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T-Shirt Error Loses Sale

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.

Why not?

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?

Learn about our upcoming public classes, including Proofreading Like a Pro. 

Syntax Training

Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

10 comments on “T-Shirt Error Loses Sale”

  • Dear Lynn,

    After reading your article, I am aware of the rule. I have always used ordinal numbers when writing about dates.

    Now, I will start putting into practice such rule and to tell my students and coworkers about it.

    Thank you very much for your information.

    Best regards,

    Krissia Cantillano

  • Hello, Krissia. I am glad this information was helpful to you.

    Regarding the sentence you corrected, no apology is necessary! I like the change you made.

    For smooth sentence flow, I would probably write it this way:

    “Now I will start putting the rule into practice and telling my students and coworkers about it.”

    Best wishes,


  • Hi Lynn,
    First of all, I would like to thank you for your PERFECT blog. It is so helpful.
    I used used to write “We will be sending the XYZ report next Sunday (26th of June)”. Is it correct or I should write it as (June 26)

  • Hi, Eman. Your approach is not wrong, but the second way is more common and a bit more concise. Consider this wording:

    “We will send the XYZ report next Sunday, June 26.”

    Thank you for the compliment.


  • Lynn, I have just connected to your business writing blog and I have immediately started learning things from this very first attempt. Thank you for teaching so many users of this blog, with your wisdom of knowledge.

    Thank you. Happy learning.

    Best Wishes,

  • How can I politely correct my boss when she writes dates like this: 6/11th? It drives me crazy. Please help! I’ve all but given up on correcting dates otherwise, since it seems everyone, including marketing, advertisement, publishing, has accepted writing dates such as June 11th, 2014 as standard. So disappointing.

  • Justine, I feel your pain. How frustrating!

    Pull up this link on your computer:

    Then invite your boss to read the blog post with you. Ask her, “How can we get everyone to render dates correctly?” She may not believe my blog post, but you can present to her ANY reputable style manual or style section of a dictionary. She can’t argue with 100 percent of experts.

    Good luck! Let us know how it goes.


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