Currencies can be described using a name, symbol, or code. How to treat these, and how specific you need to be, depends on the type of document you are proofreading.
The dollar is a particular one to watch out for, as there are many widely used types from different countries around the world, including the United States dollar (USD), Canada dollar (CAD), Australia dollar (AUD), Hong Kong dollar (HKD), and New Zealand dollar (NZD).
Launch the microlearning module below to learn more about proofreading currency symbols and codes and to test your knowledge using our interactive quiz.
Alternatively, read on for a text-only version of the microlearning.
Here are the rules for the capitalization of currency names, symbols, and codes.
The country is always capitalized, of course, but the name of the currency itself should properly be given in sentence case.
United Kingdom pound sterling
United States dollar
Note that it is more common to use the adjectival form of the country where appropriate (i.e., “Japanese yen” rather than “Japan yen”), but some sources do choose to use the noun form exclusively (we’ve done so here for ease of consistency). Follow the customer’s lead, take a consistent approach, and leave a comment if you feel it necessary.
Many currency symbols are just non-alphanumeric characters (e.g., $, ¥, ₼), but many include letters. The capitalization of these letters is determined by their customary usage (i.e., there’s no particular logic or standard behind it).
Czech Republic koruna: Kč
Denmark krone: kr
Guatemala quetzal: Q
Note that the symbols are not standardized, so you may see variations (for example, the Rwanda franc can have the symbols FRw, RF, or R₣). However, their usage should be consistent within a document.
Each world currency is given a three-digit ISO code. These codes are always given as capital letters.
Syria pound: SYP
Uganda shilling: UGX
South Africa rand: ZAR
The three-digit code is usually made up of the country code and the currency’s initial. For example, CH is the code for Switzerland, which uses the franc, so the currency code is CHF.
You may also see things like US$ or CA$, where the currency initial is replaced by the currency’s customary symbol (particularly in the case of the dollar). This is acceptable, but is not regulated by any particular standard.
Symbol Placement: Before or After?
The ISO currency code always goes before the number. For example, it should be GBP 50, not 50 GBP. If you use the currency code, you shouldn’t use the symbol as well.
Style guides may specify the positioning of a currency symbol, and if they do, you should follow that.
The European Union’s Interinstitutional Style Guide seems to suggest that the order is determined not by the currency but by the native language of the document in which it appears (i.e., when proofreading an English document, all symbols should go on the left, with no space between them and the number).
However, other sources say that you should stick to currency preferences. As such, the best option (in the absence of a definitive style guide) is to follow the customer’s lead and be consistent, leaving a comment if necessary.
Here are some examples of right- and left-sided currency symbol placement:
- On the left, no space: dollars, pounds, the euro (in Ireland, the Netherlands, and Malta), China yuan renminbi, India rupee, Japan yen, Republic of Korea won.
- On the right, a non-breaking space: the euro (in all other non-English speaking countries), French Canada dollar, Saudi Arabia riyal.
Note the requirement for a non-breaking space; this is so that the number and the symbol aren’t separated. To type a non-breaking space in MS Word, press Ctrl + Shift + Space (Cmd + Shift + Space in Mac).
How to Deal with Ambiguity and Unfamiliarity
There are over 20 types of dollar across the world (and even more with different names that use the $ symbol), 11 of the pound, 8 of the dinar, and 10 of the franc.
On the flip side, there are currencies that many people will never have heard of, such as the Mozambique metical (MZN; MT) and the Paraguay guaraní (PYG; ₲).
You should aim for consistency in your approach and follow any applicable style guides. In the absence of a style guide, we advise that you do something like the following.
No Chance of Ambiguity
If there is no chance of ambiguity in the context (for example, only one form of pound or dollar spoken about, and/or the context makes it apparent which currency it is), just go ahead and use the currency symbol without any further qualification.
For example, in a UK university prospectus, you would write “The fees are £9,000 per year.”
Risk of Ambiguity
If you are talking about several different currencies that use the same name, or the audience cannot be certain (from the context) which currency you are talking about, the currency/currencies should be distinguished somehow.
For example, you might say “US$, “NZ$,” and “CA$.” Alternatively, you might use the ISO currency codes “USD,” NZD,” and “CAD.”
Note that any other currencies mentioned in the same document should use the symbol or the code to match your approach to the ambiguous currency (so, “USD, “NZD,” and “RUB,” not “US$,” “NZD,” and “₽”).
No Chance of Unfamiliarity
If the context of the document means that the audience will be familiar with the currency, just go ahead and use the currency symbol without any further qualification.
For example, on an Irish government website, you would write “The tax is €256 per calendar month.”
Risk of Unfamiliarity
If the context of the document means that the audience may be unfamiliar with the currency, spell the currency name out in full the first time you use it.
For example, you might say “the cost has risen from 150 Rwanda francs (R₣) to R₣200.” In a financial document, you might use the ISO currency codes (with or without a definition), as they are a recognizable standard.
Currencies can be described using their name, symbol, or code. In the absence of a definitive style guide, you should strike a balance between consistency and clarity, keeping the document type and intended audience in mind.