Washington, DC 20500 ?

birzo

Senior Member
Swedish
"1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC 20500." Is "Washington, DC" a state ? And does one need to write a comma between "Washington" and "DC" ?
 
  • quillerbee

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    Hi birzo, it is not a state, the District of Columbia is a federal district which was specially designated to be the capital, and Washington is the city inside. It is written Washington, D.C. with comma and periods.
     
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    birzo

    Senior Member
    Swedish
    So the address of the White House : "White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C. 20500" doesn't mention a name of a state ?
     

    Sharifa345

    Senior Member
    USA
    US English, DR Spanish
    So the address of the White House : "White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C. 20500" doesn't mention a name of a state ?

    No. Our capital is not in a state. It is in its own district. (District of Columbia)
     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Hi birzo, it is not a state, the District of Columbia is a federal district which was specially designated to be the capital, and Washington is the city inside. It is written Washington, D.C. with comma and periods.

    Except when it's used as a postal address.

    All U.S. states, territories, the Comonwealth of Puerto Rico etc. and the District of Columbia have two-letter codes to make sorting of mail easier and less subject to error. (Note that the United States has political entities other than states)

    Although the U.S. Postal Service is very good about making things work, the "official" recommendation is that no periods, commas or other punctuation marks are used in postal addresses. This is a change from the traditional method of formatting addresses and habits die hard.
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    It's as Mr Graham says. Thus, the address you gave as an example is properly written on the envelope carrying a letter:

    1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
    Washington DC 20500

    If you're puzzled by the "DC" when the US capital city of Washington and the area called District of Columbia are actually identical: There are many other cities in the US called Washington (as the name of our first president, it's very popular); the "DC" is important in making sure that the letter is delivered to the right place.

    Addresses elsewhere in the US are handled the same way: Chicago IL (for Illinois), Des Moines IA (for Iowa), Raleigh NC (for North Carolina).
     

    Fabulist

    Banned
    American English
    As far as I know, USPS hasn't refused to deliver any letters from me with a comma between the city and the state. For formal correspondence, I always use the "<city>, <state> <zip code>" format. I would, for instance, never submit a job application by mail addressed in all capital letters with no punctuation. That format says to me THIS IS A MASS-PRODUCED MASS MAILING! I DON'T KNOW OR CARE ANYTHING ABOUT YOU PERSONALLY!!

    A few years ago I was in charge of a sample survey of physicians. The list of physicians from which we drew our sample had everything in all capital letters, with many abbreviations. We went to a lot of trouble to reformat our letters and envelopes into upper and lower case with expanded abbreviations and punctuation, precisely because we did not want the physicians' staffs to treat our introductory letters as "junk mail" and throw them in the trash without opening them.

    I think that formal and personal correspondence still requires upper and lower case, and punctuation. If you want your correspondence taken seriously by the addressee, I would advise placing a comma between the city and the state.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Whatever your feelings about it may be, Parla and Sdgraham's responses are correct, according to the USPS site itself:

    http://www.usps.com/send/preparemailandpackages/labelsandaddressing/usingthecorrectaddress.htm

    I wouldn't format the address in the heading of a letter this way, but it is the "proper" way to put it on an envelope, according to the service that delivers the mail.


    Regarding DC, it might be a bit confusing, but our capital is not located in any state. This is deliberate. The idea is that no individual state "owns" our capital and no state has jurisdiction over it. The District of Columbia is a separate district with its own borders. Congress directly manages (or mismanages) the district. There is no equivalent of a state government other than the U.S. Congress, although the district has a mayor and a city council.
     
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    Egmont

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    As far as I know, USPS hasn't refused to deliver any letters from me with a comma between the city and the state...
    The postal service is required by law to use its best efforts to deliver all first-class mail, even if it is addressed in a non-standard format. That includes the use of a comma. As previously posted, old habits die hard. If someone wants to continue to use a comma here (as I often do myself) the mail will still go through as long as the sender pays first-class postage.

    The postal service can and does refuse to deliver mail in other postage categories if they are not addressed in standard form.

    A non-standard form of addressing can also make an address unreadable by automated sorting equipment. That can lead to a delivery delay. I don't think a comma after the name of a city will confuse the machines, but other deviations from the standard might.

    I agree with James, Washington DC is not located in any state. I thought one of the main reasons that DC is independent from any state so that no individual state can hold the federal government hostage.
    I think it was also a matter of not wanting to give any state the prestige of having the national capital. The U.S. is not the only country whose capital is not in any state. Canberra, Australia (in the Australian Capital Territory, postcode ACT) is one. Brazil's Distrito Federal, where Brasília is located, was in the state of Goiás before it was carved out to contain the new capital. There are probably others.
     
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    Miss Julie

    Senior Member
    English-U.S.
    The U.S. is not the only country whose capital is not in any state. Canberra, Australia (in the Australian Capital Territory, postcode ACT) is one. Brazil's Distrito Federal, where Brasília is located, was in the state of Goiás before it was carved out to contain the new capital. There are probably others.

    Mexico City as well, I believe...
     
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