Writing dates can feel stressful because the rules and guidelines vary not just between US English or British English, but also depending on your preferred styleguide.
In this post, we share general guidelines to help you write dates perfectly every time.
Note: Before we dive in, we’ll focus on how to write dates in US English.
How to write dates in US English correctly
As a general guide, dates are typically written in the order of month – day – year in US English. Here are the general rules and examples when using dates in your writing.
How to write the year
The year is typically written as numerals in US English. An exception is if you start your sentence with the year. In that situation, you should write out the year in words.
Note: When writing the year in words, you generally don’t write and after thousand when discussing a year after 2000 in US English.
How to write months and days
There are different formats you can select when writing the months and days, depending on your needs. When writing the month and day, you put the month before the date and use cardinal numbers (1, 2, 3, 4…) instead of ordinal numbers (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th…).
If you want to write the date using the month, day, and year, you’ll use cardinal numbers for the day. You’ll also need a comma between the day and year. In US English, the month comes before the day, and the year comes after the day.
You can use ordinal numbers if you’re writing the date using of or writing the day without including the month.
How to write dates with days of the week
You’ll write the day of the week before the rest of the date when you want to include the day of the week. You’ll need to place a comma after the day of the week to separate it from the rest of the date.
How to write dates as decades and centuries
When writing the date as a decade or century, you can write it numerically or in words.
When writing decades numerically, you can write them as two-digit numbers with an apostrophe before the numbers and an “-s” after the numbers. You do this because when the decade is in a two-digit form, it’s both an abbreviation and plural.
The decade can also be written as four-digit numbers with an “-s” after the numbers, like this: 1990s. However, if you don’t include the “-s,” the reader may think you’re referring to that year instead of the whole decade.
When writing centuries numerically, you don’t use an apostrophe before the “-s” since centuries are plural and not possessive.
As with decades, you can also write out the century in words, such as the nineteenth century. Centuries are typically lowercase, unless it starts the sentence or is used in a title.
How to write dates in essays and papers
When writing dates in essays and papers, you want to follow the rules indicated by the styleguide you’re asked to follow, such as AP Stylebook, Chicago Manual of Style, The Cambridge Guide to English Usage, etc.
If you’re writing a formal paper, you’ll typically want to avoid abbreviations. If you choose to abbreviate part of the date, make sure the reader can understand the date based on the context clues. For instance, if you abbreviate the decade as the ’40s, it should be clear whether you mean the 1940s, the 1840s, and so on.
How to write dates in British English
When writing dates in British English, a lot of the rules are the same. However, there are a few key differences, including:
- Dates are typically written in the order of day – month – year in British English.
- When you’re writing the year in words, in British English, you write and after thousand when discussing a year after 2000.
- If you’re adding the day of the week to the date, it comes before the date. You should separate the name of the day from the date by using a comma or by using the and of.
While there are different rules and styles to writing dates, the process doesn’t have to be difficult. To help guide you, determine your primary audience, whether you need to follow a particular styleguide, and write the dates consistently throughout. When writing, you’ll also want to make sure that any abbreviations make sense within the context of your paper. If there could be any confusion, you’ll want to avoid using abbreviations.
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