I am making an app that displays detailed information of all U.S. presidents. For each president, you can view data such as the year the president was born and died.

George Washington

President Number: 1
Born: 1732
Died: 1799
Party: Independent politician

What is the best way to indicate that there is no death year for presidents who are still alive? Should I write N/A or --- or after the Died label?

Barak Obama

President Number: 44
Born: 1961
Died: ???
Party: Democrat


2 Answers 2


Well, you can write the predicted year of death based on user research, or you can say "TBD" :).

And more seriously - it would be a good idea to develop two templates for this item, one for dead presidents and another one for those who are still alive. The "alive" one shouldn't contain the "Died" field at all. The downside to this is that it may not be self-evident to the user that a president who was born in, say, 1924 and doesn't have a year of death listed is actually still alive, the user may think that the year of death is simply not listed. A good way to solve this would be to mention their age in either the Born or Died field respectively. So

George H. W. Bush

Born: 1924 (age 91)


Ronald Reagan

Born: 1911

Died: 2004 (aged 93)

That's what Wikipedia does, at any rate.

  • 21
    @TotZam Note that wikipedia is extremly consistent in this: if the year of death is unknown, the field "Died" is still shown. This is a different information than that the person is still alive, and these two things have to be well distingished! Also, for living people, the parenthesis says "age", whereas for dead people it say "aged".
    – yo'
    Nov 8, 2015 at 20:17
  • 6
    @TotZam. I'm actually with Vitaly on this. Providing N/A can be confusing, because it may be interpreted as ("We don't know"; "We haven't got these details yet"). I think the solution proposed is a good one, if truly concerned, you can always have "Died: still alive". This will make it as explicit as you can. But I'd refrain from using "N/A".
    – Izhaki
    Nov 8, 2015 at 23:45
  • 10
    @TotZam if the person was your (living but elderly) loved one would you be comfortable with the word "Died:" attached to their profile at all, with a big blank space just waiting to be filled in? What if they were terminally ill?
    – Kit Grose
    Nov 9, 2015 at 3:23
  • 3
    You can simply say "Lived: XXXX-YYYY (aged ZZ)" for deceased people, and "Lived: XXXX- (age ZZ)"; a simple dash is enough to suggest that they're still alive, as opposed to an unknown death: Lived: XXXX-???? (age ??). Still, I think the Wikipedia version is pretty decent.
    – phyrfox
    Nov 9, 2015 at 6:20
  • 3
    @VitalyMijiritsky Also, look at headstones in a cemetery. People buy their headstones in advance. The headstone will read "FIRST MIDDLE LAST XXXX-" with an empty death year, to be filled in upon death. I see little reason to believe that just because the words aren't engraved in marble or stone that people would somehow lose their ability to reason.
    – phyrfox
    Nov 9, 2015 at 6:44

Something I see a lot in books (I don't know where this is common, nor where your users are coming from) is to indicate the birth year with an asterisk (*) and the death year with some kind of cross, apparently called "dagger" according to Mac OS X's symbol selector (†). If you don't have either a birth or death year, you just list one year number with the appropriate symbol.

George Washington (1732*-1799†)

Barak Obama (1961*)

Guillaume de Machault1 (1337†)1

1: the first person I could think of of whom we don't know the birth year

  • 2
    How do you differentiate between date unknown and still alive?
    – Tot Zam
    Nov 9, 2015 at 23:24
  • 2
    Alice (543-?) for people whose date of death is unknown, but Alice (*1969) for people who are still alive.
    – Édouard
    Nov 10, 2015 at 0:35
  • 3
    I tend to use asterisks and dagger before the date, and skip them altogether when both dates are known.
    – Édouard
    Nov 10, 2015 at 0:37

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