Superscript ordinals

In legal writing, we don’t use superscript ordinals. In other words, we do this:


not this:


(Background: numbers that have the additional letters, like st, nd, rd, and th are called ordinals: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th. When you shrink the letters and elevate them, they’re called superscript ordinals: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th.)

So why do many legal documents use superscript ordinals? Because Microsoft Word comes with a default auto-correct setting that automatically converts ordinals to superscript ordinals.

But legal writers shouldn’t accept the Word default for ordinals. Turn it off. Here’s how:

Go to File > Options > Proofing

Click on the “AutoCorrect Options” button

Click on the “AutoFormat As You Type” tab

Uncheck the “Ordinals (1st) with superscript” box


Click on the “AutoFormat” tab

Uncheck the “Ordinals (1st) with superscript” box

That should do it.

I don’t consider superscript ordinals a glaring mistake. It’s a small distraction at worst. But it’s a symptom of a larger problem. Legal writers should not unthinkingly accept all Word defaults. Take control.