Got style?

Do you have style?  Let’s find out.

Take a glance at some rules of style. Have you ever wondered why it’s correct to write 1600 Pennsylvania “Ave.”, but Montague “Avenue.” Both forms of avenue in the preceding examples are correct. On the other hand, the following forms of avenue are incorrect: 1600 Pennsylvania “Avenue” and Montague “Ave.” The rule concerning such terms as boulevard, street, and avenue is to abbreviate when a number is given with the address. This rule won’t be found in an English grammar book. This is a rule of style.



Why is it incorrect to write, “The play will be performed in the Opera House, Oct. 15, Thursday, at 8:00 pm?” Why is it correct to write, “The play will be performed 8:00 pm, Thursday, October 15, in the Opera House. The style rule in question states the correct order is: hour before day before date before place. Also 8:00 pm should be written 8 p.m. This raises the question, “Why are there such style rules?” We’ll get to the answer in one minute.



Which is correct: percent, per cent or %? The answer is “percent,” except (and there’s almost always an exception) in tabular form. In a table, % is correct. Numbers can be a little trickier. Which is correct: “There are (“six” or “6”) dogs.” The answer is “six.”



Spell out numbers one through nine, and use numerals for 10 and above. But don’t start a sentence with a numeral; either spell out the number or rephrase the sentence. There is one exception to this exception. Use the numeral to start a sentence if the number is a year. “1492 was the year Columbus discovered America,” for example.


Is it a “blue-green” flower or a “blue green” flower? The rule states that when two or more modifiers are used to represent one idea, hyphenate the term. It is not a blue flower. Nor is it a green flower. The answer then is “blue-green.” So, which is correct: the “quickly-forgotten” idea, or the “quickly forgotten” idea? This is an example of another exception. When one of the modifiers ends in “ly” the term is not hyphenated, so the answer is quickly forgotten idea. By the way, “ball point pen” is not abbreviated, and there doesn’t seem to be any justification for this exception. So why do we have style rules in the first place. The answer is in order to maintain readability and consistency in writing. Consider this scenario, you sit down with a cup of coffee to read your newspaper. On the Front page, you read an article which discusses new technology in schools. The article discusses “web sites,” “e-mails,” and the “internet.” On page three, you find an article about computer viruses bogging down business communication. The article discusses “websites,” “emails,” and the “Internet.”




If you publish two stories on the same page or even in the same publication with different styles in each you could confuse the reader. The lack of consistency may look careless or even confusing to the reader. The reader may go so far as to question the credibility of the message when the style appears to be unprofessional.




Style guides abound, but there are a few which deserve to be singled out for their longevity and acclaim. The Associated Press Style Book, The Chicago Manuel, and the Elements of Style are probably the most used of all the style guides. It is important to note that not all stylebooks share the same style rules. For example the Associated Press Stylebook, nicknamed the journalists’ bible, states that numbers one through nine should be spelled out. The Chicago Manual of Style states that numbers one through one hundred should be spelled out. The lesson writers should glean from these disparate examples, is to know ones publication. Most publications adhere to one set of style rules.


For example, the vast majority of newspapers in this country use the A.P. Stylebook. Most publications also have an in-house style guide (usually for local material) to supplement the more established references. With all the grammar rules and exceptions to the rules learned in school, (take commas for example) style rules are sometimes neglected. However, writers, copyeditors, freelancers, and publishers understand that style is not a passing fad. And writer’s looking to get ahead should note that inconsistency in style will not be tolerated. If you’ve never studied Associated Press style, there’s still a good chance you’ve picked up style rules just by being a newspaper reader. Why not try the following AP Quiz to see if you’ve got style?


AP style quiz.

1. Jimmy Smith is running for office. Mr. Smith is a native of South Carolina.

2. The party is scheduled for August 15.

3. The debate will include representatives from the Democratic and Republican Parties.

4. Football and Fall weather are just around the corner.

5. Mary is having trouble writing D’s, but she knows the rest of her ABCs.

6. He will have to carry his lunch, books, and pen to class.

7. It was a very-old tree.

8. The man is 32 years old.

9. Vice President for Community Relations Jerry Stevens is five years older than Mary Williams, Vice President of Financial Affairs.

10. Her birthday is Mon. Sept. 3rd.



1. Courtesy titles are to be avoided unless they are necessary to distinguish between people with the same last name, so delete “Mr.”

2. Abbreviate months with 6 or more letters if they are used with a specific date.

3. Although “party” is capitalized when combined to make a proper noun, such as Democratic Party or Republican Party, party is lowercase when it is made plural.

4. Seasons are lowercase.

5. This sentence is correct. Single letters like T’s get the s and an apostrophe. Multiple letters like ABCs get the s but no apostrophe

6. The last comma in a series prior to “and” is omitted in AP style.

7. “Very” is never hyphenated.

8. This sentence is correct.

9. Capitalize formal titles before a name; lowercase them and set them off with commas after a name.

10. Don’t abbreviate days of the week unless they are in tabular form. Also use only numerals not nd, rd or th for days.



About robertstevenson

Dr. Robert Stevenson is a Professor of Journalism and Director of Student Publications for the Department of Mass Communications and Theater at Lander University in Greenwood, SC. He received the Distinguished Faculty of the Year award for 2007-'08, and the Lander University Young Faculty Scholar Award in 2005-06. Stevenson also serves as chair of the Lander University American Democracy Project. First and Formost I am a dad of two wonderful boys.
This entry was posted in *grammar posts, *writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s