How to Punctuate References to Dates and Times

By Mark Nichol

Where do the commas go in references to days, months, years, and time of day? Take some time to note these punctuation rules:

No comma is needed between a month and a year: “The meeting was held in August 2011.” The same form is correct for referring to a holiday during a certain year: “I haven’t seen her since Christmas 2005.” However, set the year off from the month and day: “She attended the August 31, 2011, meeting.”

Use a comma to set a day off from the date on which the particular day falls: “The meeting was held on Wednesday, August 31.” A continuation of the sentence requires a second comma: “The meeting was held on Wednesday, August 31, and the report was issued the following week.”

No comma is required between a date and a starting time for an event on that date: “The meeting is scheduled for August 31 at 7 p.m.” A continuation of the sentence requires no punctuation unless a new independent clause is introduced: “The meeting is scheduled for August 31 at 7 p.m. and is expected to last for three hours,” but “The meeting is scheduled for August 31 at 7 p.m., and it is expected to last for three hours.”

However, as in the second example in the second paragraph, the combination of day, date, and time requires organizational punctuation: “The meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, August 31, at 7 p.m.”

“The meeting is scheduled for August 31, 7-9 p.m.” (Print publications should use an en dash for the time range; some online publications do so, too.) A comma should follow the time range if the sentence continues: “The meeting is scheduled for August 31, 7-9 p.m., and will feature a guest speaker.” A reference to day, date, and time requires commas between each pair of elements: “The meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, August 31, 7-9 p.m.” (And don’t precede a time range with from: It’s either “7-9 p.m.” or “from 7 to 9 p.m.”)

Click here to get access to 800+ interactive grammar exercises!


Share


17 Responses to “How to Punctuate References to Dates and Times”

  • codebeard

    What are the punctuation rules for British dates and times?

    For example, I was taught to write something like “the meeting will be held on Wednesday the 31st of August” or “the meeting will be held on Wednesday, 31st August”.

  • Wordsmith

    This article is correct if you use the rules of punctuation in the USA. Rules are different in the United Kingdom. I suppose that the punctuation chosen depends on the audience that a writer is writing for (as well as the geographical location of the publishers). It is a useful guide for those of us writing for American audiences.

  • Dan

    En dash instead of a hyphen for time ranges.

  • AnWulf

    The commas may not be “required”, but I prefer them because I often pause, ever so slightly, between the month and year when speaking.

    “The meeting was held in August, 2011.”
    “I haven’t seen her since Christmas, 2005.”

  • thebluebird11

    As an American, I of course agree with all the rules mentioned in the post.
    I dislike clutter in writing/reading, so there are 2 things I do differently:
    1. I leave out all the periods. For me, it’s AM and PM, no periods. There are times that I can get away with small letters (am and pm), depending on what other text or context is around the expression of time, as long as “am” (meaning a.m.) won’t be confused with the word “am.”
    2. When possible, I leave out the “th” or “st,” as in 4th or 31st, only because it’s more clutter. However, Word automatically superscripts the “st” or “th” for you, in which case it’s not as bad. For example, “I need to hand in my report by August 31.” Alternatively, (and I’m under the impression that this is the Brit way; correct me if I’m wrong, please), is, “I need to hand in my report by 31 August.” Does the Brit way require the “st” in there or can you get away without it?

  • John White

    HA! Your feed service gets the last word. Here’s what landed in my inbox:

    >How to Punctuate References to Dates and Times
    >Posted: 29 Aug 2011 09:49 PM PDT

    Not a comma in sight…

  • miruna

    Very useful article, especially when I’m not a native English writer.
    Thank you very much!
    I’m looking forward for more articles alike.

  • Mark Nichol

    The British English style is “Tuesday, 30 August, 2011,” and “The next meeting will be held 30 August.” There is no need in either British English or American English for spelling out the ordinal elements st and so on, even though they are pronounced.

  • Mark Nichol

    AnWulf:

    More so than not being required, commas between months and years are incorrect. If you write for edited publications, your pause markers will (or should) be deleted. In the privacy of your own home, of course, do what you please.

  • Mark Nichol

    Dan:

    See my note near the beginning of the final paragraph.

  • Deborah H

    I would appreciate clarification on using A.M. and P.M., or a.m. and p.m., or am and pm (or AM and PM).

    I was taught: A.M. and P.M. Then I went to work for a newspaper (insert laugh here). I acknowledge there are many differences between literary writing and print journalism, but the internet has stirred us all about and dumped us in the same pot. And I am not happy about it. Newspapers fight for every little space (which equals money).

    I still think advertising should use uppercase letters and periods: A.M. and P.M., but I am willing to concede a.m. and p.m. every where else.

    Has the Modern Language Association “ruled” on this problem? Is it a problem or is it all in my head?

  • Mark Nichol

    Deborah:

    Style varies widely in publications for designating ante meridiem and post meridiem, including the choices you offered as well as small caps and with or without periods. The Chicago Manual of Style prefers lowercase with periods but accepts small caps with or without periods. Many people (myself included) think that the uppercase initials look clumsy.

  • Ken K

    I think Mark’s post agrees with The Associated Press Stylebook. Good post.

  • Precise Edit

    @AnWulf
    You state: “The commas may not be “required”, but I prefer them because I often pause, ever so slightly, between the month and year when speaking.”

    This is a good example of the risk of using the “put a comma where you pause” strategy. You pause at that point; I do not. Does that mean the comma is correct for you but not for me?

    Although the “comma means pause” strategy will work for many people and in many cases, it is not a reliable strategy. The safer approach for using commas correctly is to understand how commas are used and to apply them in a conscientious and informed manner.

    For further study of commas with dates, and for further support of the comma rules expressed in this post, you might check out “Commas with Dates” at http://wp.me/p1xXbj-4K .

  • AnWulf

    @Mark … If an editor wants to take that comma out, I won’t really care. It just wouldn’t be a big deal as long as I got the check.

    @Precise Edit … The short answer is YES!. Do you use an Oxford comma? Some do, some don’t. Do you put the comma inside or outside the quotes? Some do, some don’t. For me, it is about clarity. Sometimes the comma doesn’t really make a difference and sometimes it’s important. I don’t need to read the “rules”. I know them. I just don’t agree with them.

  • Punctuation!

    @AnWulf: you can choose to put commas between months and years…but that is 100% wrong. One does NOT punctuate depending on where one takes a breath or pauses–that is something that we are taught in 1st grade to make it easier on our teachers. Sprinkling commas inappropriately makes you look silly to those that actually know the rules of English. And putting a comma between the month and year is ALWAYS WRONG.

  • Tess

    Please realize that putting a comma where you pause is putting the horse before the cart. We started pausing because there was a comma. Now, it is embedded into our speech patterns, but it is not always right. The comma rule came first for consistency and clarity.

Leave a comment: