May 3 or May 3rd: When to Use Superscript Letters With Numbers

www.RuthlessEditor.comDo you sometimes add st, nd, rd and th in their superscript form to numbers: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th? (A superscript is a number, letter or symbol positioned slightly above the normal line of type.)

A blog subscriber questioned whether such a practice conforms to grammar rules related to writing dates. Here’s what I found in my online search.

I’ll start with The Associated Press Stylebook, my primary go-to reference:

AP says to use numerals (symbols versus words) for dates, without adding letters st, nd, rd or th:

He arrives on May 3 (not May 3rd) for a weeklong visit.

She received news of her promotion on June 29 (not June 29th).

AP even suggests writing out Fourth of July, at least in formal contexts or news coverage.

However, AP approves of superscript letter pairs with numbers other than dates:

Please take a cab to 350 West 3rd St.

He should deliver the package to the 21st floor

When I checked with American Psychological Association style, I noticed it specifies that the current version is its 6th Edition. The publication’s name conforms to this guideline:

APA instructs to use superscript letters when describing editions of a book other than the first:

Second edition = 2nd ed.

Third edition = 3rd ed.

Fourth edition = 4th ed.

In another section, I found this APA example that relates to numbers 10 and above:

examples: 12 years old, the 57th trial, 12 cm wide

However, I found nothing about using superscript letters with dates.

In the Purdue Online Writing Lab, another favorite online source, I found examples that don’t use th in addresses:

16 Tenth St.

350 West 114 St.

However, none of my searches helped clarify whether to always avoid st, nd, rd or th with dates, as AP suggests.

If you sense that there are guidelines for using letters with dates but no actual grammar rules, I share your view. If you find a source that suggests otherwise, please let me know!

For those who are court reporters, do you belong to an association that can help you with the practice of using superscripts with dates? For administrative assistants, the business entity with which you’re affiliated might outline use in a style guide. If you’re a college student, ask your professor for guidance.

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)

2 thoughts on “May 3 or May 3rd: When to Use Superscript Letters With Numbers

  1. Avatarwilliam

    If consistency is desirable, somebody ought to get the message to New York City where one can find (for example):
    W 42 ST, W 42nd ST, and West 42nd St, also
    5 AV and Fifth Ave. Note mixed upper and lower case in both.

    What do I know? I’ll meetcha at da corner a Toity-Toid and Toid.

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