7 commonly violated AP style rules

From the clear-cut to the nuanced, the guidelines in the Associated Press Stylebook provide hundreds of guidelines to professional writers. These crop up a lot. Post them, and pass them around.

There are many rules that writers must understand and practice to perfect their prose.

For news writers and public relations professionals, mastering every entry in the nearly 500-page Associated Press Stylebook — the arbiter of journalistic style — isn’t something achieved overnight. It takes multiple red-ink markings — and perhaps lots of nagging from editors, even at The New York Times — for rules to become common knowledge.

Here are seven hard-to-remember AP style rules that send writers to their guides for a quick refresher:

1. Affect vs. effect: As a verb, affect means to influence: The decision will affect my finances. Affect is rarely used a noun. As a verb, effect means to cause: She will effect change immediately. As a noun, effect means result: The effect of the accident was damaging.

2. On vs. about: As one of my editors said, on refers to spatial objects: He sat on the chair. Use about in nonspatial references: The professor will host a class about history.

3. It’s vs. its: Though relatively simple, this distinction is continually violated. Use it’s as a contraction for it is: It’s days like these that make me happy. Use its as the possessive form of the neuter pronoun: The company will announce its layoffs Friday afternoon.

4. Imply vs. infer: Writers or speakers imply in the words they use. A listener or reader infers something from the words.

5. E.g. vs. i.e.: e.g., means for example and is always followed by a comma: The foods my wife cooks are delicious (e.g., chicken, steak, and fish) .i.e., is the abbreviation for that is and is always followed by a comma: Wrestling with an alligator isn’t something I’d recommend, i.e., it’s a very bad idea.

6. Prefixes: Generally do not hyphenate when using a prefix with a word starting with a consonant: The coach will talk with his team pregame. The dinosaurs roamed during prehistoric ages. The preflight briefing will begin in a few minutes. The interstate road is long and dark.

7. Compound modifiers: A compound modifier is when two or more words that express a single concept precede a noun. Use a hyphen to link all the words in the compound, except the adverb very and all adverbs ending in -ly. The chart-topping hits were played on the radio all day. The long-term assignment was challenging. The highly regarded author spoke at the conference.

A version of this article first appeared on the InkHouse PR blog.


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