July 4th or July Fourth? Independence Day Formatting Answers

Independence Day History

Today we look back on July 4, 1776, the date printed on our beloved Declaration of Independence, and celebrate that time when we officially told the British Empire to shove off. Actually, the Declaration of Independence was accepted by Congress on July 2, but for the sake of barbecues, fireworks, and longstanding tradition, we’ll keep this post about the paid federal holiday, July 4.

July 4 Proper Format

July 4th, Fourth of July, July fourth, July 4 … there are many variations on the spelling and format of our Independence date. The good news is there is more than one correct format, but there are still some formats that are absolutely incorrect. It all depends on the style guide you follow.

Chicago Manual of Style July 4 Rules

In the 17th Edition of the Chicago Manual of Style, entry 8.89 Holidays indicates, “the names of secular and religious holidays or officially designated days or seasons are capitalized.” It goes on to list “Independence Day” as a reference. Great, so we can avoid the month and day format altogether and refer to the holiday as Independence Day for accuracy and correctness.

Do a little internet sleuthing and you’ll find that in the CMOS website Q&A section, the style guide has given this advice, “Chicago style lowercases the number of the month unless it’s a holiday like the Fourth of July.” Wait one day and it’s back to Chicago’s traditional date style that lowercases ordinals, or “fifth of July.”

But say you’re publishing a one-day sale for your business and would love to save space, ink, and money by using the holiday’s shorter name. Entry 9.31 Month and Day indicates that cardinal numbers should be used in conjunction with the month, though they may be pronounced as ordinals. That means in written text “July 4” is appropriate, but may be read aloud as “July Fourth.”

So, if CMOS is the style guide closest to your heart, “Independence Day,” “Fourth of July,” and “July 4” are all correct formats.

AP Style July 4 Rules

The Associated Press Stylebook dedicates a specific entry to U.S. Independence Day. Just like Chicago, you can avoid the month-day format altogether and just use the long form, “Independence Day.”

Otherwise, “July Fourth” and “Fourth of July” are also acceptable references to the holiday. These formats fall in accordance with AP Style’s overarching rule that ordinals below 10 are spelled out.

It appears that the style guides have found something to agree upon! Even in the numeral style, AP Style accepts “July 4” as correct.

July 4 Wrong Formats

While the style guides have achieved consensus, it’s important to acknowledge the incorrect formats of July 4.

  1. Anytime the ordinal is spelled out, it must be capitalized. Ex: “July Fourth” or “Fourth of July.” NOT “July fourth” or “fourth of July.”
  2. When the ordinal form is used, it’s always spelled out and the numeral is never used. Example: “July Fourth” is correct, but NOT “July 4th.”
  3. If the cardinal is used then it’s always in numeral form and NOT spelled out. Example: “July 4” is correct, but NOT “July four.”

Here’s a chart for quick referencing:

July 4 format

Which July 4 Format Is Best?

The good news is that creatives, business owners, and grammar enthusiasts have a variety of choice when writing about July 4. When choosing the best format, consider the medium you’re writing for as well as your audience. If you’re writing an ad, “July 4” may be the best option because it gets the message across in the least amount of characters. If you’re writing a blog post or longer form of copy, “July Fourth” may be your ideal format for its easy readability.

No matter what you choose, consistency is most important. The first step is to choose an overarching style guide. Chicago and AP serve different purposes depending on what type of overall content you’ll be creating. If you have multiple formats of the holiday throughout your copy, it can look messy and off-putting to readers, even if all the formats used are technically correct.

There’s your in-depth answer to the proper format for July 4! Enjoy your fireworks, folks.

Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.  –Mark Twain

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