This really is trivial, but I am determined to find the answer, if one exists! In something I recently wrote, I was advised that there is no comma after the year in a date, if the date is used as an adjective. The commenter knows this from the past but is not referencing a particular style guide. I sought to find an authoritative support for that position.

As examples, we have the following where the date is an adjective:

The September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre…
The September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Centre…

I have looked at style guides, or read references, to them (APA, MLA, Oxford) and a writer’s handbook. I have asked the question of English teachers and writers. I have, of course, searched the Web. The general findings are that the comma is called for, and there is no specific reference to when the date is an adjective.

There are three sources that give this answer, but I am looking for an authority.

1. In Wikipedia, it states, “you do not include a comma after the year where the date is serving as a specifically identifying adjective – almost as a title: ‘The September 11, 2001 attacks on the WTC brought a renewed feeling of patriotism'” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comma). No authority is cited.

2. One online punctuation guide states, “When a date is used as an adjective, some authorities omit the comma following the year, yet others require it. Given the uncertainty, it is best to recast the sentence” (http://www.thepunctuationguide.com/comma.html). There is no identification of ‘some authorities.’

3. One more example, in a forum, a ‘veteran member’ wrote, “Here, ‘August 13, 2002’ is an adjective modifying ‘letter’, so we do not want a comma after the year.” (http://www.englishforums.com/English/CommasAndDates/wxjj/post.htm). Again, there is no authority to which we might refer.

I am certainly open to the possibility that there is a style guide that calls for no comma after a year in a full date when the date is used as an adjective. My search has not been exhaustive. I hope you might help by identifying such a guide or authority if you know of one!

13 Comments

  1. I always place the comma after the year. Placement of the year in a statement involving a date is a lot like inserting a parenthetical remark. Thus, for example, “The September 11 (2001) attacks on the WTC…” – and just as “The September 11 (2001 attacks on the WTC” seems wrong, so does “the September 11, 2001 attacks on the WTC…”

  2. Hi Stephen. I am certainly with you on the placement of the comma after the year. Using the APA Publication Guide, for example, there is not mention of the date as an adjective (that I can see). I am looking for that one (or more) authority that might support not using it.

  3. Tony, I love a good comma dilemma!

    I may have mentioned to you in email that from what I found, which came from 15th edition Chicago Manual of Style:

    “6.46 — Commas needed or omitted. In the month-day-year style of dates, the style most commonly used in the United States and hence now recommended by Chicago, commas are used both before and after the year. In the day-month-year system — sometimes awkward in regular text, though useful in material that requires many full dates — no commas are needed. Where month and year only are given, or a specific day (such as a holiday) with a year, neither system uses a comma.” The examples given include this one: “The ship sailed on October 6, 1999, for Southampton.”

    Alas, life isn’t that simple. 🙂 As an adjective, things get dicey.

    Here’s what The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style:

    “…Although occasionally using dates adjectivally is a space-saver, the device should not be overworked: it gives prose a breezy look.
    “And the practice is particularly clumsy when the day as well as the month is given–e.g.: “The court reconsidered its July 12, 1994 privelege order.” Stylists who use this phrasing typically omit the comma after the year –and justifiably so: in the midst of an adjective phrase (i.e., the date), it impedes the flow of the writing too much. Still, that second comma sometimes surfaces — e.g.: “Harvey is accused of murder, robbery and burglary in the June 16, 1985, [read June 16, 1985] slaying of Irene Schnaps, 37, who suffered 15 blows to the head with a hatchet in her Hunters Glen apartment (Newark Star Ledger).” (link here: http://books.google.com/books?id=z_VmtjAU01YC&pg=PA11&lpg=PA11&dq=commas+in+dates+as+adjectives&source=bl&ots=6GhJ6f6-A2&sig=KlUtkPJMyVqDj_cPA5n0elu__qY&hl=en&sa=X&ei=aQxUUpDvNNWv4APfgoGQAQ&ved=0CHYQ6AEwCTgK#v=onepage&q=commas%20in%20dates%20&f=false

    Notice how they effectively argue both sides of the fence. 🙂

    I say recast the sentence: “The Septemer 11 attacks….”

    Then you need no comma and no debate. 🙂

  4. I found a couple of resources that I thought explained this well. Both argue that when the date serves an adjective to modify the noun, then no comma is required. Thus, “The September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center” would be appropriate and correct comma usage.

    The links are:
    http://www.law.du.edu/documents/enrlp/DuVivier/nov%202002.pdf
    http://ask.metafilter.com/215474/Sources-explaining-why-you-shouldnt-put-a-comma-after-the-year-when-a-date-is-used-as-an-adjective

    I also found a recommendation to refer to the Redbook and Bluebook for grammar.

    Hope this helps 🙂

  5. I am certainly not an authority and English is not my native language, but I would vote for no comma. My justification is that in the case where the date is an adjective, the comma serves no purpose. Whereas when the date is not an adjective, there is normally a short pause when reading. For example, “On September 11, 2001, the WTC was attacked.”

  6. Thanks, everyone, for your comments. Although the question extends beyond the style that I am using for academic writing at this point, APA (Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association), I decided to consult the APA Style Expert email. With permission to post this, I share the following response:

    “First, a disclaimer: The APA Publication Manual isn’t intended to be a comprehensive manual of grammar and punctuation; it ‘omits general rules explained in widely available style manuals’ (6th ed., p. 87). With that said, I’ve consulted our standard reference works (including the Chicago Manual of Style and Words Into Type) and find no support for eliminating the comma after ‘September 11, 2001.’ The date is not an adjective; it’s a specifying phrase. ‘It is in effect a parenthetical element which cannot be read without a slight pause before and after it’ (Words Into Type, p. 202). Therefore, the comma must remain after the date.”

  7. Jennifer Holloway

    I have also spent much too much time searching for valid authority to confirm whether or not the comma remains when the date is used as an adjective. Most of my search as led me to be believe that the comma remains. I felt confident leaving it after reading your follow up post above from the APA Style Expert source a couple years ago,

    I now return to update that I have found an “authority” that states to remove it. I don’t know how much weight the entire world would put on this “authority,” but I will be forced to follow it. I am a paralegal in the state of Texas, with post-graduate work in professional and technical writing. My primary work is proofing and editing of legal writing.

    The Texas Law Review, Manual on Usage & Style, 13th Edition (2015), states as follows: “But place a comma only before the year when a complete date is used as an adjective. Ex. The commission’s May 5, 1989 order increased utility rates.”

  8. Thanks for sharing, Jennifer. You certainly have an authority to guide the work you are doing. When I first asked the question, I was asked to do something without a specific authority referenced. Of course, I followed what my client thought was correct. It is good to see you have identified a source supporting ‘no comma’!

  9. Tyler

    If you are looking for authority supporting the omission of the comma after the year when the date is used as a comma, I would refer you to Bryan Garner’s discussion in Modern English Usage, 4th Edition, page 246: Dates, [C] As Adjectives.

  10. Brenda

    I’m no authority, either, but for me, a comma will ALWAYS be placed before and after the year in any sentence, unless the year is the end of the sentence. Anything else just seems incomplete (to me).

  11. Brenda, how about this sentence: “From January 4, 1920, to February 8, 1922, I wore slacks and sandals.” How about this: “My May 4, 2016, birthday was a blast!” You’d use all those commas?

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