I was walking around Seattle's Sea-Tac International Airport yesterday, waiting for my flight to Maui, when I admired a T-shirt with a clever slogan:
Washington Rain Festival, Jan. 1st – Dec. 31st
What a perfect message, since it rains in Western Washington nearly all the time.
Despite the truthfulness of the sentiment and the reasonable price of the T-shirt, as a writer and editor I could not buy the shirt.
Because the dates are rendered incorrectly.
According to the rules promoted by every business writing guide on my bookshelf, month-day dates use cardinal numbers (1, 2, 3 . . . 31), not ordinal ones (1st, 2nd, 3rd . . . 31st).
The slogan should read “Washington Rain Festival, Jan. 1 – Dec. 31.”
The T-shirt error did not surprise me. In the quick grammar and punctuation quiz I often give in business writing classes, attendees get this item wrong most frequently:
I can’t wait to meet Jon Lewis on June 6th.
As you know now (if you were not certain before), the date should be rendered June 6. Even though we pronounce it “June sixth,” we type “June 6.”
People in business writing courses often ask, “Then where can we use numbers like 1st, 6th, and 31st?”
You can use them any place other than in month-day dates. For example, these uses are correct:
See you on the 16th.
We met on the Fourth of July. (Fourth is capitalized as part of the name of a holiday.)
The wedding will take place on the eighth of May.
Please pass on this tip: Your Microsoft Office grammar and spelling checker will flag errors like the one on the T-shirt. You just have to accept the correction when it pops up.
Well, since the Washington Rain Festival runs from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, I am now relaxing and working in sunny Maui. I will be back at my desk in drizzly Seattle in a week.
Were you aware of that number rule? How about your coworkers—do they observe it?
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