Some Tricky AP Style Punctuation Rules to Remember

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It’s time for another quarterly AP Stylebook recap and with this edition, we’ll be reviewing a few of the guidelines noted in the punctuation section. I see hundreds of news releases each month, and here are some of the most common mistakes:

Ellipsis: An ellipsis is written with three periods and a space on either side. It seems common nowadays to neglect adding those spaces, but AP Style dictates they must be included. The Stylebook suggests treating an ellipsis like a three-letter word. So, it would be like this:

“The resolution … has little chance of success.”

If the text before the ellipsis ends a complete sentence, add the period, then a space, then the ellipsis:

“The resolution has come before the committee. … It has little chance of success.”

Colon: If what follows the colon is the start of a complete sentence, the first word should be uppercase.

“He promised this: All my cookies will be baked on time.”

Apostrophe: This one can get tricky. We know to use the apostrophe to indicate possession (“That was Billy’s baseball.”). But with plural nouns ending in s, add only the apostrophe and not the additional s (“The horses’ food. The states’ rights.”). That’s also the rule with proper nouns (“Socrates’ life. Dickens’ novels.”).

However, and this is where is gets tricky, if the word is singular and common, you add the extra s.

“The hostess’s invitation. The witness’s answer.”

Hyphen: Believe it or not, there isn’t a strict rule when it comes to compound modifiers – two or more words used together as an adjective. In general, no hyphen is needed if the meaning is clear.

“Third grade teacher” or “Climate change report.”

However, the hyphen can sometimes be desperately needed to make the meaning clear and prevent your reader from having to pause and think about it.

“Free-thinking teacher” and “Loose-knit group.”

Period: Another tricky scenario involves rhetorical questions. It might seem like you need a question mark, but a period is preferable if a statement is more a suggestion than a question, like “Why don’t we go.”

Timely Reminders

We’ll have more punctuation reminders in future recaps. Meanwhile, here are a few tidbits from recent AP Style newsletters:

  • Dressing vs. Stuffing. Dressing is cooked outside of the bird; stuffing is cooked inside. Use of the terms also varies regionally in the U.S., with one preferred over the other in some places regardless of how it’s prepared.
  • Travel, traveled, traveling, traveler. All these words have only one l.
  • Headlines. Use single quote marks, never double quote marks.
  • School resource officer. A sworn member of local law enforcement who is stationed on campus. They often are armed and in uniform. They are different from armed or unarmed security guards, who are not law enforcement officers. Avoid the abbreviation SRO unless in a direct quotation; if used, explain it.
  • Hyphenate well- combinations before a noun, but not after: a well-known judge, but the judge is well known.
  • GivingTuesday. The first Tuesday after Thanksgiving is known as GivingTuesday, when individuals are encouraged to make donations to nonprofits. No space between the two words. The group that handles the administration of the day is also known as GivingTuesday, born from a social media campaign known as #GivingTuesday in 2012.
  • Frosting, icing. Either term can be used to describe a topping of sugar, butter and other ingredients applied to cookies, cakes and other pastries. Use of the terms varies regionally in the U.S. Both cookies and cakes can be glazed (drizzled with a thin sugar mixture).

One more …

And finally, do you know when to use lay or lie? Here’s the scoop.

The action word is lay. It takes a direct object. Laid is the form for its past tense and its past participle. Its present participle is laying.

When lie means to make an untrue statement, the verb forms are lie, lied and lying.

Lie also has various other meanings, including to recline, to be situated or to exist. It does not take a direct object. Its past tense is lay. Its past participle is lain. Its present participle is lying.

Some examples:

Right: I will lay the book on the table. The prosecutor tried to lay the blame on him.
Wrong: He lays on the beach all day. I will lay down.
Right: He lies on the beach all day. I will lie down. The village lies beyond the hills. The answer lies in the stars.

Right: I laid the book on the table. The prosecutor has laid the blame on him.
Right: He lay on the beach all day. He has lain on the beach all day. I lay down. I have lain down. The secret lay in the fermentation process.

Right: I am laying the book on the table. The prosecutor is laying the blame on him.
Right: He is lying on the beach. I am lying down.

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Randall McCoach
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Randall McCoach is a senior editor in the Albuquerque Bureau at Cision PR Newswire. He's been with the company since 2007. Before that, he worked on the copy/design desks of the Albuquerque Journal, Albuquerque Tribune, and San Angelo (Texas) Standard-Times. Outside of work, he's a fan of baseball and funny cat videos.

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