Writing Style – Dates

Jolanda’s question: “Lately, I have seen people write: July 3rd, 2010, but I learned in school that it should be July 3, 2010, or 3rd of July 2010. Can you clarify what is allowed?”

BizWritingTip response: The answer to this question is a great example of how spoken and written English do not always mesh. And it also demonstrates how technology can impact writing styles.

First, our BizWritingTip reader is correct. North American writing style states that when a day directly follows the month, ordinal numbers (first, second, third, etc.) should not be used. Cardinal numbers are correct (one, two, three, etc.).

August 3, 2010 (recommended — cardinal number)
August 3rd, 2010 (not recommended — ordinal number)

Note: When you read this aloud, you say the number as an ordinal (August third) even though it is not written that way.

Ordinal numbers with dates are used in writing when the number precedes the month. This is British style and is also used in formal North American legal documents.

3rd of August 2010

However, early software packages automatically converted numbers in dates to ordinals, inserting st, nd or rd. Most people did not realize it was a concern. It then became a frequently seen style.

But Microsoft Office 2007 and the new 2010 release do not use the ordinal numbers with dates. They are now using the accepted North American style.