Sources explaining why you shouldn't put a comma after the year when a date is used as an adjective?
May 16, 2012 9:48 AM   Subscribe

Sources explaining why you shouldn't put a comma after the year when a date is used as an adjective?

Are there any good sources explaining why you shouldn't put a comma after the year when a date is used as an adjective? I'm trying to explain why it should be "...after the May 16, 2012 meeting" instead of "...after the May 16, 2012, meeting." It sounds wrong to me to put a comma after the year, a little like writing "big, red, house." Any good sources that explain this? This is in a business/legal context.
posted by flod logic to Writing & Language (18 answers total)
 
More specifically, online sources would be better.
posted by flod logic at 9:51 AM on May 16, 2012


"May 16, 2012" is being used as an adjectival phrase here (it modifies the noun "meeting")--any source explaining that you shouldn't put a comma between an adjective and the noun it modifies will serve your purpose.
posted by yoink at 9:54 AM on May 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Comma after the year is logically "correct" but no one does it. Therefore no-comma is correct.

1. Why is it logically correct? "2012" is a parenthetical modifying May 16. Which May 16? The 2012 one.

2. Why no one does it? A) No one understands parenthetical phrases, and writers of all stripes routinely drop the closing comma from parenthetical phrases. You can find clearly wrong examples in newspaper articles, novels, and legal opinions. B) People treat "May 16, 2012" as simply a convention for writing the date, rather than something constructed from logical units. They reproduce what they've seen.

So this is a case where, while you are correct, you can't produce a logical explanation of your correctness, because your correctness defies logic.

(Yoink's answer doesn't work because it doesn't explain why you can do the following: "On May 16, 2012 I flew to England." Although you've framed your question as covering cases where a date is used as an adjective, the usage is the same in other cases.)
posted by grobstein at 10:06 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately, you are fighting a losing battle. It is basically form three from here.

The second comma is necessary for the same reason the first one is, to set apart the modifier.

The sentence is this: "...after the [date] meeting..." [date] is an adjective for meeting. However, within the [date] chunk of the sentence, you have two parts: the month and day, which could be included without commas, and then the year adjective that modifies the month and day adjective.

If you used parenthesis instead, it would look like "...after the May 16 (2012) meeting...". But parenthesis aren't appropriate, so you have to use commas.

[date] could also be 2012 May 16 and then you wouldn't need to use commas. It is just a peculiarity of that form of date that the commas are necessary.

A similar construction would be something like "Included are three samples of our striped, vertical, wallpaper patterns." Striped modifies wallpaper, and vertical modifies striped.
posted by gjc at 10:12 AM on May 16, 2012


If you're using the date as an adjective, the date is an adjective. You don't put commas after adjectives.

"May 16, 2012, meeting" is wrong the same way "brown, puppy" is wrong.
posted by emelenjr at 10:40 AM on May 16, 2012


"Logically correct" is fairly irrelevant. The question is "What is considered appropriate usage in this publication/institution/professional field?" Garner's Redbook is very clear about where to use commas, and although it has been a long time since I have had to refer to it (and it is probably in my basement, and I am certainly too lazy to go fetch it) I am positive that it supports your usage choice of "the May 16, 2012 meeting." If you have a copy ready to hand, check out the section on commas.

(And you're right in your reasoning: the reason we don't write [at least in US business and legal English] "the May 16, 2012, meeting" is exactly the same reason we don't write "the big, red, house.")
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:49 AM on May 16, 2012


"The May 16, 2012 meeting will be in Ottawa." is incorrect. It's akin to saying "The dancer, Elizabeth is performing in today's recital." Elizabeth is a parenthetical, as has already been pointed out.

"The May 16, 2012, meeting will be in Ottawa." is correct.

Just like "The dancer, Elizabeth, is performing in today's recital."
or
"The Richmond, Virginia, prosecutor will try the case."
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 10:50 AM on May 16, 2012


And you know you can just rewrite it as "the meeting of May 16, 2012" and avoid having a boring squabble with your colleague, right?
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:50 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


(And you're right in your reasoning: the reason we don't write [at least in US business and legal English] "the May 16, 2012, meeting" is exactly the same reason we don't write "the big, red, house.")

I agree with you that "logically correct" is irrelevant (as I said in the post you are referring to), but you're wrong here.

"Red" and "2012" are not doing anything like the same work in their respective examples. "Red" modifies "house" whereas "2012" modifies "May 16."
posted by grobstein at 10:52 AM on May 16, 2012


Yes, you're right, grobstein.

Anyway, a good rule of thumb is this: if the year alone needs a comma, the year plus date needs a comma; if the year alone doesn't need a comma, the year plus date doesn't need a comma.

"The 2012 meeting will be held in Oklahoma."

"The May 16, 2012 meeting will be held in Oklahoma."

"After 2010, he devoted his practice to orthodontics."

"After May 16, 2010, he devoted his practice to orthodontics."

Again, this is almost certainly dealt with in detail in the Redbook. If you don't have one, you need one.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:55 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


> "Red" and "2012" are not doing anything like the same work in their respective examples. "Red" modifies "house" whereas "2012" modifies "May 16."

True, but doesn't this overlook the fact that "May 16, 2012" is an adjectival phrase modifying "meeting"?

"2012" on its own might not do the same work as "red", but "May 16, 2012" as a whole certainly seems to.
posted by matlock expressway at 11:32 AM on May 16, 2012


"The May 16, 2012 meeting will be in Ottawa." is incorrect. It's akin to saying "The dancer, Elizabeth is performing in today's recital." Elizabeth is a parenthetical, as has already been pointed out.

No. As grobstein points out, most readers don't understand the year to be a "parenthetical." It isn't enclosed by parentheses or commas. It's unlike "the dancer, Elizabeth," which combines two pieces of information that the reader otherwise wouldn't expect to go together (if they had no idea what the dancer's name was). You expect a date like "May 16" to go with a year like "2012," so it's purely a matter of custom how to write it.

The comma between 16 and 2012 is a graphical custom to prevent the numbers from running into each other. Similarly, we write one million as 1,000,000 not because the commas convey the normal meaning of a comma, but to make it easier to quickly understand the different roles of the different digits by glancing at the number. There isn't some universal custom of putting a comma after the year when you wouldn't otherwise use a comma in the sentence (though of course anyone is free to adopt that custom if they happen to like the style).

There are authorities that say to use the comma at the end (except when the date is an adjective, as the OP says), but that's a fake rule. To the extent it's a rule at all, people break it all the time. If there's a "rule" that you can freely violate without suffering any consequences, then it's not really a rule at all.

In fact, using a comma after the year is actively unhelpful, since it interrupts the grammatical flow of the sentence (unlike "the dancer, Elizabeth").
posted by John Cohen at 11:34 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


As discussed, the comma after the year is technically correct, but is seldom used. It really has become a discretionary editorial decision (hence your problem).

The grammar guide here addresses that problem:

Commas and Dates

Next, there are some rules about commas and dates. When you're writing out a full date in the American style, you put a comma between the day and the year, so New Year's Day is January 1, 2008. (4) Different style guides make different recommendations about whether to put a comma after the year. Some say to put a comma after the year in a sentence like January 1, 2008, will be a fun day (5, 6), and some say to leave the comma out after 2008 (7, 8). I prefer to leave the comma out.


The other style guide the above quote refers to is the Chicago Manual of Style, which is commonly used.

But really, I tend to go by Sidhedevil's rule—I think his example is pretty straight-forward! Good luck.
posted by Eicats at 11:38 AM on May 16, 2012


> Comma after the year is logically "correct" but no one does it. Therefore no-comma is correct.

This is not true. (Why do people say things like this?) It is not a matter of logic, it is not a matter of adjectives, it is purely a matter of style. You can write your own personal material however you like; if you have something published, it will be changed according to the style guide of your publisher. US spelling will be imposed (if it is a US publisher); serial commas will be added (if that is house style); commas will be added after the year in this situation (if, for instance, Chicago is used). I do all these things routinely as part of my job as a copyeditor. It is not a reflection on your writing, your abilities with English, or your sense of the language; it is purely a matter of making everything consistent. The New Yorker will put a dieresis over the second o in coöperate whether you like it or not; that is how they do things at the New Yorker. If all the energy wasted over arguing about this stuff were spent in socially productive ways, think what a wonderful world this would be!
posted by languagehat at 12:30 PM on May 16, 2012 [8 favorites]


If all the energy wasted over arguing about this stuff were spent in socially productive ways, think what a wonderful world this would be!

Well, sure. But that dieresis is important, man. You don't want people thinking you meant the word that means "administer an exhibition of barrels".
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 6:40 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


"May 16, 2012, meeting" is wrong the same way "brown, puppy" is wrong.

Except that it's not that. "2012" is not modifying "meeting", it is modifying "May 16".

Examples:

The productive meeting lasted about three hours.

The highly productive meeting lasted about three hours.

The productive, highly, meeting lasted about three hours.


It would be ridiculous to say "The productive, highly meeting lasted about three hours."

Nobody is saying it isn't grammatically awkward, but it is grammatically correct.
posted by gjc at 7:23 AM on May 17, 2012


It would be ridiculous to say "The productive, highly meeting lasted about three hours."

True. It would, however, be equally ridiculous to say "The productive, highly, meeting lasted about three hours." And there is no sense in which "highly productive" is remotely grammatically parallel with "2012, May 16" which seems to be your implication. "Highly" is an adjectival intensifier--that's an entirely separate grammatical species from a noun like "2012."

Dates seem to me to be difficult to subsume under ordinary grammatical concepts. I don't think that anyone actually thinks of the year "modifying" the date (we're not saying that it was a particularly "2012"-ish May 16th--we're specifying a unique date in a series with three variables (day, month, year). If you insist on reading this as nouns modifying other nouns in a complex noun phrase then you have to read the root noun as "16" modified in turn by "May" and by "2012"--and all of that, in turn, modifying "meeting." We might, for example, analogize that to this phrase: "the lodge guest book entry"--where there is a "guest book" held at "the lodge" and we're trying to identify a particular "entry" in it. Now, it is simply not possible--and not grammatically correct, to write "the guest book, lodge, entry." That simply degenerates into nonsense. Similarly, we do not easily or readily substitute "the 2012, May 16 meeting" for "the May 16, 2012 meeting." That tells us, I think, that whatever is going on syntactically in the construction "2012, May 16 meeting" it is not, at all, analogous to "the guest book, lodge, entry." So we go back to my initial point. "May 16, 2012" is an adjectival phrase modifying "meeting" and you don't put a comma between the adjectival phrase and the noun it modifies.
posted by yoink at 10:23 AM on May 18, 2012


Perhaps we could read things this way (which I believe supports yoink's adjectival phrase reading entirely), going from general to specific:

"The meeting will be held in Ottawa."

"The 2012 meeting will be held in Ottawa."

(Heckler in the crowd: "Which 2012 meeting will be held in Ottawa?")

"The May 16, 2012 meeting will be held in Ottawa."

These all take the form of "The [x] meeting will be held in Ottawa", and we can plop down anything in place of [x] without a comma at the end. Since "May 16, 2012" as a standalone phrase doesn't get a final comma -- e.g., we don't write "May 16, 2012," after our signatures on a contract -- it need not have a comma here.

Also, does "2012" modify "May 16" or does "May 16" modify "2012"? If the latter, even more support comes this way.
posted by matlock expressway at 7:35 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


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