Of the various AP Style rules I teach new writers at my real job, one of the most consistently confusing rules involve street abbreviations.
When you have a style guide that lays out procedures in dealing with certain grammatical issues, you expect reasonable consistency. At least, I do. I want a rule that explains the “how” and “why” and makes it make enough sense that you don’t then have to pick up the style guide every time a similar issue comes up. That isn’t always the case when you deal with street abbreviations under Associated Press Style rules.
AP Style, defined by the Associated Press Stylebook, is the style guide most newsrooms — print and broadcast — use. By doing so, they establish a consistency in writing that makes sharing content among Associated Press members easier and faster.
But while I think it’s great to have that consistency, I think there are some rules that seem very odd.
Danish-American Comedian Victor Borge used to have a line he’d throw into his routine on a rare opera written by Wolfgang Mozart:
Now the chorus comes in, but nobody knows why, except Mozart — and he’s dead.Victor Borge
While the editors of the Associated Press Stylebook are very much alive and the guide is constantly updated each year, I still use that line when I’m presenting the rules about numbers and street abbreviations. It gets laughs.
Street abbreviations: When you can and when you can’t abbreviate
When I train new reporters, I provide them a guide I wrote to help them get a head start to writing for digital. I included a few sections on AP Style’s rules about things like dealing with numbers, courtesy and military titles and addresses. Rules about street abbreviations, simple though they may be, often lead to puzzled looks.
AP Style dictates that you spell out words like street, avenue and boulevard unless you have a specific house number. So in these examples, the road name would always be spelled out in full:
- The new home was built on Maple Street.
- A developer hopes to add 200 apartments along Crimson Avenue.
- The crash happened at the intersection of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Cypress Road.
Simple enough, right?
But if you have a street number, you abbreviate the street, avenue or boulevard:
- The fight broke out in front of 123 Maple St.
- The apartment complex, located at 3400 Crimson Ave., will offer a large gym, sauna and hot tub.
- Utility crews are working to secure a gas leak at 634 St. Andrews Blvd.
It if were only that simple, it’d be easy. Of course, few things are that simple.
There’s a reason I specifically mentioned the three types of routes: the street, the avenue and the boulevard. It turns out those are the only three types of roadways you can abbreviate if you have a house number.
You can’t abbreviate road even if you do have a house number. It’s always spelled out. Every time.
While there are perfectly valid abbreviations for road (Rd.), circle (Cir.), lane (Ln.), parkway (Pkwy.) and others, the rule doesn’t allow those abbreviations at all.
Does that make sense to you? It certainly doesn’t make sense to me. If it were up to me, we’d either abbreviate all of them or none of them.
But until I rise to be the Supreme Commander of AP Style, the odds of which are nil, I’ll just have to live with the curious rules about street abbreviations like the rest of you.