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“What’s the correct way to abbreviate District of Columbia? Is it D.C. Or DC?”

by Prince Of Petworth — June 9, 2017 at 2:45 pm 51 Comments

“Dear PoPville,

What’s the correct way to abbreviate District of Columbia? Is it D.C. Or DC?

A friend of mine says that she was told at her office to drop the periods between the letters in official documentation and correspondence. Is that correct? Are there certain incidents where you would use D.C. vs DC and vice versa?”

  • saf

    D.C. is correct, but long ago, the Post Office went to standard abbreviations with no periods.

    So both are correct.

  • GrammarGuy

    Both Chicago and AP style call for using the postal code abbreviation with no periods.

    • Anonymoose

      No, AP style explicitly does not use postal abbreviations. They have a separate set of abbreviations and do not use periods and maintain a separate list of 8 states that are not abbreviated.

      • Anonymoose

        I meant DO use periods. Sorry.

    • dcd

      The Blue Book requires periods in case citations.
      .
      I will now go back to my nerd cave.

  • Legal Nerd

    It depends on what style/citation guide you are using and the context.

  • anonymous

    I think both are technically correct, but I only use “DC” and have for the past 14 years. To me, “D.C.” looks antiquated- similar to “e-mail” (versus “email”). Language is always evolving!

    • d

      +1. Sans periods is more elegant, so whether formally correct or not, it’s the way to go.

      • KenyonDweller

        Would you abbreviate North Carolina as NC, South Dakota as SD, etc.? I wouldn’t unless addressing an envelope. The same rule applies to the District of Columbia.

        • I love NY. Not I love N.Y.

          • KenyonDweller

            No, that’s “I ❤️ NY.”

          • hahaha one day I’ll learn how to do that!! All I know is the smiley face 🙂

          • Elkhaert

            And rather humorously, all I see for the smiley face is a blank box.

          • hahaha I can’t win

        • west_egg

          Probably not, KenyonDweller; but that’s because people generally don’t refer to North Carolina as “en see” or South Dakota as “ess dee.” The District, on the other hand, is regularly referred to as “dee see.”
          .
          (My vote is for DC, sans periods.)

  • textdoc

    Depends on what style guide you’re using.
    .
    My personal belief is that it should be “D.C.” in ordinary written text, especially formal text. But I don’t think it’s incorrect to use “DC” in anything informal, like PoPville postings. And if your work’s style guide says to use “DC” in work writing, then so be it.

  • KenyonDweller

    DC is correct in a mailing address. Otherwise, it should be D.C.

    • Kejad

      Yes, this. ‘DC’ is fine for informal writing (inter-office/friendly e-mails, PoPville posts, etc.) and for addressing envelopes, but ‘D.C.’ is correct for formal usage. Same goes for SC/S.C., US/U.S., PR/P.R., et al.

  • Mary

    Well considering that states’ abbreviations don’t have periods then it should be DC. You don’t write S.D. for South Dakota even though it is two separate words.

    • MPLady

      Please read a bit more on this matter.

    • Kate

      Actually, you do if you use formal style manuals like Chicago or AP. It would be S.D. Some states are three letters.

      The Post Office changed 30 or 35 years ago. When I learned to write my address it was Minn.

      • AMDCer

        Exactly – I grew up in Md.

  • Sooooooooooooooooooooooo Happy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    But it used to be D.C. at some point correct? While it was never S.D. for South Dakota (to reference someone’s example above). So why did we have the periods originally? Anyone?

    And for another zinger – is it Washington, DC or Washington DC (comma or no)?

    • Serenitynow

      Comma yes.

      • D.C.

        You need 2 commas

    • siz

      i don’t think there’s ever a question about the comma. the comma should always be there. also everyone, for reference: https://dc.gov/ – no periods.

      • textdoc

        Presumably their style guide says to use no periods in the abbreviation. (Though it would not shock me to find inconsistent use on of punctuation on the District’s website.)
        .
        Doesn’t mean that it’s incorrect to use periods if the style guide of your office, publication, etc. says to do so (or if it’s your personal preference).

        • siz

          sure, i just meant that’s probably about as “official” as we’re going to get.

      • ah

        Based on past history, there’s >50% chance the DC government is wrong.

        • textdoc

          Actual LOL.

    • textdoc

      “While it was never S.D. for South Dakota” — Incorrect. S.D. is a legitimate abbreviation for South Dakota, the same way N.C. is for North Carolina. But V.A. wouldn’t be a legitimate abbreviation for Virginia, or A.K. for Alaska.
      .
      “So why did we have the periods originally? Anyone?” Periods are commonly used in English to abbreviate words. Like with names (“D. Silverman”) or street names “N. Capitol St.”

      • KenyonDweller

        Yes. Always listen to textdoc on these matters. She is always right. Except when she disagrees with me 🙂

        • textdoc

          KenyonDweller, how do you feel about the serial comma (a.k.a. the “Oxford comma”)?

  • Joe C

    WHERE IS THAT GRAFFITI?!

    Please and thank you for location.

    • ah

      I know . . . I want to paint in some periods.

  • notconvinced

    People have already posted the correct answer, but it’s pretty simple:

    D.C. is always correct when writing, outside of where it’s in a set list of values defined by a system.

    USPS, as well as other address systems use the code ‘DC’ without the periods, but this is a code for the district, the same way that MA is a code for the state of Massachusetts, but if you talk about Massachusetts you would generally abbreviate to “Mass”, you wouldn’t say “Ma.”

    Now… all that being said, I simply type DC because as others have said, it looks better, and it’s a bit less formal.

  • BloomRez

    My iPhone started auto-correcting “DC” to “D.C.” about a month ago and I find it so irritating!

    • Anonymous

      Yes! So annoying!

  • AG

    I get unreasonably peeved when my autocorrect changes it from DC to D.C. This is based on nothing but an arbitrary preference on my part.

  • Aaron

    DC Government Agencies do not use periods.

  • navyard

    I usually spell it “dc”, but im la-z n i tip w thumbs

  • jhl

    I grew up in the Midwest and my 7th grade english teacher would always add periods to my writing. I steadfastly refused to put the periods. She didn’t win.

  • Duponter

    I get annoyed when my iPhone defaults to “D.C.” not because of the periods (since generally I use them) but because of the auto deletion of the second space after a period. So when I’m trying to put in the zip code in an address it eliminates the second space after “D.C.” but before “200XX.”

    I know I missed the boat on one space after a period and will never hop on it, but is the new rule that in formal written addresses you no longer need two spaces after the state/district but before the zip code?

    • textdoc

      “is the new rule that in formal written addresses you no longer need two spaces after the state/district but before the zip code?” In my workplace, yes. (It changed relatively recently.) And FWIW, my workplace continues to use two spaces after a regular sentence-ending period. (Which is good, because I had that one drummed so thoroughly into my head that it would be very hard to unlearn it.)

  • JoDa

    So, there’s actually a style guide that defines the difference between U.S. and US, when referring to the federal government/country. I would assume the same rules apply to D.C. vs. DC. I’ll have to go find it at work. But that will not happen until Monday (freakin’ weekend and all that).

  • John

    People have already answered this, so I´ll try to provide some different context. The Associated Press style guide calls for periods for all two-letter acronyms, with the notable exception of the European Union, which if I recall correctly has trademarked ¨EU¨or some such business. (Newspapers like The New York Times that have their own style guides will use periods for all acronymns regardless.)
    .
    This is, I think, a great example of style vs. grammar. Neither ¨D.C.¨nor ¨DC¨is correct, in the sense you´re thinking, just as neither is incorrect. If your employer tells you to use ¨DC,¨then take it as house style and treat all other acronyms similarly (i.e. US, UN, et cetera). The most important thing is that you (and by extension, in this, case your company) are consistent. Checking for consistency is half the reason people like me (a copy editor) have a job.
    .
    At the end of the day language exists to convey meaning, and in that regard there is absolutely no difference between ¨D.C.¨and ¨DC.¨ It´s just a preference.

  • You Street

    Wow you people are nerds. And I love it.

    • Tom

      I am nerdy enough to the point that I set my phone to autocorrect it when I type it without periods LOL. (Why yes, I am fun at parties, thank you for asking.)

  • Eric

    D.C. Cab not DC Cab.

  • Nohbody

    Definitely DC

    Just think of all the ink you’ll save over your lifetime!

  • soulshadow55

    As a long time native I use D.C. and will always do so.

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