How to Write Dates in English (British and American)

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If you’ve ever opened a bank account, applied for a loan, written a check, or signed any kind of official document, you’ve probably needed to write the date. 

While this seems like a simple thing to do, it can actually get pretty complicated. There are numerous ways to write dates in English. The format, word or number order, and grammar can all vary based on the occasion. The country where you are writing the date can also throw in additional requirements.

So, what is the “correct” way to write dates in English? How can dates vary by location? We will answer both of these questions and more. But first, let’s look at how to write dates in a sentence.

Writing Dates in English

There are numerous ways to write the date. In both American and British English, the word or number order will depend on the context. For example, if you wish to write the date in the form of a full sentence, it will look like one of these:

  • Today is the 1st of January, 2020.
  • The date is January 1st, 2020.
  • It is Monday, January 1st, 2020.
  • Today’s date is Jan. 1st, 2020.
  • It is 1 January 2020.
  • It is the first day of January in 2020. (less common)

So, there are a lot of variations. But here are the most common formats:

  • “The” + Ordinal Number + “of” + Month, Year (Ex. – The 21st of September, 1990)
  • Month + Ordinal Number, Year (Ex. – March 3rd, 1947)
  • Day of the Week, Month + Ordinal Number, Year (Ex – Thursday, June 2nd, 2000)
  • Abbreviated Month + Ordinal Number, Year (Ex – Feb. 8th, 1983)
  • Day of the Month + Month + Year (Ex. – 6 January 2020)

Please note that English dates don’t have to include the day of the week or the year. In any of the examples above, these can be added or removed. Removing the year is usually less formal, since it provides less information (ex. October 17th). In any case, a date must include at least the name of the month and the day of the month.

The days of the week and months must always start with a capital letter if included.

Additionally, the months of the year can also be abbreviated to save space. Here are the abbreviations and numerical representations for all 12 months of the year:

  • January – Jan. – 01
  • February – Feb. – 02
  • March – Mar. – 03
  • April – Apr. – 04
  • May – May – 05
  • June – Jun. – 06
  • July – Jul. – 07
  • August – Aug. – 08
  • September – Sept. – 09
  • October – Oct. – 10
  • November – Nov. – 11
  • December – Dec. – 12

As you can see, the abbreviations use the first 3 or 4 letters of every month, followed by a period. The only month that cannot be abbreviated is “May,” because it is only 3 letters long.

Each month is represented by a number between 01 and 12, starting with January (01) and ending with December (12).

Now, let’s see how to write dates numerically in both British and American English:

How to Write Numerical Dates in British English

The primary difference between dates in British and American English is the correct order of numbers. In the UK, numerical dates take one of the following forms:

  • 25/03/2019
  • 25-03-2019
  • 25.03.2019

While the numbers can be separated by periods, slashes, or dashes, the format usually remains the same: Day of the Month/Month/Year. This format is actually pretty easy to remember, since it has a logical order.

The date begins with the shortest length of time (day of the month), then the next shortest (month), and finally the longest (year). However, some international date formats use the opposite order, going from the longest to the shortest length of time (Ex. YYYY-MM-DD or 2019-03-25).

When writing a numerical date, the numbers do not require ordinal indicators (Ex – 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th). Instead, they are simply written as two-digit numbers. For numbers that are not two-digits long, you simply need to add a “zero” before the actual number (this applies to both the month and the day of the month).

Here are all of the days of the month as they should be written numerically:

  • 01
  • 02
  • 03
  • 04
  • 05
  • 06
  • 07
  • 08
  • 09
  • 10
  • 11
  • 12
  • 13
  • 14
  • 15
  • 16
  • 17
  • 18
  • 19
  • 20
  • 21
  • 22
  • 23
  • 24
  • 25
  • 26
  • 27
  • 28
  • 29
  • 30
  • 31

Now that you know how to write dates in British English, you need to know where to write dates in British English.

Thankfully, it’s pretty simple. Just about every country outside of the United States (and some parts of Canada) uses the Day of the Month/Month/Year (DD/MM/YYYY) format. Whether you’re applying for a loan in India or writing a check in France, you’ll likely need to write the date in British English.

How to Write Numerical Dates in American English

Writing numerical dates in American English is similar to British English, with one important difference. In American English, dates usually take the following form: Month/Day of the Month/Year. In some cases, the year and month are switched (Ex. – YYYY-DD-MM or 2015-21-06).

Here are a few examples of numerical dates written in American English:

  • 04/31/2019
  • 04-31-2019
  • 04.31.2019

The differences between numerical dates in British and American English can cause confusion for non-native speakers. Sometimes, they even cause issues with international trade and commerce.

For example, if a business or individual records the date in American English (MM-DD-YYYY), someone in another country could interpret it as a date written in British English (DD-MM-YYYY). This is especially true for dates in the first half of each month. Let’s look at a few examples that can cause confusion:

  • 03-01-2020
    • American Date: March 1st, 2020
    • British Date: January 3rd, 2020
  • 06/12/1997
    • American Date: June 12th, 1997
    • British Date: December 6th, 1997
  • 05/07/2001
    • American Date: May 7th, 2001
    • British Date: July 5th, 2001

So, in order to avoid confusion or misunderstandings, you can either write out the name of the month and ordinal number, or simply confirm the preferred date format with the other person or entity.

Conclusion

Though dates look pretty simple on the surface, they are actually quite complicated. There are dozens of ways to write dates in English. This can lead to confusion, especially if you’re writing the date numerically.

Thankfully, most forms include some indication of how the date should be written (YYYY-MM-DD, DD-MM-YYYY, MM-DD-YYYY, etc). If you’re writing the date without any instruction, it’s ultimately up to you to determine which date format suits your style and occasion. In any case, now you know how to write dates in English like a pro!

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