I am wondering if there exists a specific symbol or word I can use in a birth-death range. When I introduce a specific person in my main text, I use a footnote to provide the reader some additional information. I use the following syntax

Fullname, Birth--Death, Nationality Profession

Here is a example of a person who already died:

Peter Adam Baruch David Goldberg, 1923--1997, American actor

Now I want to introduce a person that has not yet deceased

Anna Maria von Hausdorff, 1988--???, Polish singer

Does there exist a symbol or an abbreviation to replace the ??? in this notion? Or can someone provide me with a best-practice method?

  • 2
    @EdwinAshworth To clarify, you mean (e.g.) "1923 - ". Dec 23, 2014 at 19:41
  • ... That is correct. Dec 24, 2014 at 0:03
  • If you have any pretensions to writing, and this is suggested by your question, never use "--". This is not English punctuation, but a typwriter or text-only substitute for a print en dash. Find out how to obtain one in the operating system you use. On my Mac I can use the option (alt) key and the hyphen key. On more modern Macs or the iPhone I just hold the hyphen key down and get a choice. On Windows or Android it must be possible — Google for it.
    – David
    Apr 23, 2018 at 22:22
  • @MattGutting — Whether or not it is the answer to the question, "1923 - " is incorrect. It should be "1923–" — en dash and no space after the first date.
    – David
    Apr 23, 2018 at 22:25

3 Answers 3


For a person for whom both dates are known, use the form “1923–2003” (preferably, per CMS, with an en dash, not hyphen, double hyphen, or em dash); for one still living, just write “b. 1923.”

  • What's "CMS"? would you mind quoting the relevant information? Dec 23, 2014 at 20:21
  • 3
    Chicago Manual of Style. My copies are both at work, and it's not on the Web, but back when I copy-edited for SUNY Press I learned that rule solidly, even though I cannot quote CMS on the subject from memory. MLA (Modern Language Association) seems to use hyphens for number ranges in their own style manual, but that manual does not explicitly address the issue of which mark to use. Dec 23, 2014 at 20:29

For a person still alive you write (1955-); for a person who has died you write (1955-2012). Make sure you don't put spaces around your hyphen. Their dates should count as one word only in your essay count. (Source: I'm a uni student and have written a few essays by now).

Now I'd like to know what you put if you can't find their year of birth anywhere online or in books! (N.d.) or what?? :(

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  • Is there a common way to read aloud something like "1955 – "?
    – Jacob Ford
    Apr 14, 2019 at 19:11
  • Where a birth or death date is unknown, you would use "fl." From Chicago, 10.42, "[fl.] floruit, flourished (used with a date to indicate the productive years of a historical figure whose birth and death dates are unknown)." Jun 7, 2020 at 17:14

I would want to replace the '???' because this implies that the person's date of death is unknown. Certainly, if they haven't died, this statement is true, but it implies that they have died and we just don't know when.

I would opt to use '1988-Present.' Google a date-present, e.g. "1958-present" and you'll see this format is used to tell the history of organizations which began in 1958 and are still in operation today. It doesn't mean they died at the present moment, or time of writing - I really don't think it's read in that way.

Wikipedia avoids this issue for biographical pages by having a "Born" subsection within the fact sheet; i.e. it does not use the date-date convention. But in other contexts, for example this band, the "years present" is listed as "1988-present": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_Jones

Hope this helps.

  • 4
    Your first paragraph is entirely correct, but your second is well off target. It is not used for living people, precisely because it would mean 'Died just now'. Dec 23, 2014 at 20:19

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