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Date format: British English / American / Canadian / Australian / NewZealand / South African ...

Discussion in 'English Only' started by orc13, Mar 6, 2006.

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  1. orc13 Senior Member

    France
    USA, English
    I did a search on the topic, but I just wanted a quick clarification from some British natives: on a covering letter, would you say, "from 1st June to 1st September 2006" ? And would you prefer, for the date on the top, "4 March 2006" or "4th March 2006" ?

    Thanks so much!
     
  2. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    Either is correct but, in today's business correspondence, I would say that the tendency is to simplify, hence, you would tend to write, say, "6 March 2006" as opposed to "6th March 2006".
     
  3. maxiogee Senior Member

    imithe
    I hope you'll accept an Irishman's answer (we're "nearly British" in our usage and habits with the language).

    would you say, "from 1st June to 1st September 2006"? Yes

    And would you prefer, for the date on the top, "4 March 2006" :cross:or "4th March 2006"? :tick:
     
  4. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    ... I agree with James B; 6 March 2006 at the top of the letter AND in the text of the letter: ... the course will begin on 6 March 2006.

    Ah...
    And of course the really important thing to do is to find out the house style of the organisation you are writing from. I haven't had a chance to make the house style point for a long time:)
     
  5. orc13 Senior Member

    France
    USA, English
    Thank you for your speedy replies! :) And sorry about not including the Irish--we clumsy Americans tend to mix up our terms! :eek:

    So I will put "6 March 2006" at the top of the letter, but "from 1st June to 1st September 2006" in the body (as long as this doesn't seem inconsistent...?)

    Also, good point about the house style, Panjandrum. The letter is actually for a French friend who is planning on sending it to many different employers (all in London), but I'll give her a head's up.
     
  6. maxiogee Senior Member

    imithe
    Well as head of this house (in the temporary absence of my wife and child) the house style here is 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. :D
     
  7. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    Maxiogee,
    We all know you are a stickler for tradition and correctness.
    :)
     
  8. quilks Junior Member

    Durham, UK
    English, UK
    I work in an office in the UK and the style there is to write "6 March 2006" and also "From 6 March 2006 to 3 July 2007". In my opinion either 6 or 6th would be acceptable!
     
  9. bartonig Senior Member

    UK English
    Is there a difference between US and British date formats?
     
  10. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Oh indeed yes. There has been discussion on this before, but the biggest difference is that US dates are mm/dd/yyyy whereas UK dates are dd/mm/yyyy.

    This can have quite serious implications in a mixed-nationality workforce such as the UK NHS, which now employs many professional staff who have been trained in countries that use the US date format.
     
  11. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    True, so that:

    7/12/06, to an American, is July 12th, 2006 = 12 July 2006
    7/12/06, to a Briton, is 7th December 2006 = 7 December 2006

    As a result, it is better to write the month in full or use letters, even if it is a short form (e.g.: Aug = August).

    Incidentally, the British format for dates (expressed as numerals) is the same as the French one.
     
  12. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Adelaide
    Australia English
    And everywhere else in Europe, Australia, NZ, South Africa &c, &c for that matter.

    Traditional Chinese method is to write yy/mm/dd.
     
  13. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    Brioche,
    Commonwealth countries would have adopted the British system; I did not know about the Chinese system, and I was not sure Continental European countries other than France used the same way of writing dates too. (There is even more variety with postal addresses, with some countries putting the street number at the beginning of the line featuring the street's name, and others at the end - while Japan does not appear to have street names at all!)
     
  14. Saulfer New Member

    Spain (Galicia)
    Spanish
    Brioche is right.
    At least Spain and Portugal (the countries I know) use the dd/mm/yyyy British system that you´re talking about.
     
  15. I thought that almost the entire world used the British system (when writing in a Roman alphabet system) and that we Americans were mostly alone in using mm/dd/yyyy. Interestingly, the US government and military typically put the day first when using words: 04 September 2009 (that is, the British style of date-writing). I assume that they write mm/dd/yyyy when using only numbers in order to avoid confusion.
     
  16. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    The US does use the "other" format on occasion : I recall my surprise on discovering that US customs and immigration forms for arrivals to the US use the dd/mm/yyyy format - for Date of Birth or Date of Issuance of Entry Visa.
     
  17. tomtombp Senior Member

    Hungarian
    Just for the record, we - in Hungary - use the Chinese form (yy/mm/dd).
     
  18. pickarooney

    pickarooney Senior Member

    Provence, France
    English (Ireland)
    I'm pretty sure both Sweden and South Africa use the yyy/mm/dd format too.
     
  19. silkworm New Member

    Romanian
    In Romania, we use dd/mm/yy format, but or separator is "." or, rarely, "-", but never "/".

    So, the 21st of April, 2010 will be: 21.04.2010 or, rarely, 21-04-2010.
     
  20. Pedro y La Torre

    Pedro y La Torre Senior Member

    Paris, France
    English (Ireland)
    The American format has always appeared very confusing to me, I wonder where it came from.

    Excluding America, I don't think I've yet visited a country which doesn't use the dd/mm/yy format.
     
  21. Hitchhiker Senior Member

    Washington DC USA
    English-US
    I almost always see in British magazine articles the dates wriiten as "4th December 2006" rather than the military format that leaves off the "th". At least in US military the "th" is left out. I think even the British military may retain the "th" sometimes too which always struck me as a bit odd.
     
  22. Hitchhiker Senior Member

    Washington DC USA
    English-US
    I have seen both orders in South Africa and Namibia. Maybe Australia and New Zealand but I'm not certain about those. Their English isn't as strict as in the UK and South Africa has picked up a lot of American English.
     
  23. Andygc Senior Member

    Devon
    British English
    Certainly not. In 27 years of service I never saw the date with "th" in it. In letters always 19 December 2009 - and no leading zero as in 09 December 2009. In a memo 19 Dec 09. On a signal message 0815Z09DEC09, because you have to state the time as well.

    If you look at old British documents such as personal and business letters you will commonly see dates written as December 19th, 1885. We used to do it the same way as our former colonies. After all, people commonly say "December the nineteenth"

    I suspect that the reason American immigration forms use the dd/mm/yyyy format is because there is an international agreement on the format of passport information - essential for machine-readable passports.
     
  24. Hitchhiker Senior Member

    Washington DC USA
    English-US

    Okay that makes sense. The British format of 4th December, 2006 is almost unknown in written form in America. It is almost always written as December 4, 2006 without the th. In spoken American English the th is said and both formats are known and used. "The 4th of December, 2006" or "December 4th, 2006" are both used in American spoken English. The th is almost never written in American English.
     
  25. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima

    Singapore
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    This has been an evolving thing.

    If you look at the letters of Jane Austen, you'll see that she uses the format November 17, 1798

    Fairly similar later in the 19th century: you'll see Charles Dickens with the format January 31st, 1850 - with the abbreviation for the ordinal (31st)

    Moving on to the 20th century, you'll see D H Lawrence using the format 28 January 1908, but occasionally we also see 3rd Dec 1907

    If you look at British newspapers, you'll see that the date format is often January 19, 2010 or January 19th, 2010 (the exception is the Guardian, I think). This is also true of newspapers in Singapore, where elsewhere you wouldn't normally see this format. My understanding is that this is for historical reasons, given that this was the norm in the 19th century. (Have a look at the newspaper archive by the British Library.)

    Conclusion: the dominant American format reflects the dominant historical British format. The 'logical' one was a later development.

    But, moving to more recent times. When I went to school in the 1970s, we were told to write 15th January, 1974. By the 1980s, the format 15 January 1989 had become dominant. People's personal habits might be more resilient to change, but I think most companies that have a house style have the date in this format.
     
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2010
  26. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    I had the same thought initially, because it is handed out with the (optional) immigration forms shortly before landing. But then I realized this was a (non-optional) customs form that even returning citizens must complete :D Perhaps the links between customs and immigration functions would lead to confusion if they used both, so the international agreements prevail? :D
     
  27. kalamazoo Senior Member

    US, English
    The EU standard is actually supposed to be yyyy-mm-dd, which is the easiest to sort by, among other charms.

    I wonder what Canadians do, date-wise.

    It's not impossible that the US usage reflects some older English usage which has disappeared in the UK but has been retained in the US. Sort of like the subjunctive.
     
  28. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima

    Singapore
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I've spoken to Canadians. Apparently you can find all three formats there D-M-Y, M-D-Y and Y-M-D. Let's wait for a Canadian to corroborate this.
     
  29. kalamazoo Senior Member

    US, English
    Well, if Jane Austen and Charles Dickens used the Month-Day-Year format then it seems pretty clear that the Americans must have gotten it originally from the English. Then the question becomes, where did the English acquire the Day-Month-Year format? Perhaps from the French?
     
  30. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima

    Singapore
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Oh, I think the D-M-Y pattern was always also around, particularly in legal texts, where you would find things like

    and this would also be found in historical legal documents in the US. This is from George Washington's proclamation for Thanksgiving, 1789:

     
  31. pickarooney

    pickarooney Senior Member

    Provence, France
    English (Ireland)
    I just use a long integer based on the number of elapsed seconds since the Big Bang. It's fairly foolproof, although my watch screen is as wide as my forearm is long.

    I'm just curious - what's the Z for?
     
  32. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod

    I believe it's for "Zulu", isn't it? I grew up hearing it as "Greenwich Mean Time" and it is now often referred to as UCT (Universal Coordinated Time), but that's all subject to debate. I think Zulu time is the military name for this time "zone". The whole topic of time standards has filled many books.

    Personally, I like the yyyy-mm-dd format (2010-01-20 for Jan. 20, 2010) because it sorts so nicely. :^)
     
  33. kalamazoo Senior Member

    US, English
    In AE, you can still use wording like "on the third day of June you need to have all your documents in order." So I don't think natketep's examples really deal with the question of why BrE changed (apparently) to D-M-Y instead of (apparently) the older M-D-Y that is still used in the US.
     
  34. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    Me too! Then you can keep going in a consistent manner, with every digit representing a smaller division of time compared to the one to its left. Any other system is quite illogical, Captain.
     
  35. Andygc Senior Member

    Devon
    British English
    ZULU (not Zulu) - international phonetic alphabet for "Z".
    Time zone ZULU = UTC (not UCT - the Wikipedia entry explains the compromise with the French)
    Time zone ALFA = Z+1 = British Summer Time = Western European Time
    Time zone BRAVO = Z+2 etc
     
  36. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    Interesting discussion. Standards have evolved over time and there are many ways to write the date. In ancient documents (say, in the 17th or 18th century), dates were written out "in full": "On the 3rd day of the 2nd month of 1682...".

    The fact remains that dates are ordinal numbers (= in order, i.e. chronological order) because of their very nature, hence "1st", "2nd", etc.

    It is retained in speaking because it is not that complicated (although "30th" may not be that easy to pronounce...), and also it is clearer (no ambiguity: we know immediately it is a date that is referred to).

    In writing, the tendency has been towards simplification, hence the dropping of "st" and "nd" etc in business correspondence. I suspect this is linked to the widespread use of typewriters, then word-processing (urge to simplify and standardize).

    It could well be that the standard British format today "date-month-year" is a relatively recent simplification, and that the standard American format is indeed derived from an earlier British standard that was common in, say, the 19th century, and has virtually disappeared since in the UK. (There are many things like this, which illustrate the colonial/British origins of America, despite what some people might like to think. The legal system in the USA is, in many ways, closer to the Anglo-Norman model of the Middle Ages than the current legal system in England, much influenced by Europe etc.)

    Last point: why ZULU for UCT? Whether Zulu or ZULU, we still do not really know why it should be ZULU in the first place, or did I miss something? :)
     
  37. CanuckPete Junior Member

    Toronto, Canada
    English - Canada
    In English Canada both formats are acceptable. The thing is to remain consistent within the same body of work. It is also wise to indicate what format you're using if you are only using numbers. For example, this: 8/11/2010 to me is 8 November 2010, where as to another Anglo Canadian it is August 11, 2010.

    Legal documents in Canada are dd/mm/yyyy, and sometimes yyyy/mm/dd (which I don't like at all)

    Everything else, however, is all over the place.

    I don't like th's, nd's and rd's. They are aesthetically unpleasing (to me) and clutter things up.

    8th November 2010: ugly.

    8 November 2010: clean, simple and pretty. :)

    French Canada always follows the dd mm yyyy format.
     
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2010
  38. Mervinelus New Member

    Bergen, Paris
    French - France
    It seems to be many references in the recent posts to the French way of writing dates here ... without any French to precisely answer to that yet, so please let me add my 'French touch' here... ;)

    When I had been taught British English back in the 80s within the French school system (not the best way to learn English though, I can tell... Well, every single person having spent some kind of holidays can tell, doesn't he?... :D), I have been told that the correct date writing was for instance Friday, October 15th, 2010 -- and that we should pronounce it if I remember well "Friday, the fifteenth of October, two thousand and ten".
    Since then I always used that format and was so firmly convinced it was the right and only way to do it that you can imagine how intrigued I was to find no track of it in the very first page of this thread... :confused:. Thanks to Andygc I knew page 2 that I wasn't mad...

    As far as I can think of, French dates can be written these ways (note that we do not use any upper cases for days or months names):
    - (weekday -- optional) dd month yyyy, e.g. (vendredi) 15 octobre 2010 (at the top left of a pupil's or student's notebook/homework),
    - "le" dd month yyyy, e.g. le 15 octobre 2010 (as a standalone at the top right of a formal letter),
    - "le" or "au" or "du" dd month yyyy depending on the sentence context, e.g. du 15 au 20 octobre 2010 (within any kind of text: email, book, letter, article, etc.),
    - "le" day month ("de l'année" -- optional, old fashion) year, e.g. le quinze octobre (de l'année) deux mille dix (in official documents like a birth certificate).

    Note that we pronounce dates this latter way, i.e. we use cardinal numbers -- vs. ordinal numbers in spoken English: "le" day month year, e.g. le quinze octobre deux mille dix [literally translated "The fifteen october ... "].

    Apart from this slight digression :eek:, what really concerns this thread is that French simplified date format is dd/mm/yy or dd/mm/yyyy.

    :arrow: Thus, as shown, French people always use the DD MM YY order.

    Thus we, French people, always have a problem with dates when writing technical or business document or letters in English. We never know if we should use the dd/mm/yy format or the mm/dd/yy format. Indeed we don't know if the foreign person it is addressed to will understand it as a French, English or American English date format :(.
    The same will apply for us when we read English documents as we get very confused -- endless internal discussions in the teams I can tell you.

    When I was working in an international environment involving American, Australian, European and Asian people back in the early Y2000, I was told that the official way to avoid any mistake was to use the "international" YYYY/MM/DD format. I really do not know where this "international" format comes from and if it really is, but fact is that I always use it since as I do not think there is any YYYY/DD/MM available format in the world that would bring any uncertainty to this -- I bet now someone will try hard to break down my proof of concept and find out an odd far far away country that would use this format :rolleyes:.
    To answer older posts, may be Chinese people simply use the same because of their fully international daily businesses?

    Now I understand that both American and British people agree on using dd month yyyy in their daily mails and that using ddth month yyyy still would be acceptable. I will then change now the way I write dates in my regular mails.

    Back to the simplified dates, as I understand that there is still an ambiguity (dd/mm/yy vs. mm/dd/yy), I must admit there is no official nor world wide spread 'best' solution; so I think I will keep using my fully understandable yyyy/mm/dd format -- even if some do not like it, sorry CanuckPete :p.

    Note that I have found this site also interesting (for non native english speaking people I mean):
    http : / / www . ego4u . com / en / cram-up / vocabulary / date / written
     
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2010
  39. HalfEmptyHero Junior Member

    American English
    Actually when using only numbers they do yyyymmdd or yymmdd which can be very confusing if you don't know thats how it is. 20101015 would be October 15, 2010, as would 101015.
     
  40. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    To go back to the question of British English Vs American English (e.g.: 02/03/10 is 2 March 2010 in BE and 3 Feb 2010 in AE), I think that the best way actually is to rely on letters for the months, and there is a set list of abbreviations in English for those (JAN for January, FEB for February, etc.). Also in emails, this is actually easier to read in my view and it settles the matter without any risk of confusion on either side.

    The 'international' corporate format and the US military format referred to here would be OK if users are forewarned, but otherwise look clunky to me and likely to generate yet more confusion.
     
  41. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    I recall when growing up (in UK) a large number of friends, acquaintances, family used Roman "numerals" for the month - and those few that still write letters still do!
    5/xii/72 or 5.xii.72 would be 5th December 1972. With so many different "systems" it's not surprising the ones that are possibly ambiguous are sometimes misinterpreted - d'oh!
     
  42. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima

    Singapore
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I still use this style on occasions. I think also Royal Mail postmarks also used to havethe month in capitalised roman numerals: as in

    15
    VI
    1989​

    enclosed in a circle. I remember this very clearly, but can't seem to find any images of it. The only one I found is a Japanese with the postmark 20.VI.05 12.18
     
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2010
  43. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    See also date format.

    The UK NHS follows James Brandon's advice, having standardised on dd mmm yyyy for dates (short form).
    So today is shown as 18 Oct 2010.
     
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2010
  44. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    This septic isle!
    NW Englandish English
    Me too, Nat, in the approximately one letter a year I still write.

    Here's a Canadian example of the postmark version.
     
  45. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima

    Singapore
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    3.43pm, 18.x.10
    Dear Ewie,
    That's very clever of you, Ewie! I'm sure that I've seen a British version of the postmark in this format, but can't find any. Am I dreaming or confusing it with something from somewhere else?

    Yours sincerely,
    Nat
     
  46. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    This septic isle!
    NW Englandish English
    Dingley Dell
    Manchester
    UK, 18-xii-10
    Mr.N.Kretep
    PO Box 12
    Singapore

    Dear Nat,
    I would've said exactly the same thing, but I can't find a single example of it either on the 'internet' (as they call it) or in my extensive collection of crap correspondence dating back to the old century (as we used to call it). So yes, you might well be hallucinating or something.
    Yrs affec.,
    Ewie
     
  47. boozer Senior Member

    Bulgaria
    Bulgarian
    I greatly enjoy this epistolary mode of communication you have reverted to, but, just for the record, are you already living in the near future, Ewie? That is - December? :D
     
  48. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    This septic isle!
    NW Englandish English
    Apparently yes, Mr.B:eek::D
     
  49. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    Regarding the comment made that British postmarks used to incorporate indication of the date with the month in Roman numerals (e.g.: 10 VIII 1954 would be 10 August 1954), I am not so sure. I am away from home right now but, when I get back to London, I will look through my personal archive (which includes letters posted between 1930 and 1960, from both the UK and France). I will let you know what I find.

    I have a feeling that, in the case of the UK, printing the date in letters for the month (3 letters as a rule, such as JUL for July etc) is long-established. However, I must admit that I do seem to remember seeing postmarks with the month in Roman numerals, as mentioned. This would not be recent.

    A philatelist, if there is one around on this forum, would know instantly what the answer was to this one.
     
  50. allyprice Junior Member

    NZ
    English - New Zealand
    In New Zealand we would always use the dd/mm/yy format. Many official papers now have the letters written nearby though so that Americans and others understand which order it is in.
     
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