If you had to create a list of currencies, how
would you call the entry for the old Italian
currency (now replaced by the euro): "Italian Liras",
"Italian Lires", "Italian Lira", or "Italian Lire"?
Or should it be a lowercase L? And if you picked
the correct Italian plural, how would you justify
this choice if other currencies in the list appeared
with a well-known English pluralization, e.g. "German
marks"? Or should it be "mark"? Or "Mark"?
Fortunately, these currencies have now been
replaced by the euro, but other currencies
exhibit some of the same subtleties, and the euro itself poses
its own style challenges, being a currency with
no apparent "country" to list it under, and
having an English plural that had originally
been "banned", but which in practice is popular.
Other currencies may confront a developer with
Style and Consistency
Style and consistency are non-issues in the
code internals of a currency-enabled system,
which for example could simply use
currency codes for identification purposes.
However, for the sake of quality and usability,
when currency names are exposed in the user
interface and documentation, support for more
than one currency usually brings with it the
need of choosing a uniform style.
- Deciding whether to use country
adjectives or nouns (e.g. "Swiss franc" vs.
- In languages such as English, deciding
whether to use title style (headline style)
or sentence style capitalization (e.g.
"Swiss Franc" vs. "Swiss franc")
- Deciding whether to use the singular or
the plural form (e.g. "Swiss franc" vs.
If the use of these different styles is not
the result of a conscious choice, the resulting
lists usually become more difficult to
appreciate and to maintain.
In consideration of major style guidelines and
common practices of some of the most reputable official
sources, we decided that when listing multiple currencies,
e.g. in a list box, in an English language context,
we shall use the country adjective followed by
the singular form of the currency name, applying
title style capitalization. For example:
IMF Special Drawing Right
New Zealand Dollar
South African Rand
South Korean Won
(Crossed-out names indicate currencies that
ceased to be legal tender, having been
replaced by the euro.)
The above is just one of several possible
styles, which however can be applied very well to
all currencies of the world. For a few
currencies the country adjective is the same as
the country noun. For some other currencies, the
country or regime is referenced by a series of
capital letters (e.g. EU, IMF, etc.) This
same style is also used throughout the Currency
System family of software and services.
Another "politically correct" option could be
to list the country name followed by the
currency code. For example:
Australia - AUD
Austria - EUR
Belgium - EUR
Use of the currency code alone should in general
be avoided, as it would not be easily understandable
by many users.
Several countries use one or more local or otherwise
non-ISO abbreviations and symbols for their currencies,
like "US$" or "$" for USD, "L.", "£" or "Lit." for
ITL, "UKP" or "£" for GBP, "DM" for DEM, etc. While
these may be easily recognizable in a local context,
we believe that their use is not ideal when addressing
an audience that still has to choose a currency
from a list, where in our opinion overall consistency,
lack of ambiguity and equal respect of all currencies
and readers are considerably more important issues.
In different languages, different
capitalization rules may apply to the writing of
the elements which may be used to form a
complete currency name. These word elements include:
- Country name as noun (e.g. "Switzerland")
- Country name as adjective (e.g. "Swiss")
- Currency name (e.g. "franc")
Country names are usually
always written with a capital initial (e.g.
"Switzerland", not "switzerland"),
corresponding adjectives are capitalized in
languages such as English (e.g. "Swiss", not "swiss"),
whereas they are in lowercase in languages such
as Italian (e.g. "svizzero", not "Svizzero").
Currency names, like measurement units when
written with their extended name, are normally
always written with a lowercase initial in most
languages (e.g. "dollar", "euro", "yen",
known exceptions to this rule are:
- Languages such as German, where all
nouns have a capital initial, in which case
the currency gets a capital initial (e.g.
"Dollar", "Euro", "Yen", "Pfund")
because it is a noun, not because it is a
- Languages such as English, where any word (other than
prepositions and similar exceptions) in a
title is capitalized, in which case the
currency gets a capital initial because it
appears in a title style (headline style)
context, not because it is a currency
These rules are language-specific, not
currency-specific or country-specific (a country
may have multiple languages, and vice versa).
This means that, for example, even
the German "Mark" becomes "mark" in English (unless
of course it appears at the beginning of a sentence,
or in a title).
User Interface Styles
Software and web user interface
components such as menus, list boxes, combo boxes
and drop-down items generally follow the so-called
title style, or headline style. Depending on the
language, this style may have different
capitalization rules than normal sentence style.
In English, the generally accepted rules for
the capitalization of words in titles and lists
specify that the first and
last words and all nouns, pronouns, adjectives,
verbs, adverbs and subordinating conjunctions are
capitalized. Cloanto follows this style when listing
currencies in functional user interface components
in software and on websites, where currency names
appear with a capital initial: (e.g. "US Dollar",
"Japanese Yen" and "German Mark"). But in regular English body text
these would be written as "US dollar",
"Japanese yen" and "EU euro".
The European Union and the Euro
When listing currencies by country, a few
currencies will always tend to be treated as
special cases, e.g. because they are used in
multiple countries that are part of a currency
union or agreement (e.g. the CFP franc), or
because they reference funds or other units of
account issued by an institution (e.g. the IMF
special drawing right).
Country names are also often abbreviated. For
example, also for historical reasons, it is
relatively intuitive to list and refer to the
United States Federal Reserve System dollar as
Agreeing on a region or institution prefix
for the euro, so as to
consistently include this currency where other
currencies are listed, for example, as "US
Dollar" or "Japanese Yen", is not as immediate,
last but not least because the euro itself is a
relatively new currency.
On December 1st, 2009, when the Treaty of
Lisbon came into force, the euro formally became
the official currency of the European Union.
While acknowledging that, also because of the
fact that the EU is a dynamic institution, a few
EU countries do not currently use the euro as
their official currency, we also recognize that
the euro itself is the official currency of the
EU. We have therefore chosen, and we recommend,
to use "EU Euro" (English title style) or "EU
euro" (English sentence style), wherever the
euro appears in a list of currencies that are
preceded by a country or institution name. This
is, in our opinion, the best long-term solution,
and it also best fits a context where most other
currencies are defined by a geographical entity.
Singular vs. Plural Form
In Italian, the plural of the old "lira" used
to be "lire". In
German, the plural of "mark" was... "mark". But Italians
referred to the German mark as "marchi", and Germans wrote
"Lire" to mean Italian lira. The singular vs. plural,
original vs. translation issue is potentially much
more complex, and includes local rules about the
pluralization of foreign words and countries having
one currency but multiple official languages. The transition to the euro did not
necessarily make things easier.
Some languages have a tradition of translating
foreign currency names, as they do with country
and city names, yet they don't have easily recognized
translations for less-used currencies. For plurals,
some languages accept the original plural of other
languages, while others prefer to apply local pluralization
rules, and other languages instead use the singular
foreign form both for the singular and the plural.
This gets even more tricky when the names of major
currencies have a local translation, but "minor"
currencies have no reference translation, potentially
leading to a combination of singular and plural,
and local and original names, all in the same list.
Where language rules are not enough to make things
difficult, politics sometimes add their voice. According
to the original guidelines of the European Commission,
the plural of "euro" should for example have been
"euro" in all languages. Instead, the plural "euros"
quickly became more common in languages such as
English and Spanish.
These examples of extreme diversity and
difficulty to achieve consistency explain in
part why we too recommend to list currency
names in the singular form, like several other official
sources do. This possibly also was one of the reasons for
the European Commission to choose "euro"
and "cent" as a consistent
and cross-language plural form of the euro currency
unit and its cents. While this provides
consistency when listing multiple currencies,
and it allows euro notes to be uncluttered with
strings of plurals, this is not fully adequate
in everyday language, as is confirmed by the
European Commission's own Translation Service,
which recommends that in all texts issued by the
Commission for the general public, the "natural
plurals" of each language be used.
Redenomination of Currencies
Sometimes during the lifetime of a country it
becomes necessary, usually after years of high
inflation, to redenominate the currency. This
means that the currency changes from the"old"
currency to a "new" one, the units of which are
often worth 100, or 1000 units of the old
currency. In order to minimize the risk for
confusion, a new
currency code is introduced when this
happens. Similarly, when referring to the
currencies in everyday language, the words "old"
and "new" are associated with the currency name
(which usually doesn't change). At some point,
usually after at least one year, the old
currency ceases to be legal tender. From that
point onwards, it is in theory possible to drop
the "new" prefix from the new currency. In
practice, this often takes longer.
Information about currency redenominations is
included with the
World Monitor service. Whenever a currency
is redenominated, and unless indicated
otherwise, we recommend to add "old" and "new"
prefixes to the currency names as soon as the
new denomination is introduced, and at least
until the old currency ceases to be legal