5

A great many style guides address the question of whether or not to separate the month and year with a comma in phrases of the type "January[,] 2018"—and yet, to my surprise, a search of English Language & Usage for the terms "month year comma" yields only one question that seems to focus on precisely this point: Is there always a comma before and after a year in a sentence?

Unfortunately, that question was closed as duplicate back in 2014, even though the prior question that it supposedly duplicates (How to use AP Style commas after dates) does not ask about "month[,] date" constructions, and even though none of the answers posted in response to that question address the issue either.

But the "Is there always a comma before and after a year in a sentence?" question doesn’t show any research, which would probably lead to its being closed again for that reason if it were reopened as not being a true duplicate—so rather than try to rehabilitate it, I ask the question afresh (and in my own words) here:

In instances where only a month and a year appear as date indicators—such as "January[,] 2018"—is it more common in print publishing (that is, in ink-and-paper books and magazines, whose publishers tend to enforce in-house or third-party style guidelines) to include a comma after the month or to omit it? Are the relevant style guides evenly divided on this issue, or do they preponderantly favor one or the other option?

  • 1
    Speaking personally l never put a comma between a written month and the year. The point is it's unnecessary. Comprehension does not demand it. – WS2 Dec 23 '17 at 23:12
  • @WS2: Most authorities seem to base their opposition to the comma on the same reasoning you use—namely, that the comma is superfluous to sense. But in trying to understand the contrary position adopted by The New Yorker, I wonder whether the comma somehow memorializes the loss of the word of from the longer phrase "[month] of [year]". At any rate, that's the only rationale that I can come up with. – Sven Yargs Dec 23 '17 at 23:18
  • 1
    There is an argument that << In February, 1992, ... >> is less stark, less jarring than << In February 1992, ... >>. Many might choose say << In the Spring of 1992, ... >> over << In Spring 1992, ... >>. I'd choose the commaed version if I wanted to emphasise the time of year rather than merely specify the date. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 23 '17 at 23:36
  • 1
    @EdwinAshworth: One thing I noticed in looking at various style guides (most notably, AP) was that one can view the central issue as being not whether to separate the month from the year (the focus of my suggestion to WS2 that The New Yorker may like the comma in remembrance of the lost of between month and year), but whether to set off the year—on both sides—from the surrounding text. It's a matter of perspective, I suppose. – Sven Yargs Dec 23 '17 at 23:59
  • 1
    Please note that my question isn't "What should the proper punctuation form be?" It is, rather, "Is there a preponderant form in print publishing, and if so what is that form?" As it happens, a very large number of style guides and publishing houses seem to favor the no-comma style, as my answer (below) documents. This isn't a matter of opinion but of factual research—although I would certainly welcome citations of style guides and publishers that endorse the include-a-comma style, since the only one I could find was The New Yorker. – Sven Yargs Dec 28 '17 at 7:29
6

Bryan Garner, Garner's Modern American Usage, second edition (2003) has a useful entry on this matter:

DATES. ... B. Month and Year. February 2003 is better than February of 2003. Stylebooks have long agreed that no comma should appear between the month and the year. Among the mountains of evidence that might be amassed are these sources: The Washington Post Deskbook on Style 127 (1978); Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations 30 (5th ed. 1987); Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association 63 (4th ed., 1994); Scientific Style and Format 227 (6th ed., 1994); Joseph Gibaldi, MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers 70 (1999); Allan M. Siegel & William G. Connolly, The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage 101 (1999); Webster's New World English Grammar Handbook 161 (2001); The Chicago Manual of Style 253 (15th ed., 2003).

It is therefore strange to encounter an article in The New Yorker, one of our best-edited journals, in which January, 2000 and March, 2000 appear on the first page, and then five similar references appear throughout the piece. (See Scott Turow, "To Kill or Not to Kill," New Yorker, 6 Jan. 2003, at 40–47.) This seems anomalous: almost every professional editor would immediately delete the superfluous commas.

Garner might also have mentioned The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law (2002):

When a phrase lists only a month and a year, do not separate the year with commas. When a phrase refers to a month, day and year, set off the year with commas.

EXAMPLES: January 1972 was a cold month. ...

and Words into Type, third edition (1974):

When only the month and the year are given, commas are unnecessary.

[Example:] He began writing in May 1971 and finished in April 1972.

and The Oxford Guide to Style (2002):

7.10.1 Order [in Dates] Dates should be shown in the order day, month, year, without internal punctuation, as 2 November 1993. A named day preceding a data is separated by a comma: Tuesday, 2 November 1993. There is no comma between month and year: in June 1831.

On the other hand, a quick check of the December 11, 2017 issue of The New Yorker finds the magazine still hewing to the practice of including a comma in "month year" phrases. For instance, Jon Lee Anderson, "Accelerating Revolution,"uses it six times:

The battle, fought by Bolívar's partisan's and Spanish royalists in June, 1821, was the crucial victory ... In February, 1992, Chávez launched a coup attempt ... In December, 1993, Maduro went with a group of young comrades ... In legislative elections in December, 2015, the opposition trounced the P.S.U.V., ... In November, 2016, Maduro said, ... He was alluding to an executive order that Obama had signed in March, 2015 ...


Conclusion

As with all issues involving punctuation style, the first question a writer should ask in, "What style guidelines am I obliged to satisfy?" If the answer is "None," the writer can decide whether to follow preponderant publishing-house usage or to follow personal preference (if the two do not coincide). And in the case of "month[,] year" punctuation, the preponderance of usage clearly supports the no-comma option.

2

The Elements of Style 2007 edition by Strunk and White (E.B. White wrote for The New Yorker) shows the following:

October to January, 1952 ; July 6, 2017 ; Monday, November 7, 1888 ; and 25 December 1985

He recommends the last example. I believe the 4th edition shows the same comma usage.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.