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20 Common AP Style Mistakes You'll Never Make Again

Not everyone lives and breathes grammar. But searching the internet every single time you’re uncertain about a word or grammatical rule isn’t helping your productivity (or creativity) at all.

So, we’ve listed out 20 common AP style mistakes right here for your reference. Save it, print it, bookmark it, put it under your pillow… whatever you do, just don’t make these common grammar mistakes!

1. Accept vs. Except

Often confused when used as verbs, accept means to receive, while except means to exclude.

  • When the company finally made an offer, she was ecstatic to accept.
  • All the dancers except Bella were at the recital.

2. Affect vs. Effect

These two sound quite similar when used as verbs. However, affect means to influence, while effect means to cause. Effect as a noun means result.

  • This game will affect the standings.
  • Despite their efforts, the group was not able to effect any immediate change.
  • Her limp was the effect of a wounded ankle.

3. How to write ages

So you know to write out numbers below 10 (like eight), but did you know ages have their own rules? Yep, always use figures, adding hyphens for ages expressed as adjectives before a noun or as substitutes for a noun.

  • The man is 55 years old. (The man is 55.)
  • The law is only 2 years old.
  • The 22-year-old graduate was well on his way to a promising career.
  • The recital is for 9-year-olds.

Bonus: a range of ages is written without an apostrophe (The woman is in her 30s.)

4. Among vs. Between

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

  • The mom split the cookies between Charlie and Lucy.
  • The funds were divided among the various departments.

5. Generation names

We won’t pretend to know why, but millennials and baby boomers are lowercase, while Generation X, Generation Y, and the Greatest Generation are capitalized. If a phrase like “Gen Xers” is used on the second reference, it’s still capitalized.

6. Because vs. Since

Because denotes a specific cause and effect. Since is used casually when the first event in a sequence led logically to the second but was not its direct cause.

  • He bought the mop because he’d seen it on TV.
  • They ate the pizza since it was all that was in the fridge.

7. Directions and Regions

Lowercase words like north, west, northeast, etc. when giving directions, but capitalize them when describing a region.

  • Head northeast for five minutes and you’ll see the yellow sign.
  • The thunderstorms are moving from the Midwest to the East Coast.
  • I really like her Southern accent.

8. Either

Used to mean one or the other, not both.

  • Correct: She liked either dress for the wedding.
  • Incorrect: She preferred the dress with bows on either side.
    • Correct: She preferred the dress with bows on both sides.
    • Correct: She preferred the dress with bows on each side.

9. Farther vs. Further

The former describes physical distance. The latter refers to an extension of time or degree.

  • That restaurant is farther than I wanted to drive today.
  • He will look further into the problem.

10. Trademarked names

Lots of words we use in everyday language are actually trademarked brand names that need to be capitalized. Common examples include Band-Aid, Breathalyzer, Bubble Wrap, Clorox, Solo cup, Jacuzzi, Plexiglas, Post-it Notes, Q-tips, AstroTurf, and Vaseline.

11. Fewer vs. Less

This one can get confusing but, in general, fewer refers to individual items while less is used to describe bulk or quantity.

  • We received fewer applications than I expected. (individual items)
  • I have less money in savings than I thought. (bulk)
  • I have less than $50 in my pocket. (quantity)
  • I have fewer than 100 people to call today. (individuals)

12. Months

You know to capitalize months on all uses, but when do you abbreviate? According to the AP Stylebook, only Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov., and Dec. are abbreviated, and only when used with a specific date. Also, note the commas following the year or date when more than a month and year are listed.

  • I was born in January 1986. My birthday is Jan. 8.
  • Aug. 18, 2019, is when the construction should be complete.
  • She was certain it was Friday, June 6, when her son last called.

13. Number ranges

When stating a range of numbers, the rules are a bit different for money than other numbers.

  • Money: The campaign goal is $10 million to $12 million. (NOT $10 to $12 million. This would read as ‘10 dollars to 12 million dollars’).
    • They made between $10 and $20 at the lemonade stand.
  • Other numbers: I’m hoping for a pay increase of 12-15 percent.
    • OR: I’m hoping for a pay increase of between 12 and 15 percent.

14. Lay vs. Lie

Lay means to set something down. Lie means to recline along a horizontal plane. Lay always takes a direct object while lie does not. The past tense and past participle form of lay are laid. Its present participle is laying. The past tense of lie is lay and its past participle is lain. Its present participle is lying.

Confused? Examples help:

    • I will lay the blanket on the bed.
    • She tried to lay the blame on me.
    • He lies on the beach all day.
    • I will lie down.
    • I laid the blanket on the bed.
    • She laid the blame on me.
    • He lay on the beach all day.
    • I lay down. I have lain down.
    • I am laying the blanket on the bed.
    • She is laying the blame on me.
    • He is lying on the beach.
    • I am lying down.

15. 12 o’clock

You’d list most times as 4 p.m. or 1 a.m., but 12 o’clock should be stated as noon or midnight to avoid confusion.

16. Time of day

Speaking of times, you should always specify a.m. or p.m., written with periods.

  • The event starts at 9 a.m.
  • The conference will last from 9 - 11 a.m.
  • The conference tomorrow is longer and will last from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Bonus tip: Avoid redundancies like “the party starts at 9 p.m. tonight.”

17. Seasons

Always lowercase spring, summer, fall and winter unless they are part of a title.

  • I cannot wait for fall to arrive.
  • My favorite season is spring.
  • Are you going to the Winter Carnival?
  • Did you watch the Summer Olympics?

18. That vs. Which

That and which are used to refer to inanimate objects and animals without a name. That is used for essential clauses that are necessary for the sentence to have meaning, while which is for nonessential clauses. Which clauses are ALWAYS surrounded by commas. If you can drop the clause without losing the meaning of the sentence, use which and put it in commas.

  • Do you remember the song that we danced to at our wedding?
  • The animals, which were just sleeping a few minutes ago, are running wild.
    • Without the which clause, the sentence becomes “The animals are running wild,” which still makes sense.

19. Myriad

Myriad is not followed by of. The myriad books on the shelf are overwhelming. She has myriad shoes in her closet.

20. All right

AP style says the kids are all right, never alright.

There you have it — 20 common AP style mistakes you’ll never make again! Keep up the great proofreading and for a second set of eyes on all your content, install the Grammarly App!

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