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I suppose a year number to be a proper noun, naming a unique year. Therefore, when written as text, it should be spelled with initial capital letters. But there does not seem to be general agreement about this.

Few authorities offer a rule at all, probably because year numbers are more commonly written as Arabic numerals. One source treats a year number as a common noun, like any number. A second agrees but says some authors consider a year number to be a pronoun when not preceded by the words "the year". A third says a year number names a unique year and must be treated as a proper noun, citing The Winston Grammar Program by Paul E. Erwin.

On wedding invitations, etiquette authorities agree, the year is traditionally written as text. It is for this reason, I suppose, that some authorities think to address capitalization of the year. However, there is no consensus. It is more common to see the advice to capitalize the first word of the year (only). Most Google search results for [ capitalize year wedding etiquette ] give this advice. On the other hand, that paragon of etiquette virtue, Emily Post, specifically prohibits it, saying only the names of weeks and months are to be capitalized.

In short, I can find support for three different capitalization rules for year numbers:

  • no capitalization (written number rule), e.g.: "the year thirteen sixty-one"
  • capitalize first initial letter (wedding invitation rule), e.g.: "the year Thirteen sixty-one"
  • capitalize all initial letters (proper noun rule), e.g.: "the year Thirteen Sixty-one"

How should the year be capitalized?

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1  
Another possibility is "Thirteen Sixty-One". –  Peter Shor Dec 27 '11 at 18:53
    
@PeterShor Chicago Manual: Do not capitalize the second element if (a) it is a participle modifying the first element or (b) both elements constitute a single word. I made the (mistaken?) judgment that "sixty-one" constitutes a single word. Your thoughts? –  MετάEd Dec 27 '11 at 20:50
    
Who's your target audience? Wedding guests? I can't think of many cases where you wouldn't write as plain numerals. –  Hugo Dec 27 '11 at 23:15
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I write poetry. In poems, scansion is important. Arabic numerals create ambiguity: is 1361 intended by the poet to be read as "Thirteen sixty-one", "One thousand three hundred sixty-one", or even "One thousand three hundred and sixty-one"? As a courtesy to the reader, then, the poet spells it out. –  MετάEd Dec 27 '11 at 23:49
    
@MetaEd: Independent of what the Chicago manual of style says, Google Ngrams seems to show that the "five" is capitalized around half the time in "Hundred and Sixty-five" (and the same holds for all the other numbers I've tested). I don't think the Chicago Manual trumps usage in this case, meaning I'd say both choices are fine. –  Peter Shor Dec 28 '11 at 4:33

3 Answers 3

There are only two kinds of documents in current usage that spell out the year -- legal documents, and wedding invitations.

Legal documents normally spell the year in lowercase, such as in this numbing bit of prose from West Virginia:

For any tax imposed under the provisions of this article with respect to any taxable year prior to the first day of January, one thousand nine hundred eighty-three, a resident individual shall be allowed a West Virginia exemption of six hundred dollars for each exemption for which he is entitled to a deduction for the taxable year for federal income tax purposes.

Some legal documents capitalize everything for extra pomp, but it's uncommon:

In testimony whereof, I hereunto subscribe my hand and affix the seal of said Court, at Office, in Nashville, the 6th day of December in the Year One Thousand Nine Hundred Eighty-Four and in the 209th Year of American Independence.

Wedding invitations, as noted, tend to capitalize the first letter only; however, this seems to be the only justification I can find:

The “T” in Two thousand doesn’t have to be capitalized but everyone does it so it would probably look incorrect if it wasn’t and it will look more polished if it is capitalized.

So, in modern usage, it appears that the rules for capitalization are:

  • Spell the year out in lowercase.
  • Except in wedding invitations, where the first letter is capitalized because everyone does it.
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+1 Excellent answer, up vote for 'because everyone does it.'. –  Kris Dec 28 '11 at 6:21
    
It turns out that everyone doesn't. Specifically, Emily Post doesn't. I was wrong in my question to state that there was consensus among authorities on wedding etiquette, and have edited the question accordingly. The best one can say is that the most respected authority says "no" but may be in the minor. –  MετάEd Jan 17 '12 at 0:14
    
Good to know. Back when I did layout and typography, I never could find a better justification for the wedding invitation convention other than "everyone does it." I often set type in invitations in all lowercase, so that removed that particular problem... –  Gnawme Jan 17 '12 at 0:37

If it’s any guide, I have a document signed by Elizabeth II dated the fifth day of January, One Thousand Nine Hundred and Seventy-nine.

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I am a person who demands to know the reason for one position over another. Having said that, the following justification is one I prefer to "because that's the way everybody does it"

If the wedding invitation consists of a single sentence, then the regular conventions of capitalization should apply in that sentence, being consistent with Emily Post's view of using all lower case letters for the date except for the proper nouns in the sentence, e.g., Saturday and January.

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