What’s the correct date format for business letters?

correct date format business lettersIn my article on the different formats for dates in UK and US English, there are plenty of rules and variations – some covered very briefly. Across business letters and other correspondence you may find uses that you do not recognise (or did not notice) in that list. For example if someone uses November 22nd, 2016 – a less common form. The question is what is the correct form to use in writing?

Which date format is correct?

A reader specifically posed a question, is November 22nd, 2016 or November 21st, 2016 correct in business writing? Some people are taught to date without the ‘nd’ or ‘st’, unless the content uses a date format like 1st day of July, 2016. The reader encountered the format November 22nd used by her boss and was scolded for questioning it. The boss insisted it was not a European format, merely the correct format.

As business English spreads internationally through email, the barriers between US and UK English are lessened, and you may ask if there is one more common, more accepted use. However, this format is still merely one of many.

The format is covered very briefly in my list, so it’s easy to miss – it’s rather common in spoken English, but rare in writing. It is a middle ground between US and UK English. The format of putting the month before the date is more American, but the use of ‘st’, ‘nd’, th’ is generally a European convention. Which makes this November 22nd format somewhere between the two. With the difference between American/European becoming more blurred, a lot of people aren’t really aware of what is American or European anymore, though, so don’t worry about that!

The issue with dates in writing is that there is no single proper format as such – rather a selection of proper formats. There are incorrect ways to do it, but many acceptable formats, as shown in my list. November 22nd is one of them – it is simply not a common one.

The important thing is to be consistent.

Different companies have style guides that dictate which format to use, so if that’s what your boss wants there’s nothing wrong with it – as long as it is held as the company standard. This is a reflection of company consistency, rather than correct or incorrect English.

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