Propper date notation in GB/US

PR's picture

Hi there,
I am wondering how is the propper notation for dates, and what is the difference in Great Britain and the United States – if there is any difference at all.

I have a wonderful reference book in German, which is called "Detailtypografie", but I couldn't find anything similar in English.

I prepared a couple samples and I would like to know:
a) What is the proper way to write the date where (GB/US) – concerning both, the comma and the superscript?
b) What is allowed/accepted?
c) What shouldn't be used at all.

Any comments appreciated.
Thanks a lot,

jacobh's picture

Your best bet is probably to check with the style guide of your publisher, since there is very little standardisation even within the UK. For example, the Guardian and the Oxford University style guides both go for 27 January 2012, although I would normally write 27th January 2007 and see that far more often in non-professionally type-set documents. Then there is the question of whether you should write “on the 27th January” or just “on 27th January” &c.

As a general principle, though, in the UK January 27th is much less common simply because we tend to say “27th of January” whilst Americans, I think, might say “January 27th” and write it that way. It’s also why the mmddyyyy format is very confusing for those of us in the UK but less so in the States!

PR's picture

Thanks Jacob for your input. My publisher has no written style guide for English language, that's why I am checking for the common usage. I consulted a couple books already, e.g. the Economist style guide, but I didn't find any satisfying answers. That's why I thought I could try posing it here.


kentlew's picture

In formal writing, in the US, the ordinal “th” would generally not be used.

For a range, most common would be “January 27–29, 2012” or “From January 27 to 29, 2012, we will . . . ”

For a single date, most common would be “On Sunday, January 27, 2012, we will . . . ”

When reading aloud many readers will pronounce the numeral in ordinal form, but the abbreviation is generally not written explicitly.

If, however, the author insists on a structure that places the date before the month, as in examples 6 & 7, then in that case the ordinal would usually get expressed: “On the 27th of January, 2012, we will . . . ” But these days, I expect most editors would encourage the less verbose, simpler form.

And there are occasionally those American publishers which permit a more European convention: “On 27 January, 2012, we will . . . ” But these are not common.

PR's picture

Thanks for your answer Kent.
So, in the US I don't use the "th" at all.
In GB, if I do use the "th" should I then superscript it?


PR's picture

WOW, thanks!

jacobh's picture

Sorry, I should have been clearer: what I meant by “[I] see that far more often in non-professionally type-set documents”, was that when people pass around Word documents, I see “27th January” (with superscripts) far more than “27 January” but far less so in books, newspapers and magazines. As that other thread suggested, the ordinals do look like a mess unless you have a font which includes ones that won’t mess up the line-spacing.

Bendy's picture

In the UK it's definitely day, month, year, and I would avoid superscripts completely. I can't see a purposeful reason to give the suffix 'th' a special typographic treatment, although Word does this by default. It's not like we emphasise the 'th' when we speak it.

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