Fourth of July or 4th of July: What's the Difference?

By Carly Forsaith, updated on October 2, 2023

Should you write 'Fourth of July' or '4th of July'? There are several different ways of referring to this national holiday and of writing it. In this article, you'll learn the difference between these and the best way to write it.

The short version is this:

  • The best way to write it is 'Fourth of July.' 

What Is 'Fourth of July'?

The "Fourth of July," also known as Independence Day, is a federal holiday in the United States commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.

Independence Day is typically associated with patriotic displays, such as fireworks, parades, barbecues, carnivals, fairs, picnics, concerts, baseball games, family reunions, and various ceremonies. The day is often celebrated with the colors of the American flag—red, white, and blue—and is a time for Americans to reflect on the history and principles of their nation.

Independence Day is sometimes called the 'Fourth of July' or the '4th of July.' Both are just different ways to write the same thing. But which one is correct?

Is It 'Fourth of July' or '4th of July'?

'Fourth' and '4th' are ordinal numbers that tell us something or someone's number, rank, or position. As the word 'ordinal' suggests, ordinal numbers allow you to put things in order.

Ordinal numbers go like this:

  • first
  • second
  • third
  • fourth
  • fifth
  • etc.

The difference between 'Fourth of July' and '4th of July' is that the number is spelled out in one instance, and in the other, it's written in numerals.

Usually, this sort of thing depends on which style guide you follow. For instance, the AP Stylebook wants you to spell out numbers up to nine and use cardinals from 10 onwards. However, the Chicago Manual of Style dictates that we spell out the numbers zero through one hundred and use numbers from 101 onwards.

  • Essentially, the debate lies between whether to spell out numbers up to nine or one hundred.
  • Most style guides agree it should be spelled out since we're dealing with the number 'four' here, which is lower than ten.

Thus, the correct way to write it would be 'Fourth of July.'

Having said that, it isn't incorrect to write '4th of July.' If you don't follow a particular style guide, how you write is pretty much up to you. Or it could be that the organization you write for has its own style guide, which says you should write all numbers in numerals.

The only instance in which you should never write '4th of July' is at the start of a sentence. That's because numerals should never begin a sentence.

4th of July celebrations are well underway. 

Fourth of July celebrations are well underway. 

If you do want to write '4th of July', you can rearrange your sentence so it doesn't appear at the beginning.

For example:

We have begun the 4th of July celebrations. 

Should You Capitalize 'Fourth?'

You might have noticed throughout this article that I've been capitalizing the word 'fourth,' despite the fact it isn't a proper noun. There's a good reason for that.

The Fourth of July is an alternative name for Independence Day, which is considered a national holiday. Therefore, the word 'fourth' should be capitalized when used in this context. That's because national holidays are considered proper nouns.

When not used as part of a proper noun, 'fourth' shouldn't be capitalized.

Here are some examples:

She finished in fourth place in the marathon, an impressive achievement for her first race.

The fourth chapter of the book explained the protagonist's background and motivations.

The company achieved a significant milestone by reaching its fourth consecutive year of record profits. 

To learn more about capitalization rules, you can read our article on the topic.

Why Isn't it 'July Fourth?'

Depending on the country you live in, there are different formats for dates. In the United Kingdom, it's more common to put the date first, followed by the month, like in 'Fourth of July.'

In the United States, putting the month before the date is more common, so it would make sense for this American national holiday to be referred to as 'July Fourth.' So why do some Americans say 'Fourth of July?'

The reason for this is that the "4th of July" phrase is derived from the original text of the Declaration of Independence. The document was written in British English, and the date is written in the British format, which is "4th of July." Over time, this phrase has become a popular way to refer to Independence Day in the United States.

With that said, it's okay to say 'Fourth of July' and 'July Fourth, and you can write it in either of the four following ways:

  • 'Fourth of July'
  • '4th of July'
  • 'July Fourth'
  • 'July 4th'

Or you can keep it simple and just call it 'Independence Day.'

Examples in a Sentence

Now that we've established the best ways to write it, here are some examples of the terms used in sentences:

The fireworks display on the Fourth of July was spectacular, lighting up the night sky with vibrant colors.

Families across the country gather for barbecues and picnics to celebrate the Fourth of July.

On the Fourth of July, I have to leave my dog at home because she can't bear the sound of fireworks.

Many communities organize parades as part of their Fourth of July festivities, featuring marching bands and colorful floats.

Our friendship group's tradition is to go watch a live gig on the Fourth of July.

Concluding Thoughts

That pretty much concludes this article on the national holiday known as the Fourth of July.

Let's summarize what we've learned:

  • Most style guides advise spelling out numbers under 10, indicating that 'Fourth of July' would be the correct way to spell it.
  • If you don't follow a style guide, it's up to you to decide how you want to spell it.
  • If you choose to use numerals to write '4th of July,' just make sure you don't use it at the beginning of a sentence.

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to check out our confusing words section. It's full of articles like this one that help you prepare for the holidays by teaching you their correct spelling.

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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