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Use of commas after dates
February 28, 2012 3:26 PM   Subscribe

When a sentence includes a date (month, day, and year), is it always proper to set off the year with commas?

A coworker and I disagree about what is proper punctuation, and I can't find anything conclusive online. I want to know if it is proper to set off the year with commas in a sentence that reads like this:

The meeting I attended on December 1, 2011 was lengthy but productive.

Should there be a comma after 2011 in addition to before it?

I know that commas after years are appropriate sometimes, like so:

On September 9, 1931, my father was born.

And I know that no commas are necessary when I'm using just the month and year:

March 1977 was snowy and cold.

But it's the first example above that my coworker and I disagree about. We're in the United States.
posted by southern_sky to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Yes, commas.
posted by yarly at 3:31 PM on February 28, 2012


'2011' can be seen as a qualification of the 'December 1', if that helps.

> The meeting I attended on December 1 was lengthy...

Which December 1? December 1, 2001.

> The meeting I attended on December 1, 2001, was lengthy...
posted by FlyingMonkey at 3:31 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is more a style guide thing than a grammar thing, but the AP Style guide says yes:

When a phrase refers to a month, day and year, set off the year with commas: Jan. 15
2008, was the first day of the semester.

I suspect other style guides will have different rules, though, as does it matter if you're using American or European Date formats. The Chicago Manual of style uses them too.
posted by brainmouse at 3:33 PM on February 28, 2012


Proper formatting:

The meeting I attended on December 1, 2011, was lengthy but productive

In that example, you are particularly referencing the year as a qualifier of December 1.

If you said:

The meeting I attended on December 1, 2011 was a lengthy but productive.

You have a broken sentance. "The meeting I attended on December 1" and then "2011 was lengthy but productive."

There is a large degree of ambiguity in this sentance. Either you mean what you said in the first example but got a bit sloppy. Or you could have meant "Based on the meeting" or a whole other variety of things.
posted by nickrussell at 3:34 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, there should be a comma there. But, for example, it would be "the December 1, 2011 meeting was productive" -- so there is not always a comma.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:26 PM on February 28, 2012


J. Wilson, I disagree. The second comma is always there.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 4:41 PM on February 28, 2012


I am a copy editor, but I am not YOUR copy editor.

The year is always set off with commas on both sides when the full date is given. Swap out "my birthday" for the year and it'll be more apparent: "The meeting I attended on Dec. 1, my birthday, was productive." The year serves the same function in the sentence as "my birthday."
posted by elizeh at 5:21 PM on February 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


It might help to think about it as spelling out the numbers as words to see why the commas are necessary.

"The meeting I attended on December first, two thousand and eleven, was productive."

Versus the broken:

"The meeting I attended on December first, two thousand and eleven was productive."

What you are doing is basically putting an adjective after the noun, and when you do that you have to set it off with commas. IE, "The package contained one hat, green, and I forwarded it to the appropriate department."

It's also just like this sentence, which would seem wrong without both commas: "The meeting I attended on Thursday, December 1, sucked."

Without the date, there would have been no commas in the sentence. Those cases are similar to parentheticals, in that they need to be closed up once they are opened.
posted by gjc at 5:45 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Another copyeditor weighing in: yes, both commas are always needed.
posted by languagehat at 9:05 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


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