4th November 2015
Everything You Need to Know about the Word “Century”
Back in Ancient Rome, the Latin word centuria meant “group of one hundred.” It was applied to everything from agricultural land division to soldiery (hence “centurions”). But nowadays, “century” has a more specific meaning: a period of one hundred years.
Here, we will focus on this last meaning, as this term is common in many academic disciplines. As such, when discussing past events, it’s important to know how to use it correctly.
Century in Words and Numbers
Centuries can be written out either with words (“nineteenth century”) or numerals (“19th century”). In academic writing, however, it’s usually better to use the full version:
Communication changed hugely in the twentieth century. – Formal
Communication changed hugely in the 20th century. – Informal
It’s always worth checking your style guide, though, as some conventions differ. The Associated Press, for example, recommends using figures when referring to any century after the tenth.
Fin de Siècle
A common mistake when writing about the past is to conflate the numerical version of a year with the century in which it falls. In actuality, the number applies to all years up to the end of a century, not the first two digits of the year in figures. The seventeenth century, for instance, began on January 1, 1601 and ended on December 31, 1700.
As such, when referring to the year 1618, it’s important to remember that it was part of the seventeenth century, rather than the sixteenth:
Find this useful?
Subscribe to our newsletter and get writing tips from our editors straight to your inbox.
Beginning in 1618, the Thirty Years’ War left a scar on the seventeenth century. – Correct
Beginning in 1618, the Thirty Years’ War left a scar on the sixteenth century. – Incorrect
To avoid this mistake, keep in mind that the number refers to the end of the century (e.g. 1800 or 1900) and covers the preceding hundred years.
To Capitalize or Not?
It’s not uncommon for people to capitalize centuries: e.g., “Fourteenth Century” rather than “fourteenth century.” However, this is incorrect, since “century” is a measure of time, like “week” or “month,” not a proper noun.
When to Hyphenate
The final thing to remember with centuries is when to hyphenate. The rule here is the same as when using hyphens elsewhere, so it depends on whether you’re using the term adjectivally.
For example, you might describe a digital wrist watch as “twentieth-century technology.” Here, we hyphenate the century because we’re using it as a compound adjective modifying the word “technology.”
3 Services for Transcribing Audio to Text
If you’ve been manually transcribing your audio files to text, it’s time to upgrade. With...
Grammar Tips: Transitive Verbs
At its most basic, a fully-functioning sentence in English will need a subject and a...
How to Write an Annual Report
Writing an annual report can be an overwhelming task to undertake. In this article, we’ll...
How To Cite Course Material in Harvard Referencing
As a student, course material can be a valuable resource when writing a paper or...
How to Write Blank Verse Poetry
Ever heard of blank verse? It’s poetry that doesn’t rhyme but follows a regular meter....
Grammar Tips: Prepositions
In the English language, prepositions can be tricky to master because they’re usually idiomatic. However,...
institutions and businesses