10 Abbreviations and symbols

10.7 Abbreviations with dates

In reference works and other contexts where space is limited the abbreviations ‘b.’ (born) and ‘d.’ (died) may be used. Both are usually roman, followed by a point, and printed close up to the following figures:

Amis, Martin (Louis) (b.1949), English novelist …

An en rule may also be used when a terminal date is in the future:

The Times (1785–)

Jenny Benson (1960–)

A fixed interword space after the date may give a better appearance in conjunction with the closing parenthesis that generally follows it:

The Times (1785– )

Jenny Benson (1960– )

For people the abbreviation b. is often preferred, as the bare en rule may be seen to connote undue anticipation.

The Latin circa, set roman or italic, meaning ‘about’, is used in English mainly with dates and quantities. Set the abbreviation, c. or ca, in roman or italic close up to any figures following (c.1020, c.£10,400), but spaced from words and letters (c. ad 44). In discursive prose it is usually preferable to use about or some when describing quantities, although approximately is better in scientific text:

about eleven pints

some 14 acres

approximately 50 kg

With a span of dates the abbreviation must be repeated before each date if both are approximate, as a single abbreviation is not understood to modify both dates:

Philo Judaeus (c.15 bcc. ad 50)

Distinguish between c. and ?: the former is used where a particular year cannot be fixed upon, but only a period or range of several years; the latter where there are reasonable grounds for believing that a particular year is correct. It follows therefore that c. will more often be used with round numbers, such as the start and midpoint of a decade, than with numbers that fall between. See 4.8.2.

A form such as ‘c.1773’ might be used legitimately to mean ‘between 1772 and 1774’ or ‘between 1770 and 1775’. As such, it is best in discursive prose to indicate the earliest and latest dates by some other means. Historians employ a multiplication symbol for this purpose: 1996 × 1997 means ‘in 1996 or 1997, but we cannot tell which’; similarly, 1996 × 2004 means ‘no earlier than 1996 and no later than 2004’. Figures are not generally contracted in this context:

the architect Robert Smith (b.1772 × 1774, d.1855)

The Latin floruit, meaning ‘flourished’, is used in English where only an approximate date of activity for a person can be provided. Set the italicized abbreviation fl. or flor. before the year, years, or—where no concrete date(s) can be fixed—century, separated by a space:

William of Coventry (fl. 1360)

Edward Fisher (fl. 1627–56)

Ralph Acton (flor. 14th c.)

Get more from Oxford Dictionaries

Subscribe to remove adverts and access premium resources

New Hart's Rules


Preface Editorial team Proofreading marks Glossary of printing and publishing terms