AP Style: State Name Abbreviations
The writers of most content creation companies usually write using a popular style guide (AP, APA, Chicago, MLA) mixed with a house style. At BKA, we prefer AP style, which is a standard in journalism. Although the rules seem to change as often as I eat a shameful amount of candy (read: every day), I appreciate the AP editors’ understanding that language is constantly evolving. The same is true when it comes to AP state abbreviations.
What’s New With AP Style State Abbreviations?
OK, so “new” is stretching it a bit, but some writers may be unaware that in 2014, AP changed the rule regarding how state names should be written. In the past, states were generally abbreviated in domestic articles and news stories, but they were always spelled out in international content. In an attempt to be more consistent across the board, AP has changed the ruling so that both domestic and international articles now contain spelled-out versions of state names.
State Abbreviations Are Not Extinct
Because nothing can ever truly be simple, abbreviated state names still are used in the following:
- Photo captions
- Nonpublishable editor’s notes
- Short-form identification
- Political party affiliation
- Agate editions
- Credit lines
What About Headlines?
AP style isn’t keen on using state abbreviations in titles, so spell them out.
Exceptions to the Rules
It wouldn’t be AP style without an exception or two! There are eight states that should never be abbreviated in text or datelines. Those are Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas and Utah.
A great way to remember this exception is to realize that Alaska and Hawaii are not in the contiguous United States, and the other exempted states contain five letters or fewer in their names. To be very, very clear, here are the AP state abbreviations (or lack thereof) for the states listed above:
- Alaska Abbreviation: Alaska
- Hawaii Abbreviation: Hawaii
- Idaho Abbreviation: Idaho
- Iowa Abbreviation: Iowa
- Maine Abbreviation: Maine
- Ohio Abbreviation: Ohio
- Texas Abbreviation: Texas
- Utah Abbreviation: Utah
How To Abbreviate Each State
When abbreviating the state names, don’t make the mistake of using the postal code abbreviations (think OK for Oklahoma). AP Stylebook has provided a list indicating exactly how the states should be shortened.
|Alabama (Ala.)||Maryland (Md.)||North Dakota (N.D.)|
|Arizona (Ariz.)||Massachusetts (Mass.)||Oklahoma (Okla.)|
|Arkansas (Ark.)||Michigan (Mich.)||Oregon (Ore.)|
|California (Calif.)||Minnesota (Minn.)||Pennsylvania (Pa.)|
|Colorado (Colo.)||Mississippi (Miss.)||Rhode Island (R.I.)|
|Connecticut (Conn.)||Missouri (Mo.)||South Carolina (S.C.)|
|Delaware (Del.)||Montana (Mont.)||South Dakota (S.D.)|
|Florida (Fla.)||Nebraska (Neb.)||Tennessee (Tenn.)|
|Georgia (Ga.)||Nevada (Nev.)||Vermont (Vt.)|
|Illinois (Ill.)||New Hampshire (N.H.)||Virginia (Va.)|
|Indiana (Ind.)||New Jersey (N.J.)||Washington (Wash.)|
|Kansas (Kan.)||New Mexico (N.M.)||West Virginia (W.Va.)|
|Kentucky (Ky.)||New York (N.Y.)||Wisconsin (Wis.)|
|Louisiana (La.)||North Carolina (N.C.)||Wyoming (Wyo.)|
I suggest you print this table out and keep it close to your computer until you learn all the AP style state abbreviations. Why New Mexico is N.M. and West Virginia is W.Va. is unclear, but if you’re keen on following AP rules, then this is need-to-know information.
If you’d like a more visually appealing way to reference AP style state name abbreviations, save this map we’ve created with all the names you need.
The Good News
The positive here is that the Grammar Gods don’t care if you abbreviate state names, so if these rules aren’t in line with your house style or your clients’ way of writing, then scrap the guidelines, by all means! If in your mind the Arkansas abbreviation will always be AR and Missouri abbreviation MO, then so be it! This is a judgment-free zone.
Sound Off on State Name Abbreviations
What do you think about these AP style state abbreviation rules? Do they make sense to you, or do they make your head spin? Do you still prefer the Massachusetts abbreviation of MA over Mass.? Or the Virginia abbreviation of capitalized VA over Va.? Comment below! Click here if you’d like to freshen up on some more AP Style rules.
I really like your map of the AP style for state abbreviations.
One suggestion: When you introduce the handy table with abbreviations, I think you should list the five states that are short and are not abbreviated in AP style (e.g., Idaho, Maine, Ohio, Texas, Utah)
Oops — I just noticed you covered those states as well as three I missed (Iowa, Hawaii, Alaska) in an earlier paragraph.
No worries, Sarah. We’re thankful for suggestions on how to improve!
How do you handle Puerto Rico?
And Washington, D.C.?
Great questions. Do not abbreviate “Puerto Rico.”
The postal code for “Washington, D.C.,” is “DC.”
Doesn’t it say not to use postal code (two letters), so Washington DC cannot be reduced to DC.
Hi, Afton. I think you may be thinking about the rule not to use “D.C.” standing alone, unless you’re quoting someone. Here’s the full AP Stylebook entry on the District of Columbia:
“In datelines Washington doesn’t take D.C. Generally use District of Columbia within a story only for official designations, such as local government names, or to avoid confusion with other localities of that name. Washington should be used in most story references to the U.S. capital because of the name recognition globally. Use Washington, D.C., with the added abbreviation only if the city might be confused with the state. Do not use D.C. standing alone other than in quotations. On second reference, the district is acceptable. Postal code: DC.”
This is interesting. Been in sports information for 29 years. I didn’t know Alaska was spelled out. Also didn’t realize that it is W.Va. I would of thought W.V. Is there a reason for that? All the other two word states are two letters. Just wondering.
LOL. I just saw the comment about W.Va.
It’s a weird one, for sure. Thanks for reading!
Our company uses AP style and I receive info from an educator on a weekly basis. The state abbreviations did not compute with their knowledge and they would not use them and instead used the zip code abbreviation. I stopped trying to educate the educator and just edited their stuff each time to the the AP style of state abbreviations. I felt like an edit Nazi. I like things to be correct.
Send the educator a link to this article! 😀
The map with the state abbreviations is very helpful, but it’s missing Michigan’s Upper Peninsula!
Yikes. Thanks for letting us know. We’ll get our cartographers on it!
Is it ok to use a period after the abrivation CA for California? I am using it to idenify where a product is made.
Hi, Dennis. AP style uses “Calif.” for the California abbreviation. The postal code abbreviation is “CA,” but AP uses that only with full addresses.
I remember when the usual (and almost certainly AP) abbreviation for Ohio was just plain “O.” As in Oklahoma or Oregon didn’t matter, while “Ohio” was too long. That may be why I favor postal abbreviations (Oklahoma, OK!) even though people get the “A” states confused (hint: Southern “A” states are first two letters — Alabama AL, Arkansas AR — while Western “A” states’ second letter is the unusual syllable — Alaska AK, Arizona AZ).
I appreciate your comments on the ever-changing AP style guidelines. But I must note that one of my pet peeves is using “every day” as one word when it should be two. So (read: everyday) should be (read: every day).
It’s “everyday low prices,” but “low prices every day.”
Good catch! Thanks. 😀
AP will eventually concur with USPS abbreviations, as it should. It’s silly to cling to outdated state abbreviations that make no sense. By now, readers are as familiar with USPS abbreviations as AP’s. In my work, every character counts and I can’t wasted them on Calif. C’mon AP and slavish devotees.
So, if the state abbreviation should be used in a dateline, which one of these is correct?
ALEXANDRIA, VA (without the period)
“ALEXANDRIA, Va.” (with the period)
How do you punctuate a list of several cities and states, such as Seffner, Florida, Boerne, Texas, and Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio? It looks odd like that, like it’s a list of six places. Listing it like this–Seffner, Fla., Boerne, Texas, and Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio–feels like it eliminates some of that confusion, but it looks inconsistent.
When dealing with a complex series, set off each section with semicolons. Also note that AP style spells out the states in the body of a story.
Ex: “Seffner, Florida; Boerne, Texas; and Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio”
The two-letter style irritates me to no end. Someone who does not live in, live near, or regularly sends mail to MN, may well go through the “M states” trying to figure out whether (except for Minneapolis and St. Paul) the state being referenced is MoNtana, MichigaN, MaiNe, or, in fact, MiNnesota. (The same can be said, as pointed out earlier) for certain “A” states.)
It should be remembered, as you referred to them, the two-letter versions are Postal Service codes — not abbreviations. As a Texan, I take exception, to the state no longer being an exception (in the AP’s thinking) and should be spelled out. “Tex.” is traditional and still the preferred usage of large newspapers, the New York Times and Washington Post among them.
In short, keep the two-letter codes when, on an envelope or in a story, you’re writing an address.
Not completely off-topic, seeing consistent style disregarded in obituaries by funeral homes and relatives: It is not am, pm, AM, PM, or A.M., P.M. — it’s a.m. and p.m. And if the start time is on the hour, it is not 2:00 p.m. (etc.), it just 2 p.m.
How are federal senators and representatives party affiliation and state abbreviation written? Should the be in parentheses or set off by commas? — e.g., (D-Mich.) or [name], D-Mich., [continuing text]?
AP style calls for commas in that case.