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Writing Dates

A discussion about how to write dates.

By
Mignon Fogarty,
Episode #498

Commas and Dates

Next, there are some rules about commas and dates. When you're writing out a full date in the American style, you put a comma between the day and the year, so New Year's Day was January 1, 2016. (4) Different style guides make different recommendations about whether to put a comma after the year though. Some say to put a comma after the year in a sentence like January 1, 2016, was an exciting day (5, 6), and some say to leave the comma out after the year (7, 8). So check your style guide.

Starting a Sentence with a Year

And what about starting a sentence with a number? Although the general rule is that you shouldn't start a sentence with an arabic number—that you should write out the words instead— some (but not all (9)) sources make exceptions for years (10). Therefore, some people may object, but you wouldn't be completely out of line to write a sentence like 2016 will be the year I keep my resolutions, with 2016 written as a number instead of written out with words. Still, if you want to be safe, it's better to rewrite the sentence so the year isn't at the beginning.

Apostrophes and Dates

If you want to abbreviate the year, you can use an apostrophe to replace the initial two and zero, for example, writing, “What are your plans for '16?” If you want to refer to a whole decade, for example if you want to reminisce about the '80s, you write '80s with an apostrophe replacing the 19 and with an S at the end. I loved the '80s. And you don't need an apostrophe before that final S (11, 12).

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Calling Zero O

You can call years such as 2008 two thousand eight or twenty-oh-eight. I can hear some of you freaking out about both breaking 2008 into two separate numbers and using the word oh instead of zero, but I have three credible sources to back me up (1, 2, 3). Calling zero oh still bugs a lot of people, so I can't recommend doing it, but it's not incorrect. 

It is also acceptable to call zero oh when you are using it in a series of numbers (1). For example, it is common to call the interstate highway designated 101 the one-oh-one and we all call James Bond agent double-oh-seven.

The Naughts?

Jillian from Pennsylvania asked about referring to the 2000s as the aughts. It's one way that people do refer to the 2000s, but if you're going to go that route, the naughts is better.  Aught is commonly misused to mean naught according to Gardner's American English Usage (14).

People also refer to the decade as the oughts, which seems just plain wrong to me. The dictionary does list a “cipher of zero” as a definition for ought, but only as an alteration of aught, which is itself an alteration of naught. Perhaps fortunately, none of these names for the first ten years of the 21st century caught on much—Google searches produce a relatively small number of hits.

New Year's Day

Holidays are capitalized, so New Year's Day is capitalized. There is also an apostrophe before the s in Year's because it is referring to the day of the new year. When you use new year generically, then it is lowercase.

Grammar Girl Recommended Styles

  • 1980s
  • '80s
  • January 1, 2016 was an exciting day. (No comma after the year.)
  • Two thousand sixteen (In American English, pronounce the year without an and before the sixteen.)
  • Twenty-sixteen (An acceptable alternative pronunciation for the year 2016.)

Other Calendar Systems

The Gregorian Calendar is the most widely used calendar system today.

Alternative calendar systems include the following:
The Chinese Calendar
The Ethiopian Calendar
The Hebrew Calendar
The Hindu Calendar
The Islamic Calendar
ISO Week Date
The Julian Calendar
The Persian Calendar
(More)

(Thanks to listener Michael Spence for mentioning the Modified Julian Day and inspiring me to include this list of alternative calendar systems.)

References

1. “Numbers,” MED Magazine: The Monthly Web Magazine of Macmillan English Dictionaries. Macmillan Education, July 2004, Issue 21, http://tinyurl.com/2n8j45 (accessed December 27, 2007).

2. Freeman, J. “Numbers Game,” The Boston Globe, January 6, 2006. http://tinyurl.com/3atnbh (accessed December 27, 2007)

3. Garner, B. Garner's Modern American Usage, 3rd edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2009, p. 75.

4. Aaron, J. The Little, Brown Essential Handbook, New York: Pearson Education, 2006, p. 73.

5. Christian, D., Froke, P., Jacobsen, S., and Minthorn, D., eds. The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law, Associated Press, 2014, p. 168.

6. "Commas with dates," The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2010, section 6.45. http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org (accessed January 5, 2016, subscription required).

7. Strumpf, M. and Douglas, A. The Grammar Bible, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2004,  p. 231, 217. 

8. Garner, B. Garner's Modern American Usage, 3rd edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2009, p. 226.

9. "The year alone," The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2010, section 9.30. http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org (accessed January 5, 2016, subscription required).

10. Christian, D., Froke, P., Jacobsen, S., and Minthorn, D., eds. The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law, Associated Press, 2014, p. 284.

11. The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005, p. 130.

12. "Decades," The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2010, section 9.34. http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org (January 5, 2016, subscription required).

Image, public domain via Wikimedia

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