BC, Function: abbreviation, 1 before Christ —often printed in small capitals and often punctuated (Merriam Webster Dictionary)

Searching on Google Books I verified, or, at least, I perceived the idea, that the cases in which "BC" came before the date are rather rare respect to the cases where it came after, especially observing reliable sources. Instead results show that "AD" position is more variable.

Obviousily I cannot show precise data because it is not simple to operate sistematic researches with "BC" and "AD". They are little words, abbreviations, rather common in books and, sometimes, with other meanings.

An example, among others, of "BC" placed before date: "Egypt: From the Earliest Times to B. C. 300".

Question is: Is it legal placing "BC" before the date? Or, is it a matter of style and of editorial choices?

  • What is "AC"? If you are referring to dates after Christ's birth, they are normally marked as "AD". However, you may be talking about the new-fangled, politically correct tendency which I noticed in British museums starting a few years ago where they write "CA" or something similar to indicate "Current Age".
    – Paola
    Apr 10, 2013 at 21:57
  • Sorry @Paola, it was a typo. AC has to be AD. I'm going to edit the question. Thank you.
    – user114
    Apr 10, 2013 at 22:02
  • 1
    For what it's worth, that new version is usually C.E. for Common Era. Although, it's just used among the super politically correct people that don't like using A.D.
    – Xantix
    May 25, 2013 at 7:03

2 Answers 2


BC, meaning "Before Christ", naturally comes after the year. 1500 BC is 1500 years before [the birth of] Christ.

AD, derived from the Latin phrase "Anno Domini" meaning "In the year of our Lord", is different. Traditionally, AD has always come before the date in accordance with the Latin from which it is derived. This note on Wikipedia has a nice, brief explanation:

This convention comes from grammatical usage. Anno 500 means "in the year 500"; anno domini 500 means "in the year 500 of Our Lord". Just as "500 in the year" is not good English syntax, neither is 500 AD; whereas "AD 500" preserves syntactic order when translated.

However, as the above linked article mentions as well, it has become increasingly common over the last few centuries to use the non-standard practice of placing the AD after the year instead of before it. It's easier to remember and it's a bit more consistent, even if it conflicts with the grammar of the actual words represented.

  • 3
    As a side note, it seems to me that this may within a hundred years or so become a moot point, as several influential institutions and academic and profession communities are pushing for the replacement of these Christian-related terms with terms relating to the "Common Era" (CE), which would be what we are living in now. So AD would be replaced with CE and BC would be replaced with BCE (before the Common Era). Apr 10, 2013 at 19:25
  • I wouldn't call AD after the year non-standard. Perhaps "the once non-standard practice"? See these n-gram charts from the Google Books corpus: books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – user230
    Apr 11, 2013 at 1:52
  • Increasingly common usage does not equate standardization. Here's a contrary n-gram: books.google.com/ngrams/…. To my knowledge, maintaining the classical, Latin-based order is still standard. Apr 11, 2013 at 15:51
  • Interesting research from google ngram. Do you think back in the old days (18 to early 19 century) people actually knew the real placement of A.D because their education did involve learning the Latin language? I’m thinking that most of us wouldn’t know English rules derived from Latin. Apr 11, 2013 at 16:08
  • 2
    @EnglishLearner If we limit discussion to those of the educated class, I would say that they almost certainly did, since most members of the European upper class tended to speak French at least, from what I understand, and it isn't hard to find documents from that time in which "Anno Domini" is spelled out in the date. Apr 11, 2013 at 16:11

In Standard English, the AD/BC part of the date (either BC meaning Before Christ or AD meaning Anno Domini (latin - Year of our Lord)) normally comes after the year:

The Roman Empire spanned from the 9th century BC to the 5th century AD.

Cleopatra died 12th August, 30 BC

The earliest representable time in UNIX is 1st January 1970 AD.

  • 2
    I'd agree with "customarily," but "always" is the wrong word here. Sometimes the letters can be found before the date.
    – J.R.
    Apr 11, 2013 at 7:28
  • 2
    @J.R.: I've changed the word "always" to "normally".
    – Matt
    Apr 11, 2013 at 8:28

You must log in to answer this question.