With so many conventions for writing dates, days, years, decades, and centuries, it’s easy to get confused. In this guide, though, we’ll look at some of the most common errors encountered when writing dates, including:
The potential for mixing up US and UK date formats.
When to add a comma before the year in a date.
Where to place the apostrophe when writing decades.
When to use a hyphen when writing centuries.
Common spelling mistakes related to dates.
Read on below to make sure your writing is error free every time.
1. American and British Date Formats
American English uses month-day-year date format. But British English (and most of the rest of the world) uses day-month-year. And this difference can be confusing when you’re writing the date as numerals!
For example, in American English “4/1/2020” refers to the 1st of April. But in British English, the same numbers would signify the 4th of January. And if the reader doesn’t know which date format you have used in your writing, they won’t know what the numerals mean.
When presenting a date as numerals, then, always consider your audience. And unless you’re completely certain they will know the date format from the context, you should write dates out in words for clarity.
2. Commas Before the Year in Dates
In American English, you should add a comma between the day and the year to separate the two sets of numerals. For instance:
Our first Independence Day was July 4, 1777.
This isn’t necessary in British English, though, since they give the month between the day and year:
Americans first celebrated Independence Day on 4 July 1777.
3. Apostrophes in Decades
When writing decades as numerals, some people add an apostrophe before the “s” at the end of a decade. But this is incorrect because the “s” indicates a plural, not possession. For example:
I’ve been proofreading since the 1980’s.✗
I’ve been proofreading since the 1980s. ✓
You can use an apostrophe when abbreviating a decade, but this goes before the decade year to indicate that you’re leaving out the century:
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Did you start proofreading in the ’80s? ✓
While this is technically correct, many people omit the apostrophe before abbreviated decades (e.g., saying It was the 80s rather than It was the ’80s). And this is typically fine as long as your meaning will be clear (although you may want to check your style guide for advice if you’re using one).
It’s also worth noting that you don’t need an apostrophe when writing an abbreviated decade as words (e.g., you’d write The sixties, not The ’sixties).
4. Hyphenating Centuries
A century comprises an ordinal number (e.g., “twentieth”) and the word “century.” But when should you add a hyphen between the two?
The simple answer is to hyphenate centuries only when they’re used as adjectives. This means we do it when a century describes the age of a noun:
I love nineteenth-century architecture.
Here, for instance, we add the hyphen between “nineteenth” and “century” because together they modify the noun “architecture” (i.e., they combine to tell us the era of the architecture in question).
However, you do not need a hyphen if you’re referring to a century in itself:
I am studying the nineteenth century.
In this example, we leave out the hyphen because we’re talking about the century in its own right, not something from the nineteenth century.
5. Common Spelling Mistakes
Finally, keep an eye out for the following date-related words. These can be tricky to spell, especially if English is not your first language:
February – Many people miss the first “r” in “February” because it’s hard to hear when people say this word out loud.
Wednesday – We pronounce this word “Wens-day” rather than “Wed-nes-day,” which can make the correct spelling tricky to recall.
Tomorrow – Remember that there is one M and two Rs in this word! Many people misspell it as “tommorrow,” “tomorow,” or “tommorow.”
We hope this list of five common errors to avoid when writing dates has helped you! If you’d like an expert proofreader to double check your writing, though, remember that Proofed’s services are available 24/7.