Recently, I received a few corrections on my research article. One of them was that the ordinal indicators like 'th', 'rd', etc., should be inline with the number and not as a superscript. For example, 25th is correct whereas 25th is incorrect. Is this a universally accepted convention?

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    I can't explain the downvote (because it wasn't mine), but I can offer a theory. In general, statements such as "Is this a universally accepted convention?" will be met with some measure of disdain, because the answer will almost be "no", as "universally" accepted conventions are very rare. Conventions vary from continent to continent and from style guide to style guide. Also, downvotes are sometimes given for answers that show little or no research effort (hover over the downvote button to see why). Where did you try to look this up, and what did find? Such info often prevents downvotes.
    – J.R.
    Apr 14, 2013 at 9:25

2 Answers 2


No, neither choice is a universally accepted convention, and a reviewer is more likely to know the chosen convention for the journal or academic setting in which this discussion is occurring. You might get the style sheet for the journal (it probably being available as a pdf file) and do a search for 'superscript'.

It has always annoyed me that Microsoft Word has so many style conventions that are imposed by default. When I get a new installation I need to go through and rip out about 50% of their "helpful" style auto-substitutions.

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    Thanks. Also, is this question appropriate for this site? (I want to know the reason for the down-vote.)
    – user3910
    Apr 13, 2013 at 17:28
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    I cannot tell you why. Perhaps they know of a more appropriate forum, but I do not.
    – DWin
    Apr 13, 2013 at 17:29
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    I would say this is borderline off-topic. It may be considered a 'good style' question, which should be on Writers.SE (check the faq in top right for details). That might be a reason to closevote; the only proper reasons for downvotes are 'The question shows lack of research; it is unclear or not useful'. It is a clear question and potentially helpful; perhaps somebody thought you should have done (or at least shown) some more research before asking. This is a community-moderated site; if you stay here (as I hope you do) you may have to get used to unexplaind downvotes. Apr 13, 2013 at 17:39
  • @TimLymington Thanks for explaining. If people could leave a comment on down-vote, it would be helpful.
    – user3910
    Apr 13, 2013 at 17:42
  • That's true in all the SE forums, but it isn't always honored.
    – DWin
    Apr 13, 2013 at 17:44

Proper style with ordinal numbers is a matter of taste between publications.

It may be helpful to remember that indicating ordinals with arabic numerals was viewed, until perhaps the end of the 19th century, as somewhat gauche even if unavoidable. The more preferred procedure was to write out the ordinal as a word, as we still do on formal invitations. (Of course, with the scientific and industrial revolutions ordinal numbers higher than "thirty-first" became much more common in use.)

In my early days as a printer, I always used "in-line" ordinals because they were easier to set in type. The necessary six superior characters (s t n d r h) were usually not available on Linotype, and even when they were available they had to be inserted, slowly, by hand.

This is the origin of the common U.S. scholarly style of in-line ordinal indicators: practicality for the Linotype, which was the primary typesetting machine in use by U.S. printers until the late 20th century.

A similar situation prevailed with typists, who would need to resort to minor gymnastics to insert superior characters: so they would base-align superiors if they could, often inserting a hyphen before them.

In years prior to the introduction of the Linotype, house styles would vary, depending on availability of handset superior type characters.

United States typefounders did not usually cast as wide a range of characters in their type founts as did typefounders in any other country. Because English requires a bare minimum of letters, with no accent marks being strictly necessary, a monolingual American job printer, or even a book printer, had little need for "extra" "sorts".

Thus, the majority U.S. practice for printers and typists for well over one hundred years has been to use base-aligned regular-sized letters for termination of ordinal numerals, although the use of superiors has always had its exotic appeal.

Because much book typesetting in the U.K. was predominantly on the Monotype machine, use of superiors was not usually viewed as such a great hindrance, but it still required devoting six character positions in the caster to essentially "quirky" letters. Six character positions (per font) would make it impossible to assign other special characters that might be of more practical value, such as accented characters, foreign monetary symbols, or scientific and mathematical symbols.

Because most Romance languages use only two different superior letters for indicating an ordinal (either o or a), typesetters in countries using Romance languages could use these two superiors as standard items, especially in view of the common practice of abbreviating "Numero" as "N" with a superior "o". Consequently, European use of superior "o" or "a" was normal, especially in view of the possibility of confusion of a base-aligning lower-case "o" with a zero.

What proper English language style should be in the days of computer typesetting is, in my view, a matter of taste. From a production standpoint I would prefer in-line ordinals because they do not interrupt the keyboarding with formatting instructions, and thus also do not cause formatting errors that must then be corrected.

I do not find the introduction of a hyphen to be a bad idea: "the 22-nd Amendment". I doubt it would ever become a standard, however, despite its clarity in distinguishing ordinals from possible typographic errors ("Did he mean "first" by "1st", or was it a typo for "last"?) Insertion of a hyphen is common in mathematical copy where, for example, "to the x-th power" reads much more smoothly than "to the x th power".


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