Humanities › History & Culture Should We Use A.D. or C.E.? A.D., Anno Domini, refers to the birth of Christ; C.E. means 'Common Era' Share Flipboard Email Print Emya Photography / Getty Images History & Culture Ancient History and Culture Figures & Events Ancient Languages Greece Egypt Asia Rome Mythology & Religion American History African American History African History Asian History European History Genealogy Inventions Latin American History Medieval & Renaissance History Military History The 20th Century Women's History View More By N.S. Gill Ancient History and Latin Expert M.A., Linguistics, University of Minnesota B.A., Latin, University of Minnesota N.S. Gill is a Latinist, writer, and teacher of ancient history and Latin. She has been featured by NPR and National Geographic for her ancient history expertise. our editorial process N.S. Gill Updated November 13, 2019 The controversy over whether to use AD and BC (or A.D. and B.C.) or CE and BCE (C.E., B.C.E.) when referring to dates burns less brightly today than it did in the late 1990s when the divide was fresh. With some rather heated debate, authors, pundits, scholars, and literary style masters took one side over the other. Decades later, they remain split, but the consensus seems to be that the decision to use one or the other is a personal or organizational preference. The same applies to the use of periods: use or don't use them, based on personal or organizational preference. The material controversy surrounded the implied religious connotations: CE and BCE are often used by those of faiths and backgrounds who don't worship Jesus, or in contexts where it makes no sense to refer to Christianity—such as in historical research. AD and CE: The Birth of Jesus AD, the abbreviation for the Latin Anno Domini and first used in the 16th century, means "in the year of Our Lord," referring to the founder of Christianity, Jesus of Nazareth. CE stands for "Common Era" or, rarely "Christian Era." The word "common" simply means that it is based on the most frequently used calendar system, the Gregorian Calendar. Both take as their starting point the year when 4th-century Christian scholars believed Jesus Christ was born, designated as AD 1 or 1 CE. By the same token, BCE stands for "Before the Common Era," (or Christian Era) and BC means "Before Christ." Both measure the number of years before the approximate birthday of Jesus. The designation of a particular year in either set has identical values. In other words, today Jesus is believed to have been born somewhere between 4 and 7 BCE, which is equivalent to 4 and 7 BC. In usage, AD precedes the date, while CE follows the date, whereas both BC and BCE follow the date—so, AD 1492 but 1492 CE, and 1500 BC or 1500 BCE. William Safire at the Dawn of the Controversy At the height of the controversy in the late 1990s, American journalist William Safire (1929–2009), a longtime writer for the "On Language" column in The New York Times Magazine, polled his readers about their preference: Should it be B.C./A.D. or B.C.E/C.E., in deference to Muslims, Jews and other non-Christians? "Disagreement was sharp," he said. American Yale professor and literary critic Harold Bloom (born 1930) said: ''Every scholar I know uses B.C.E. and shuns A.D.'' American lawyer and founder of Kol HaNeshamah: The Center for Jewish Life and Enrichment Adena K. Berkowitz, who, in her application to practice before the Supreme Court was asked if she preferred "in the year of Our Lord" on the certificate's date, chose to omit it. ''Given the multicultural society that we live in, the traditional Jewish designations—B.C.E. and C.E.—cast a wider net of inclusion, if I may be so politically correct,'' she told Safire. By nearly 2 to 1, other scholars and some members of the clergy who responded to Safire agreed with Bloom and Berkowitz. As to everyday citizens, opinions were sharply divided. David Steinberg of Alexandria, Virginia, said he found BCE ''a strained innovation requiring an explanation in most of America.'' Khosrow Foroughi of Cranbury, New Jersey, spoke of calendars: ''Jews and Muslims have their own calendars. Muslims have a lunar calendar reckoned from A.D. 622, the day after the Hegira, or flight of the Prophet Mohammed from Mecca to Medina. The Jewish calendar is also a lunar one and is the official calendar of the State of Israel...The Christian or Gregorian calendar has become the second calendar in most non-Christian countries, and as this is the Christian calendar, I cannot see why 'before Christ' and 'in the year of Our Lord' would be objectionable.'' On the contrary, said John Esposito of Georgetown, a leading student of Islam: "'Before the Common Era' is always more acceptable.'' Safire himself decided to stick with BC; "because Christ, in American usage, refers directly to Jesus of Nazareth as if it were his last name and not a title conferring Messiah-hood," but he chose to not use A.D. Dropping any notation at all for years in the common era, Safire said: "Dominus means 'lord,' and when the lord referred to is Jesus, not God, a religious statement is made. Thus, 'the year of Our Lord'' invites the query 'Whose lord?' and we're in an argument we don't need." Style Guides on Religious Neutrality The choice may be up to you and your style guide. The 17th edition of the "Chicago Manual of Style (published in 2017) suggests that the choice is up to the writer and should be flagged only if the customs of a specific field or community are being violated: "Many authors use BC and AD because they are familiar and conventionally understood. Those who want to avoid reference to Christianity are free to do so." In terms of secular journalism, the 2019 version of the Associated Press Stylebook uses B.C. and A.D. (using the periods); as does the fourth edition of the UPI Style Guide, published in 2004. The use of BC and BCE is commonly found in articles concerning academic and lay historical research—including ThoughtCo.com—but not exclusively. Despite rumors to the contrary, the entire BBC has not dropped the use of AD/BC, but its Religion & Ethics department, which prides itself on providing religion-neutral stories, has: "As the BBC is committed to impartiality, it is appropriate that we use terms that do not offend or alienate non-Christians. In line with modern practice, B.C.E./C.E. (Before Common Era/Common Era) are used as a religiously neutral alternative to B.C./A.D." -Edited by Carly Silver Sources Curtis, Polly. "Reality check: has the BBC dropped the terms BC/AD?" The Guardian, September 26, 2011. Hastings, Chris. "BBC turns its back on year of Our Lord: 2,000 years of Christianity jettisoned for politically correct 'Common Era.'" Daily Mail, September 24, 2011. "9.34: Eras." Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition. University of Chicago Press, 2017. "UPI Stylebook & Guide To Newswriting," 4th edition. UPI, 2004. Safire, William. "B.C./A.D. or B.C.E./C.E.?" The New York Times, August 17, 1997. "The Associated Press Stylebook 2019: and Briefing on Media Law." Associated Press, 2019.