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How To Properly Use The Word "Circa" In A Sentence

How To Properly Use The Word "Circa" In A Sentence

Circa is a Latin word that means around, about, roughly, or approximately. Oftentimes it's abbreviate as ca. and sometimes as cca., circ, or c. In historical writing, it's most commonly used in reference to a date that isn't accurately known. Understanding how it's used, you may now find yourself interested in using this word in your writing more often.

How To Use "Circa" In A Sentence

When writing a piece of historical nonfiction and you only know the approximate date of an event, you'll want to use the word circa in front of that year to indicate that this is an approximate date for when this historical event occurred. 

Make sure you use the word circa in front of each approximate date (e.g. circa 1920 – circa 1930). This is important because when you don't use circa in front of a date it's generally assumed that this date is known with certainty. For instance, if you were to write circa 1920 – 1930 you would be telling the reader that something happened around 1920 but definitely ended in 1930.

old timey stamps from india

Examples Of Using "Circa" In A Sentence

Here are a few examples of how you should use the word circa in a sentence:

  • The king was born in Italy circa 1600.
  • The king then went on to be crowned king of Italy circa 1620.
  • Built by Roman architects circa 1880, the castle is immaculate.
  • The image is of the Tsar, circa 1914, can be seen in the Smithsonian.
  • The manuscript dates from circa 1100 B.C.
  • This painting is dated circa 1330 – 1350. (Note: Here we're approximating 1330 but we know the final date of 1350.)
  • The author of the book was born circa 1880.
  • A great example of this is the house that's located in the historical district, which dates from circa 1775.
  • The king began his rise to power in circa 1970.
  • The 12 month calendar system that we use today started with the Julian calendar circa 45 B.C.

When Not To Use "Circa" In A Sentence

Now that we have a clearer understanding of when to use the word circa in a sentence, we should also understand that there are some times when it's inappropriate to use the word. Remember, the word circa is typically only used for dates (e.g. The king was born circa 1820). There are some indications that it can also be used to imply measures (e.g. The child weighed circa 15 lbs.) but this is not commonly accepted by English grammar.

Even if it's used for measures you don't want to use it for other statistics (e.g. The class' grades were circa 94%). This would be an incorrect use of the word. While you may want to indicate that you don't know an exact number, using the word circa here not only is poor English grammar, but it is also considered superfluous.

Another place in which the word circa is commonly misused is in relation to a location (e.g. circa the Pacific Coast Highway). However, since the word circa can be simplified to mean "approximately" when referring to dates and measures many people tend to incorrectly use it to mean "approximately" elsewhere as well. This is partly due to the fact that people don't have a good grasp on this word's meaning. It's also because many people don't have a good understanding of how the English language's grammar rules work.

Of course, it's important to also highlight the fact that using the word circa with an exact, verified date is also wrong.

Using "Circa" In The Beginning And Ending Of Sentences

The word circa is a preposition. This is a word that typically precedes a noun (person, place or thing) or a pronoun (e.g. he, she, it, we, you, they). Its job is to express a relationship to another word. For instance, "He sat on the chair." The word on is a preposition.

It's perfectly acceptable to start a sentence with a prepositional phrase (e.g. On the chair he was seated). However, in doing so you should know that this doesn't replace either the subject or the verb of the sentence. Therefore, you must still include both of them somewhere in your sentence. This is why you should always set off an initial prepositional phrase that consists of four or more words with a comma.

While all of this is true, you should know that the word circa should never come after a date. For instance, "I can finish my project by the end of April circa," is written incorrectly. According to the Oxford Dictionary, writing a sentence like this is clumsy and the word circa here seems to go against the English language's rules for this word making it inappropriate. There are a few ways in which you could rewrite this sentence. For instance, you could say "I'll finish my project by the end of April," or "I'll finish my project some time around the end of August." Either of these would be correct English and thus more acceptable than using the word circa here.

old clocks hanging on a brick wall

Using "Circa" For The Mention Of Approximate Future Dates

While it is correct to use circa for approximate dates that happened in the past, it doesn't seem correct to use them for those that may happen in the future (e.g. The book will be released circa 20th May). Even if we're using years, instead of specific dates, this still doesn't seem correct (e.g. The book will be released circa 2021). However, it should be noted that neither of these uses for the word circa are incorrect.

While it may seem a bit odd to use the word circa when talking about a day in the future, it may seem just as odd to talk about a day last month with it. According to English grammar rules, there is nothing wrong with using the word circa in any of these manners. If you don't like the way it sounds or if it still feels wrong to you to use it this way (even though it's not wrong at all), you can use any of the other words that mean exactly the same thing as circa (e.g. around, about).

Correctly Abbreviating The Word "Circa"

There are several ways in which you can abbreviate the word circa, including ca., c., circ., cca, and cc. The most commonly used abbreviations for the word circa are c. and ca. However, c. is considered the best because it resembles century "C" or Centrum. Cca. is needlessly longer with both of the c's in the word having different sounds (s and k respectively). This will take the reader a bit longer to comprehend even though this type of paradox is used in speech everyday.

Most Latin terms that are abbreviations typically use small letters and periods.This is also true of the word circa which shouldn't be underlined or italicized. Typically, the abbreviation for the word circa is only used in bibliographies, footnotes, lists, and references. For standard writing you'll want to write out the entire word.

Other Appropriate Words To Use Instead Of "Circa"

Sometimes you may still find yourself questioning whether "circa" or the word "around" is the best word to use in a sentence. You may even be able to think of an even better word that you think could be used instead of either of these words.

Remember that the word circa is Latin and the word around is English. Latin words are more flamboyant than English words. Ultimately, the decision is yours. If you're attempting to maintain an elevated scholarly tone throughout your writing, remember that you must be consistent with the choice of words you use. Therefore, once you elevate your writing by using some Latin words readers will more than likely notice when you don't maintain the tone. It'll be less likely for this to happen if you maintain an informal tone throughout your article.

Another consideration is who your readers are and how you want them to react to your writing. This will tell you a lot about how you write your article, including whether the word circa is appropriate for you to use.

Using Synonyms And Antonyms For The Word "Circa"

There are several synonyms you can use for the word circa, including:

  • Approximately
  • About
  • Around
  • Roughly
  • Round about
  • In the region of
  • In the neighborhood of
  • Or so

There are also several antonyms you can use for it. These include:

  • Exactly
  • Precisely

hand holds pen to write on yellow background


Using the word "circa" in your writing can bring life to otherwise dull points. However, you want to make sure you use it correctly and don't overuse it. Hopefully, now you understand when you should use this word.


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