European date format

Perhaps thinking "When in Rome...," Barack Obama used European format when he signed the guestbook at Westminster Abbey. Unfortunately, he got the year wrong (it was 2011).

In the United Kingdom and, in fact, most of the rest of the world, today’s date would be indicated 9 April 2012 or 9/4/12. In the U.S., it would be April 9 (or 9th), 2012, or 4/9/12. We tend to think (as in most things) that we are doing it the “normal” way, but, Europe Blog notes, “The only countries that do not share the European date format in fact are the US, Philippines, Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, Canada and Belize.”

(Interestingly, the blog goes on, the European Union and other international organizations do not use the European style but rather the “‘ISO 8601’ standard date format. Here the organisation is closer to the US dating but with the year placed at the start, for example ‘2010/12/20’.”)

In my opinion, the U.K./European way looks cooler than the U.S. style; it also avoids having to use commas and decide whether to write 9 or 9th. It is, in any case, getting more and more popular over here, as in this post from the web site Military.com:

Ah, another holiday weekend approaches and I’m getting tons of mail asking “When will we get paid?”   Folks, payday is Tuesday, 15 November 2011.  You’ll get paid on Tuesday, or on Monday if your bank releases direct deposit pay funds early.

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75 responses to “European date format

  1. As a mathematician, I presonally prefer to write dates like other numbers, i.e., using the ISO ordering cited. However, my personal style is to use decimals rather than slashes to separate the year, the month, and the day.
    Also, what is the source of the illustration? As a logician, I contend that the information presented is insufficient to prove that Barack Obama did not visit on 24 MAY 2008, as well as in 2011. (Call me picky, but hardly a day passes that somebody doesn’t send me an unprovable tall tale about this guy, in a claim that’s more often than not debunked in Snopes. Hence, I’m exteremely skeptical of everything I receive these days about our current president.)

  2. I grew up with military parents so the European format is what I’ve used mostly in my life except in school where teachers would give me a hard time. The format with the slashes can be confusing (for day/months 12 and under) when you work for a US-based global company as you don’t quite know which format people are using so I prefer writing it in day, month, year format. I have some French colleagues who insert a comma between the day and month in European format, but not sure if that’s a personal quirk or a continental rule. Also, I’ve noticed that when spoken, oftentimes news presenters will say a date in US format when referring to iconic date. For example, a news presenter will refer to the “July 7th” bombings, not the “7th of July” or “7th July” bombings. But I think that may be based on the precedent of saying “September 11th” rather than “11th September”. But in America, we mostly say “4th of July” rather than “July 4th”. You will know better than I do, but I think also, historically, there was some overlap between the US and European formats.

    • In UK the date is consistently written DD MM YYYY, sometimes with a comma after the day, but spoken it is often reversed with “the” in the middle, thus July the seventh;

      More commonly it is known as 7/7 – and is then of course consistent with either convention – to associate with 9/11.

      However pre-war I believe the date would more commonly have been written in the UK as, July 7th, 1920 – for example.

      Curiously Americans most often say Fourth of July rather than July Fourth – (as per this US Gov website http://www.usa.gov/Topics/Independence-Day.shtml) a date apparently of some signifance in the Colonies.

      • Hi John – I’ve lived in London for nearly 10 years and would concur with your conclusions (except for the reference to the “Colonies” :)), most of which I noted myself in my own comment.

      • Yes, the Fourth of July is celebrates 2 days after Congress voted in favour of Independence from Great Britain. As John Adams wrote “The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. “

    • Maybe it’s because the members of Congress on 4th July 1776 were British at the time? (I’ll get my coat…)

      • With respect to this whole “Fourth of July” thing, I visited a website (http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/scan.htm) just to reassure myself that the original Declaration of Independence indeed uses the *July 4th, 1776* format, which it does. Then, however, I discovered that on the back of the document someone wrote …

        “Original Declaration of Independence
        dated 4th July 1776″

        The site explains the notation this way: “According to the National Archives, ‘While no one knows for certain who wrote it, it is known that early in its life, the large parchment document was rolled up for storage. So, it is likely that the notation was added simply as a label.'”

        So there you have it: one document, one country, two different date notations.

  3. Eurostyle is logical … preceding from the smallest to the largest unit. Applying logic in encoding data nurtures critical intelligence. I use the format …eg for today…09 IV 2012

    …I also prefer comma-free Brit correspondence style.

    (BTW my use of suspension points in e-writing derives from Whitman’s 1855 preface.)

    • If it’s so logical to PROceed from the smallest to the largest unit, why not also say and write the time in seconds/minutes/hours? “What time is it?” “It’s the 12th second of the 3rd minute of the fifth hour.”

      • Bendrix: Sam’s point, I believe, is that it’s more logical to go from smallest to largest — or, I would add, from largest to smallest, as per ISO 8601 — than it is to go both backwards and forwards as does the conventional US date style, which if followed for clock times would render your example of “the 12th second of the third minute of the fifth hour” as 03:12:05.

  4. I’ve had a love/hate affair with this since my early twenties when I spent three years in France. I’ve done it both ways, but by preference use the day/month/year format when there is no risk of confusion; i.e., my personal journal. Checks? I gave up and adhere to the month/date/year style. I think the European form is elegant, and I don’t get any pleasure out of being in an exclusive club with Belize.

  5. I’ve preferred the European date format since I was an impressionable pre-teen. I’ve never had anyone even comment on it. For my checks, I write, as an example, 10 April 2012. Of course, I also add the Hebrew date b/c that’s the way I roll. The bank doesn’t seem to care as long as it’s got my signature ;)

  6. I work in Treasury services and the differing date formats are a total pain in the bum. Bank downloads get frequently miscoded up to 12/12 (or rather 11 Dec and 12 Nov, since 12/12 always comes out right even when it’s in the wrong order).

  7. Your examples don’t really show anything. One was done in Europe, and the other is from U.S. military people (who, unlike typical Americans, use Euro-style dates and 24-hour time).

    On a related note, are Brits more, or less, likely to use the less common style of “Month the Day” instead of “the Day of Month” or “Month Day,” at least for important dates?:

    – July the 4th (American Independence Day)
    – November the 5th (Guy Fawkes Day)
    – September the 11th

    To me, it sounds like you’re saying that this September is one of the 11ths or the 11th instance of a September (or 9 generations after September, Jr.).

    • Little Black Sambo

      Remember, remember the fifth of November,
      Gunpowder treason and plot.
      I see no reason why gunpowder treason
      Should ever be forgot.

  8. Canada uses day/month/year. But every ambiguous date format is to be avoided in all contexts. 4/9/12 is ambiguous. 9 April 2012; April 9, 2012; 2012-09-04; and many other options are all unambiguous. Use those.

    • I don’t understand why 4/9/12 is ambiguous but 2012-09-04 isn’t. Simplest solution would be for us all to stick with the versions that involve logical progresssions, ie day month year or year month day. The only downside would be that blog posts such as this couldn’t be written and enjoyed.

      • @Tom:

        2012-09-04 can ONLY mean the fourth of September, 2012. There is no usage in which this could mean the ninth of April, 2012.

        4/9/12, on the other hand, could mean either date, according to whether one is using US or rest-of-the-world dates.

      • 2012-09-04 is not ambiguous because there are no official standards that say YYYY-DD-MM. YYYY-MM-DD is always the meaning when year is first (The logic behind this format is to read from most signifficant to least signifficant).

  9. White and Strunk in Elements of Style urge use of the non-comma format for composition. Save those keystrokes, and use them, if you do save, at the end of life to explain yourself, without typing. Unless you save the keystrokes in one place and then use them elsewhere, as I do.

  10. Personally, I prefer the Asian style date format: year, month, day. A descending hierarchy makes the most logical sense when referring to orders of time. So today would be written as 2012.04.10.

    In Chinese, this pattern is extended further such that 1:30 pm is read as afternoon, one-thirty.

    This is probably counterintuitive to many Westerners, yet no one has ever accused the English language of being intuitive or easy to follow.

  11. The ISO standard uses hyphens, not slashes, to separate yyyy-mm-dd. This natural order (not the European one) is used in China and Japan.

  12. I’m in the US Military and prefer to write the format at 10APR12 or 10 April 2012. When I write a check, that is how I place the date.

    • 10 April 2012 and 10 Apr 12 are the formats laid down in the British forces’ Defence Writing Guide – I suspect it’s a NATO standard.

  13. Anyone who must sort a large number of files in chronological order quickly becomes a fan of the ISO 8601 standard (YYYYMMDD). Consider, for example, reports of three events that occur on January 20, April 15, and December 1 of 2012 (or any other year). If the files are saved with names in ISO 8601 format (i.e., 20120120_FILE, 20120415_FILE, and 20121201FILE) they will automatically appear in chronological order when you view the file listing in the directory where they have been saved. No other date format presents the files in such a logical order. There is a temptation to cut corners by using a two digits instead of four (YYMMDD instead of YYYYMMDD) but those of us who lived through the agony of the Y2K “crisis” are leery of the unintended consequences of such a “time-saver”

  14. Isn’t the main issue here the NUMERIC presentation? In other words a presentation that will ensure immediate comprehension? Thus, as long as the sequence is based on the relative values, be it date/month/year or year/month/date, it’s cool. The American sequence month/date/year is totally illogical. And now let’s discuss metric vs imperial and why the Brits drive on the wrong side of the road….

  15. Since you’re an academic, Mr. Yagoda, I’m kind of surprised your entry on date formats fails to note that historians who write in English, regardless of nation, have been using the 12 April 2012 format for quite some time. True, American historians attempting to appeal to the masses may revert to April 12, 2012, but those writing for scholarly journals will not. Also: the 12 April 2012 format is routinely used by American genealogists when they write; I know because my sister happens to be one.

    • Oracle Databases also default to 12-APR-2012, which is kinda interesting for an American country. I suspect it’s the influence of the Department of Defense.

  16. numeric dates and verbal constructs:
    “Are you going to Dave’s party on July the 8th?”
    “No, because it’s on the 7th of August. The twit wrote the American date format.”

  17. The European, Asian, and American date orders are all internally consistent and therefore both equally logical and equally arbitrary. And Americans are not about to switch to the metric system or drive on the other side of the road.

  18. When in Rome …do as the Romans do. Americans understand other Americans, Brits understand other Brits, Nerds and mathematicians understand other nerds and mathematicians. Misunderstandings arise only when travelers fail to conform to local custom and jingoists maintain that “our way is the only logical way.” We could have this same conversation about grammar, spelling, politics, and cooking. Frederick the Great’s comments on the Church of England apply an all cases. ” In England, there is but one road to heaven. In Prussia there are many roads, Each man must find his own way.”

  19. JOHN – but we live in a world now. Countries used to be ‘the world’ – now not so. And your argument doesn’t apply to the other examples. Dates are critical info and it IS confusing when they’re illogical, and used on key documents that cross borders. Not so re cooking or spelling or grammar, they’re flexible, ditto which side of the road a country opts to drive on. As for Fred, that’s nearly 300 years old and irrelevant. WHAT has religion to do with dates?! However, I bet all the countries he once ruled now use the Euro numeric.

  20. Barbara F. Smoody

    what about the system which uses Roman numerals for the month?
    today is 20 IV ’12. I have seen this on many paintings/drawings in museums, and here’s a passage from the Roman numeral entry in wikipedia, “In Central Europe, Italy, Russia, and in Bulgarian, Croatian, Portuguese, Romanian, and Serbian languages, mixed Roman and Arabic numerals are used to record dates (usually on tombstones, but also elsewhere, such as in formal letters and official documents). The month is written in Roman numerals while the day is in Arabic numerals: 14.  VI. 1789 is 14 June 1789.”

  21. I am a Brit and we can and do frequently use the month-day-format, which many on this site seem to consider American. I have looked at the main UK dailies and they seem pretty evenly split on their usage (as they are, incidentally, on -ise/-ize: I always use -ize). What is true is that, when written numerically, you must use day-month-year in British English. But when giving the date in full, you can just as easily say July 4th 2012 as 4th July 2012, without its sounding in the slightest unnatural or affected.

  22. As a Brit living in the US, it took me a while to get used to giving my birthdate in the US form. Can you imagine how stupid you feel having to pause and think of your birthdate? And I am the only one in our family whose birthdate can be misconstrued – the others are lucky enough to be past 12 in the month. While I would be comfortable saying July 4th or 4th July, it still seems illogical in writing.

    • I frequently use up so much of my attention on the month-day/day-month puzzle that I have none left for writing the correct year. I often get the year of my birth wrong, writing the current year by mistake.

  23. I’m afraid I do find the Americans’ insistence on writing dates “the other way round” from the rest of the English-speaking world a bit irritating. I own a number of domains hosted by a large US domain seller, and have on several occasions come close to failing to renew these in time due to misunderstanding the renewal date – when I see on their site that a particular domain must be renewed by “3/11/2012″, I think I’ve got till 3rd November to sort it out!

    Although of course a terrible event, it was quite funny that our UK media were miraculously saved from having to work out whether to follow the “9/11″ precedent when the London Underground was bombed in July 2005….. because the date – universally used since to signify the bombings – was in fact 7/7.

    • Your comment about the ‘”9/11″ precedent’ intrigued me because it left me wondering whether you were aware of the significance of 911 in the U.S. (It’s the nationally recognized number to dial in an emergency. Seems to me I discovered recently it’s a totally different 3-digit number in the UK. True?)

      Also: doesn’t your American domain hosting operation email you when it’s getting time to renew? If they ping you in February for a March renewal you might suspect the date in the mail doesn’t indicate November.

      • Believe me they often email me many months in advance!

        I assumed (and I’m sure most people in Europe did as well) that “9/11″ was purely a reference to the date? I do of course know it’s the emergency phone no in the US, whereas we use 999.

      • I wouldn’t say 9/11 is *purely* a reference to the date. I doubt it would have been adopted as shorthand — of if it had been, adopted as readily — if it didn’t jive so nicely with the U.S.’s 911 emergency number. Though possibly I’m a cult of one in thinking so.

        I’m so paranoid about forgetting to renew the couple of domain names I care about that I’ve authorized my provider to bill my credit card automatically when they’re due to renew. Though perhaps that’s not an option for you.

  24. One can go on and on: the US system is supremely ILLOGICAL. Thank goodness with unknowing wisdom the powers that be elected 11/11 to be Remembrance Day.

  25. Big OOps in Canada….. I THORT Canada followed UK format (dd-mm-yy) and was horrified this evening (11th october) to hear chortling news item on CTV about this date reading 10-11-12!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! To my knowledge, THAT format takes places on 10th November…NOT NOW.
    I know this is irrelevant but it felt really relevant.

    • As with many things, Canada goes with the flow. My family were all born in the UK, but my children were largely schooled in BC. They were all taught to date their school work dd/mm/yyyy.
      I have seen “proper” Canadian colleagues use color and colour in the same sentence!
      To be prudent, I always write dates dd mmm yyyy (eg 27 Oct 2012) to make sure there’s no confusion. I only use purely numerical formats when the reader is not North American.
      When asked for my DofB, I say 23rd of the 5th, ’64. But that’s just me…
      BTW – the Japanese use yyyy-mm-dd, the only non-technical use I’ve seen.

      • To Quieter Elephant
        Totally agree re Canada – . There was even a letter this week to our local rag bemoaning the lack of anything formal…which there is and I believe its the ISO standard yyyy-mm-dd. Quebec does that but two recent items from Feds have used (eg) oct 26, 2012. I still think cave-in of CTV to over the border format was NG.

      • Ken Westmoreland

        I’ve seen yyyyy-mm-dd used in in South Africa – the stamps in my passport were in that format. South Africa’s also the only English-speaking country I’ve been to that uses the decimal comma instead of the decimal point.

  26. I have always used the dd.mm.yy format as this is what I was taught in school, however, and somewhat bizarrely my father who is fast approaching telegram age uses the mm.dd.yy format and always has done.

  27. Mark Wellington

    In case American’s aren’t aware, ‘telegram age’ means 100 years old. In the UK, anyone who reaches 100 years old gets a telegram from the queen.

  28. Over time, I have come to favour the IBM date format standards used on the iSeries computers where the format code specifies both the order of fields and the delimiter:
    *DMY => DD.MM.YY
    *MDY => MM/DD/YY
    *YMD => YY-MM-DD
    *EUR => DD.MM.CCYY
    *ISO => CCYY-MM-DD
    *USA => MM/DD/CCYY

    parenthetically, the default if nothing is specified is *ISO

    additionally, if the suffix “0” (*ZERO) is added, there are no delimiters

    my favoured choice would be *ISO, although many here would prefer *EUR

  29. Obama got the year wrong! Faceplam, what a dumkopf!

  30. My theory is that Americans use the same format as us but have 31 months, interleaved in a peculiar way.

  31. Even though I live in the US the Euro & ISO formats are more logically organized. The euro going from the smaller fraction to the larger (day, month, year) and the ISO formatted inversely (year, month, day) It makes it easier to sort and organize records. However, others hang on to old habits. Over 1/2 of the US can’t tell if a Celsius temperature is hot or cold. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it will change anytime soon.

    • “Over 1/2 of the US can’t tell if a Celsius temperature is hot or cold.”

      What percentage of the English population can tell you how much they weigh in kilograms? I once asked an English acquaintance and she told me she didn’t know — she only knew how much she weighed in stone.

      Having us all know the temperature in Celsius or our weight in kilograms may provide some missing semblance of universal comity, but let’s not overdo it. We could all be speaking Esperanto, too. That we aren’t I don’t take to be a sign of some failing on the part of one nation or another.

      BTW: I would guess far more than “over 1/2″ of the US can’t tell if a Celsius temperature is hot or cold. My intuition would put the number at 3/4 *at least.*

      • The doctor recently asked me how much I weighed. I told him in kilos “How much is that in old money?” he asked.

  32. To me, the beauty of the European method is its progression of diminishing specificity with each increment of time: from day to month to year. Sensible!

  33. OK, I’m from Europe, so I’m a little bit prejudiced.
    But the US date format is absolutely senseless (sorry guys, I love America but please go metric asap!).
    There is an order: some days are a month, some months are a year. If you write YYYY-MM-DD, that’s ok and ISO standard…
    If you write DD.MM.YYYY, or DD/MM/YYYY, or with commas, or however, that’s ok, too!
    But who the hell came with MM/DD/YYYY?
    Regardless of the fact, that AM/PM is also not my case (24-hour clock rocks) – if it’s 2:35:12 on your watch you don’t write 35:12, 2! Like it’s the 35 minute with 12 seconds at 2 o’clock! Nobody would do this because everybody would say “there’s an order”! So why this disgusting date format?!

    • Just out of curiosity, Methos, how much do you weigh in kilograms? (And no, you can’t first go to Google to convert stone to kilos — tell me right now.)

      With respect to the European and American date formats — and 24-hour versus AM/PM clocks — appeals to logic are very much beside the point. We’re talking about a language in which the vowels of the virtually identical words dough, slough, and tough are all pronounced differently. Have you also been petitioning Her Majesty’s government for the creation of a British Academy to do away with this kind of “absolutely senseless” spelling?

      As with most things in life, what one objects to is whatever’s at variance with what one grew up with.

      And oh yeah: where *did* we get our ridiculously complicated imperial measurement system? I believe it was from the same folks who thought it was a much better idea to drive on the left.

  34. The status quo exerts a powerful pull to be sure but at least the British are making an effort. They got rid of shilling, fathoms and bushels already. Stones, gallons and yards will surely follow.

    Choice of driving side is entirely arbitrary and a non sequitur. The logical date part ordering and the metric system are objectively better than the alternatives even if you personally value tradition more than logic.

  35. I weight 82kg and I am 1.78m tall. I would have to think hard to know what those were was in archaic measures but then I was taught in metric from when I was in my early teens. I’m nearly 60 now. What point are you trying to make, Rizzo?

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  37. I used to fly to America a lot. Every time I did I had to fill in a Green Card. The date order on the card was always Day, Month, Year.
    As for driving on which side of the road, remember, please blame Napoleon! But also remember that, thanks to India and other former colonies, as many people drive on the left as well as on the right.
    And Ragged Clown, please do remember that the old Imperial system really forced you to think. £s, shillings and pence? What a wonderful way to exercise the brain!

    • “As for driving on which side of the road, remember, please blame Napoleon!”

      Huh? I’ll gladly proclaim my ignorance about Napoleon’s influence on which side of the road to drive. Please explain, Historyfanatic!

      • Historyfanatic

        Thank you. I’m glad to give an explanation but I’m sure that people will object! Also, there are many explanations for this.
        The countries of Europe had many different systems of weighing, measuring and distance. England (and I do mean England, not Britain) had been a unified country for over 800 years when Napoleon tried to invade. We had a unified system of weights, measurement and distance. France did not. Different Departements in France had completely different systems.
        One of the things that Napoleon did was to unify France. That meant bringing together the different systems used in France, That meant unification.
        Before the Revolution in France, in different Departements, people used to drive on different sides of the road. When Napoleon took over he stopped that and unified France.
        There is much more to be said but I’m trying to concentrate on the question!

  38. By the way, I meant to add that measurement and accounting systems can be very different. Try the Indian numerical system. The number of commas in an Indian balance sheet can drive you mad! The counting system is utterly different from the West. But entirely logical once you get used to it.

  39. 911 in North America! In the UK the emergency telephone number is 999 or so I thought. My wife just went on a first aid course and was told it’s now 112……
    Sorry. I’ve just been reading through the above for the first time. I now write the month in English to avoid confusion. Interesting stuff about Napoleon and unification and I’m sure there was a time when some Canadian provinces drove on the left.

    • Driving on the left… why?

      Obvious: two horsemen approach on a road, equally suspicious of each other. Given that >90% of pre-1900 sword-armed road travellers were right-handed, they passed to the left of each other. How can some NOOB contributors be so dumb?

      Unless of course they’re ambidextrous and routinely commute with a .44 Magnum in the glove compartment?

      Napoleon? Caesar? bollocks… Fred Flintstone logic!

      • Just the other day I was driving towards a knight who got pissy, veered to my right and lopped off my side mirror. It struck me (and my mirror) at the same time that we needed better road rules.

      • I’ve just read this extraordinarily rude and ill-mannered reply. If your “argument” is correct then why was it that before the French Revolution a number of provinces drove on the other side of the road? Were they full of left-handed knights?

    • If you ask a Brit, the will tell you that the emergency number in the UK 999, and they’d be right. However 112 also works in the UK (though most Brits don’t know that), because it’s the standard EU-wide emergency number. The usual EU compromise – standardisation across the EU, will supporting local history and cultures.

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  41. It’s a not true about Belize though, it’s a British colony and write their date like the brits do. As a native I can vouch for this. We’re not weirdos too.

  42. The Modern Language Association (MLA) format for academic writing in the humanities specifies that dates be given as day month year; today would be 20 September 2014. Thousands of high school and college students are no doubt writing MLA-formatted essays right now.

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