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AP Stylebook Partners with Merriam-Webster

Last week, I attended one of my favorite sessions of the conference year: the annual announcement of updates to the AP Stylebook. It’s held during the in-person conference of ACES: The Society for Editing, and it’s always full of changes, big and small. 

This year, the changes continued the trend of more precise, respectful language, giving a voice to the people being written about. There were also changes related to X/Twitter (yes, we’re going to have to accept that new name <harumph>), bullet lists, quotations, AI, and so much more. 

The biggest news, though, was the change in the dictionary AP uses to guide its style rules.

New Dictionary: Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate

Going forward, AP Stylebook will use Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (MW) as its preferred dictionary, available for free at

This is a big deal because the dictionary that a style guide uses affects its advice on the spelling, meaning, and usage of words. The hyphenation of certain words will likely be the biggest change for editors. 

For example, if you’re following AP style, you’ll no longer use a hyphen with the prefixes out-, post-, pre-, and re-. You also won’t use hyphens for many suffixes, such as most -down, -off, -fold, and -time words, as with breakdown, layoff, twofold, and daytime.

But of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. You can review AP Stylebook’s “prefixes” and “suffixes” entries to get a better idea of the scope of this change. When in doubt, check the stylebook first and then MW.

I love this change for two reasons. First, MW is more up to date than the current dictionary associated with the stylebook. We never want copy to look outdated, and that starts with consulting a dictionary that keeps up with language change.

The second reason is perhaps more selfish. Most Right Touch Editing clients have us follow either AP Stylebook or The Chicago Manual of Style. Now both styles will use the same dictionary, making our jobs a little easier.

Subscribers with the dictionary add-on will start to see Merriam-Webster entries on May 29, 2024.

New Chapter on AI

AP Stylebook sometimes gathers all the entries on a topic into a specialty chapter to make them easier for users to find. With this update, we’re getting a chapter on AI. The chapter advises writers on how to approach stories on AI and includes several entries on specific terms. A few top-line notes:

  • Spell it AI, not A.I.
  • Don’t use gendered pronouns to refer to an AI. It’s software, not a person.
  • Don’t attribute human traits to AI. Again: software, not a person.
  • Artificial intelligence is not the same as artificial general intelligence

See the “Artificial Intelligence” specialty chapter for more details.

More Changes

  • Unique can now be used to mean “unusual, notable” (definition 3 in MW). When using unique to mean “being without a like or equal” (MW, 2a), don’t use a modifier such as somewhat or very with it.
  • Use either climate change or climate crisis in general contexts. Climate change is preferred for describing long-term shifts, while climate crisis is preferred for describing a current situation. Note that global warming is not a synonym; it’s a part of climate change.
  • Use obese, obesity, and overweight thoughtfully. Always use a person’s preferred description. Obesity can be used in medical or health contexts, as in medically classified as obese. Note that in a medical context, overweight and obese are not synonyms; they have different body mass index (BMI) values.
  • Use Native Americans only for two or more people. More specifically, the stylebook defines it as “two or more people of different tribal affiliations within the contiguous U.S. geographic boundaries.” Don’t use it for an individual; use the proper tribe name instead.
  • Avoid committed suicide. Use killed themselves/himself/herself, took his/her/their own life, or died by suicide instead.
  • Avoid the homeless. Use homeless people, people without housing, people without homes, or something similar.
  • Avoid so-called and so called. They can be read as mocking.

These changes and so many more are live now on the stylebook site. From the home page, click on “New Entries” or “Recent Changes” for more information. 

As any style guide will tell you, these are their preferences. You’re not obligated to follow all of them or any of them blindly. If a change doesn’t work for you, don’t implement it. But do tell your writers and editors what you are and aren’t implementing and record your decisions in your style sheet.

Or, hire a member of the Right Touch Editing team to advise you on what  changes to make or to update your style sheet for you!


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