Writing Dates and Abbreviations: What are the rules?

The Grammar Patrol We (Edith Hope Fine and Judith Josephson) are the Grammar Patrol. Both of us taught for years and are now writers, with thirty plus books between us, including our two popular grammar guides, Nitty-Gritty Grammar and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar. For close to twenty years, we taught writing and grammar basics and now we blog about grammar for writers.

Dates and Abbreviations

What’s the Date?


dreamstime_xs_33388245It’s a brand new year, a good time to review how to write dates. Dates can bring about a comma conundrum.

The Basics

When writing a full date, not just a year in a sentence, follow it with a comma:

• On December 5, 2013, Nelson Mandela, a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician, and philanthropist died.


Skip the final comma when listing only the month and year:

• Our North Woods adventure of July 2013 included a tornado, fabulous food, a canoe tipover, but great fishing!


And what to do about bothersome add-ons, such as “st,” “nd, “rd, and “th”?

When a date appears after a month, don’t add st, nd, rd, th:

• The wedding was August 12, 2013 (not August 12th, 2013).


Only use those add-ons when they precede the month.

• Their wedding was on the 12th of August.

• The fourth season of Downton Abbey premiered in America on January 5.


Use no commas when the date comes before the month, as is often the case in writing that’s academic or for the military:

• The scientific findings were published 16 January 2014.


Say it Short!

Abbreviations are shortened versions of words. Some—called acronyms—can be pronounced as a word, such as “NATO” for North Atlantic Treaty Organization.” Others—called initialisms—are read letter by letter, such as “AAUW” for American Association of University Women or “IRS,” (yikes!) for Internal Revenue Service.

Use only abbreviations that are easily understood by your readers. The first time you use an abbreviation, write out what it stands for; follow it with the abbreviation in parentheses:

• Edith and Judith belong to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Our San Diego SCBWI chapter meets monthly.

When a sentence ends with an abbreviation, use only one period:

• Our class read the “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. (not King, Jr..).

Abbreviations are used frequently in parenthetical citations, notes, and bibliographies. Use them as little as possible in the body of your writing.

Many abbreviations use periods. Over time, the periods have been dropped from some abbreviations, especially with the names of organizations.


Here are some common abbreviations:

a.d. or A.D. (with or without periods) means “in the year of the Lord,” from the Latin anno Domini. The a.d. goes before the year: a.d. 1066.

a.m. or a.m. means “ante meridiem”—before noon. Use a.m. with numerals, not words:

• 4:45 a.m. (not four forty-five a.m.)

TIP: Use words, not numerals, with the word “o’clock”:

six o’clock (not 6 o’clock)

b.c. or B.C. means “before Christ.” In naming a specific year, the b.c. goes after the year: 274 b.c.

e.g. from the Latin exempli gratia (“for the sake of example”). It means “for example.” After “e.g.,” list your specific examples. Put a comma before and a comma or colon after the abbreviation e.g.:

• Bring one clown prop, e.g., rubber nose, huge shoes, squirting flower.

etc. from the Latin et cetera, meaning “and so forth.” Since “et” means “and,” don’t write “and etc.” Don’t use “etc.” after a series that begins with “such as.”

ibid. (pronounced “IH bid”) The abbreviation ibid. means “in the same book or passage.” From a bibliography:

Conroy Pat, The Water Is Wide, New York: Bantam Books, page 43.

Ibid., page 87. [This cites The Water Is Wide, but a different page number.]

i.e. from the Latin id est, means “that is.” This abbreviation explains. Put a comma before and a comma or a colon after i.e.

• The 30-meter three-legged dash was the penultimate race, i.e., the second to last.

p., pp. The abbreviation “p.” stands for “page”; “pp.” stands for “pages.” Use only in citations, notes, and bibliographies. Don’t use “pg.” or “pgs.,” even if your word processor tries to insist.

p.m. or p.m. means “post meridiem”—after noon.

PS stands for postscript. (Note: Use no periods.) Use it for an additional thought at the end of a letter.

• PS Your birthday present’s in the mail.

vs. or vs The abbreviation “vs.” stands for “versus”: Bruins vs. Trojans. But in most cases, use the word versus, rather than the abbreviation. (In the language of law, a single “v.” is used for “versus”: Brown v. the Board of Education.)

For more about dates and abbreviations, see pp. 9–12 of More Nitty-Gritty Grammar or pp. 86–87 of Nitty-Gritty Grammar.

That’s the long and short of it. Stay tuned for another grammar grabber—this one on mispronunciations—in February.

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