This might be more a typography related question than actual language question, but I didn’t know where else to turn.

First of, I am perfectly aware that it’s generally considered bad form—regardless of style guide—to start a sentence with digits. However, therein lies the problem; it’s a date

The style guide in question specifies that in this instance, one should use digits. So what does one do in such an instance, where you have to start a sentence—for whatever reason—with a digit.

The options, as I see them, are;

  • Capitalise the date, lead with a titling figure and keep the rest in text figures.

  • Use only text figures, and breaking the rule about starting a sentence in the wrong case.

  • Use only titling figures and make your body text look silly.

  • Toss the style guide and avoid the problem. (Albeit a perfectly valid option, I don’t want to do that, mostly because I really want to know how one should capitalise digits.)

The date format in question, using today’s date: 21 October 2013.

For the sake of argument, let’s exclude the “prefixing the date with ‘the’,” option, shall we?

Edit: Examples illustrated as per request, in order mentioned.


  • 1
    Maybe I am missing something here but I don't actually see what the problem is. Digits don't have capitalizations. If you started a sentence with a digit it would just be the digit. Can you provide examples of each option you call out?
    – MrHen
    Commented Oct 21, 2013 at 19:10
  • 1
    @MrHen They do, actually, or at least they used to. Back in the golden age of print, before the typewriter ruined type. These days we tend to merely consider this, “typographic flourish” and nothing us ordinary humans need to be concerned about. Post has been updated with a crude illustration to further clarify.
    – xles
    Commented Oct 21, 2013 at 19:41
  • For what it's worth, I was still confused for a while and was about to post a comment about how October and street addresses should always be capitalized, and I can't think of another reason to start with a number. - I'd suggest adding a sentence early on specifically saying that this applies to the situation where you have a title styling and a non-title styling.
    – Bobson
    Commented Oct 21, 2013 at 20:36
  • @Bobson That’s always the situation, when dealing with type. Titling figures isn’t just for titling, their place is among other capital letters. I'd suggest reading §3.2.1 in The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst. It provides info on every aspect of number cases, aside from the one aspect I’m asking about, unfortunately.
    – xles
    Commented Oct 21, 2013 at 21:09

1 Answer 1


If you're starting a sentence with a date, it can only be something like

I found Stack Exchange and avidly read through the posts on ELU. 21 October 2013 was when I asked my first question. It was an auspicious day.

You can rewrite that with On: "On 21 October 2013 I asked my first question", which is arguably better writing.

What you don't need to worry about is lining/non-lining figures. Digits don't have majuscule forms: the two forms help maintain text density, that's all. In a mixed-case text environment, use non-lining figures, if they are available; for a titling/capital-letter environment, or in tables, use lining figures.

  • For the avoidance of doubt, that example is not poking fun. It is an auspicious day, and I hope the first of many. Welcome to ELU.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Oct 21, 2013 at 18:35
  • It is indeed. It’s not so much worry as it is a grave sense of curiosity when it comes to typographical history on my part. Perhaps I should have phrased my question “How would a master typesetter 300 years ago have handled this.”
    – xles
    Commented Oct 21, 2013 at 18:44
  • It's arguably better? Does someone actually argue it's not? (I'm not asking rhetorically.)
    – Talia Ford
    Commented Oct 21, 2013 at 20:43
  • @xles I think my answer covers that historical case too.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Oct 21, 2013 at 21:26
  • @AndrewLeach I’m not entirely sure about that (yet). Perhaps I’ve been reading too much Bringhurst... Further investigation required, I think.
    – xles
    Commented Oct 21, 2013 at 22:19

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