid placing White/straight/non-disabled as the figurative norm.
- Be conscious of who the story uses as expert witnesses, general witnesses, subjects of photos and videos. When covering issues related to marginal groups, home in on individual voices/stories focused on that group.
- Recognize the difference between first- and second-hand experiences.
- Be careful with the biases indicated by carelessly used language choices.
- Make your content accessible (consider text, graphics, video).
- Use Plain English.
- Match the headline tone to that of the story.
- Attribute carefully.
- Consider keywords and SEO.
- Update online headlines to reflect the latest news, as needed.
- Headlines go in sentence case (capitalize first word after a colon).
- Always capitalize the first letter of a headline (consider rewording if e.g., eBay is the first word).
- Avoid all but universally recognizable abbreviations and acronyms.
- Put no periods in US/UK/EU/UN when they appear in headlines, and avoid using them in other acronyms.
- Avoid using state abbreviations in headlines, but if you must, remove periods from those with two capital letters (others retain periods).
- Use numerals except in casual use or formal names (thousands not 1000s; Big Ten; but Forbes 500).
- Spell out ordinals under 10, use numerals for over 10 (except eleventh hour).
- Use single quote marks.
- Label opinion (Opinion: Headline), analysis (Analysis: Headline) and review (Review: Headline) pieces.
- Limit headlines to 100 characters.
- Write headlines for a global audience. Only use locators when it will increase readership, improve SEO, or is needed for clarity.
- Avoid Co. for company.
- Fed is acceptable for Federal Reserve.
- It’s possible to abbreviate millions/billions in headlines: $30M/$5B.
- Financial quarters: Q3, not 3Q, for example.
In-Line Style Points
- Watch for sentences with more than one comma or clause. Consider splitting them up.
- Dashes and semicolons are often an indication that the sentence could be split up.
- Don’t use cliches, jargon, or bureaucratese.
- Define terms that could be unfamiliar to readers, or choose simpler terms.
- Use mostly active voice.
- Bracket additional information about a noun in commas: John Smith, of New York,; located in Hartford, Connecticut,; Kevin Jones, who has a Ph.D. in aeronautics,”.
- Jargon: Avoid, unless writing for an audience that would be familiar with the term or phrase.
- Irrelevance: Avoid tautology and irrelevance: e.g., they went to a local hospital >> they went to a hospital.
- Euphemisms: avoid euphemisms wherever possible: died rather than passed away; recreational cannabis (for example) rather than adult-use cannabis.
- Days of the week: Do not use “on” before a day of the week (e.g., the store will open Monday).
- That, which: Follow Proofed’s approach to that/which.
- Versus: Spell out versus in longer sentences, vs. in short pithy expressions, v. in court cases.
- Embryo: up to 10 weeks of pregnancy.
- Fetus: 10 weeks of pregnancy — birth.
- Unborn baby: any time from gestation to birth (less clinical than fetus).
- Infant: up to 12 months old.
- Boy/girl: from 12 months old — 18 years. Use child/youth/teen if more appropriate.
- Youth: 13-18.
- Adult: over 18 years old.