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The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

26 April 2007

Copyediting pet peeves: dates

As a copyeditor—and as a reader—I see certain mistakes over and over again. One of my particular pet peeves is wrongly punctuated dates, perhaps because the rules are easy and vary little among style manuals.

The most common mistake in writing dates is to leave out one of the enclosing commas, usually the second one, like this:
I wrote this blog entry on April 26, 2007 in the afternoon.

Here, for easy reference, are the two most acceptable styles of writing dates in the United States. If you are including the day of the month, the date is written thus:
I wrote this blog entry on April 26, 2007, in the afternoon.

If you are not including the day of the month, the form is:
I wrote this blog entry in April 2007 in the afternoon.

I searched through the most recent editions I had of the style manuals on my bookcase. In support of these two styles were newspaper style guides, scientific and medical style guides, and general style guides:

  • The Associated Press Style Book, 39th edition

  • The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, revised and expanded edition

  • AMA Manual of Style: A Guide for Authors and Editors, 10th edition

  • The ACS Style Guide: A Manual for Authors and Editors, 2nd edition

  • Scientific Style and Format: The CBE Manual for Authors, Editors, and Publishers, 6th edition

  • Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 4th edition

  • Words Into Type, 3rd edition

  • The Chicago Manual of Style, 14th edition (However, the stylebook says that the University of Chicago Press prefers dates in the style "I wrote this blog entry on 26 April 2007 in the afternoon.")


Sphinx Ink said...

I too am irked by mispunctuation, but I admit that in recent years I've fallen into using the structure "April 26, 2007" (with no comma after the year) because I've seen it written that way so much and I read--somewhere, not sure where--that it was accepted use now. Obviously, with your lengthy list of references, the information I had was wrong.

I've noticed for years now that many people younger than me use commas far less than I was taught was correct. Sometimes it drives me crazy and I pencil in the comma where I think they should be, anyway.

Shauna Roberts said...

Commas needed for clarity often go missing nowadays, it seems. Even published works have sentences that resemble prophecies of the Delphic oracle. Without the necessary commas, one can interpret these sentences in several different ways.

I particularly mourn the increasing lack of a comma after the next-to-last item in a series because, more times than not, I have to reread the sentence to figure out what the parallel elements are. Dropping the penultimate comma is now standard practice in newspapers.

I have several other pet peeves involving commas, but I'll save those rants for future blogs!

Anonymous said...

Great blog! I struggle with some of the elements of style when writing my books. I am particularly perplexed by the comma. Thanks for including all of the resources listed here. I'll definitely be using this list alot.

Rebecca Benston, Author of the Rona Shively Stories

Shauna Roberts said...

Thanks for stopping by, Rebecca, and contributing.

The style book I use most often is The MLA's Line By Line: How to Edit Your Own Writing by Claire Cook (which is currently sold as Line by Line: How to Improve Your Own Writing and has had other names as well). It is not nearly as complete as the "authorities" listed in my post. Rather, it tends to focus on tricky points and often discusses them in more detail than the comprehensive books.