Date format: Date of birth.

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Snowhite, Mar 17, 2007.

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  1. Snowhite Member

    Argentina Spanish
    I'm translating a brief biography of an artist, and I need to know the correct way of writing the date of birth:
    e.g. :
    1) "11th January 1987"?
    2) "January 11, 1987"?
    3) "11 January 1987"?
    4) other?
    Thanks a lot!
  2. hly2004 Banned

    The order is:
  3. Snowhite Member

    Argentina Spanish
    Thank you hly2004!
    Is it necessary to write "th" after 11?
    Do you add a comma before the year?
    Thanks a lot!
  4. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Australia English
    Take your pick.

    I much pefer the more logical day, month, year,
    but in the US and Canada, month, day, year is the most common.
  5. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Australia English
    The usual style in the US is April 30, 1789.
  6. Snowhite Member

    Argentina Spanish
    Thanks Brioche!
    I'm sorry I forgot to say the language I'm using is British English.
    I've also been suggested "the 30th of April, 1789" (in Br. Eng.)
    Thank you.
  7. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    You will find many threads on this topic in the forum.

    Using one of the standard UK business formats:
    The author was born on 30 April 1789.

    You could write ... 30th April 1789, but the th is generally omitted these days.

    I'll hunt for the threads in a minute and post links.

    Welcome to WordReference, by the way.

    I forgot to say that the best advice is to find out what format is preferred by whoever you are writing for. That saves a lot of guessing.

    Try these


    Dates in British English

    dates in BE vs AE
  8. Snowhite Member

    Argentina Spanish
    Thanks a lot Panjandrum!
    In fact I feel a bit at a loss, and trying to learn to take part in Forums, but I'm new at this...
    Thanks for your help!!!
  9. Snowhite Member

    Argentina Spanish
    Thanks Panj!
    I've read all the links you've sent me... it is a lot clearer to me now...
    Very usefull indeed!!!
    Thanks to all who answered my question!!!
  10. youngmoon New Member

    Can you help me for that!
    If date of birth is written like 5.11.1989, then what does it mean?
    Thanks a lot
  11. To BE speakers – 5th November, 1989.

    To AE speakers – May 11th, 1989.

    To avoid the ambiguity, write the name of the month.
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2014
  12. Biffo Senior Member

    English - England
    If it is written by a British person, it means 5th November 1989.
    If it is written by someone from the USA it means 11th May 1989.

  13. George French Senior Member

    English - UK
    Unfortunately it has two possible meanings...


    You have to look for other clues to determine/guess what it means... But if you use the month name..... 21 April 2014 (even though 21/4/2014 is obvious).
  14. youngmoon New Member

    thanks all
  15. pdanes New Member

    English - US
    Both the US and British way to write dates are inherently wrong, each in a different way. The new ISO format is the only 'correct' way to write a date. I use it whenever I can, by default, unless someone specifies differently up front. And even then, I try to talk them into accepting and further using ISO, in an effort to bring some order into my corner of the world. It is unambiguous, sorts correctly and properly reflects universal grammatical rules for expressing numeric values.

    For your example, it would be:

    November 5th, 1989 = 1989.11.05
    May 11th, 1989 = = = 1989.05.11

    The separators can be dashes, dots, spaces or really almost anything consistent. Note the leading zero in the one-digit month/day value. That is important, to keep 5 from sorting after 11.
  16. Andygc

    Andygc Senior Member

    British English
    There is nothing "inherently wrong" in the way dates are written in America or the UK. There is nothing "correct" about the ISO 8601 date format (new? 1988?). It's merely a way of representing the date which has international recognition for use in contexts where there is a need to represent dates by numbers. I see no merit in writing 2015-06-23 when I mean 23 June 2015. However, if I was writing a computerised database, I might well decide to store dates in a YYYY-MM-DD format.

    By the way, the separators cannot be "dashes, dots, spaces or really almost anything consistent". Using, for example "." or "/" as separators may cause confusion with pre-existing conventions. The standard prescribes the format as YYYY-MM-DD, but permits the separator to be omitted thus YYYYMMDD.

    There's a useful summary on this Cambridge University web page.
  17. pdanes New Member

    English - US
    Sorry, but you're off base on this one. Both date formats ARE inherently wrong. All numeric data, with exception of dates is written most significant digit to the left, and less significant digits progressively to the right. Having medium significant digits first, less significant digits next, and most significant digits last, as is customary in the US is about as mixed up as it can possibly be, and having the least significant digits first and most significant last, as is customary in Europe is completely backwards. <-----Comment deleted by moderator (Florneida52)-----> ...the ISO format is indeed correct, in every sense of the word.

    You may be right about the dashes and such, I haven't studied the ISO spec in detail, and have seen dates written with all manner of separators, including none, as you mention. The separator doesn't matter much, from a technical and grammatical standpoint - the order of the numbers, and leading zeros on one-digit months and days are the crucial issue.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 23, 2015
  18. pdanes New Member

    English - US
    Time is also already written in the correct format. Can you imagine trying to make sense of time, if it was written minutes, seconds, hours by some people, and seconds, minutes, hours by others? The ISO format for date merely extends the existing time notation, which is grammatically correct, out to three more significant digits: from hours, minutes, seconds to years, months, days, hours, minutes, seconds. The two existing formats are artefacts of an earlier era, when storage and presentation of accurate information was not so crucial to daily life, as is AM/PM notation. What fool thought that midnight is somehow equivalent to noon has undoubtedly been lost in the mists of history, although I wish I could get my hands on him and prevent the adoption of such a scheme. It is long past time to dump them all and use an international, inherently sensible standard.
  19. sdgraham

    sdgraham Senior Member

    Oregon, USA
    USA English
    Welcome to the forum, pdanes.

    After you spend more tine with us, you will know that "wrong," "ambiguous," "not customary, " do not all mean the same thing.

    ISO 8601 is indeed a fine "standard," but those who choose not to follow it are not "wrong," since adherence to ISO standards is voluntary.

    Language is about communication between humans, not machines, and no end is served by suddenly imposing an unfamiliar date representation upon users.

    Computers are supposed to serve humans, not the other way around. It's a simple matter of programming to convert a date from a user interface into something a computer likes for purposes of sorting, etc.

    AndyGC is spot-on in post #16

    <-----Response to now-deleted comment removed by moderator (Florentia52).----->
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 23, 2015
  20. pdanes New Member

    English - US
    Thank you.

    I do know the difference between those three words.

    I do not say the *-people-* using the old formats are wrong, I say the formats themselves are wrong. They are confusing, ambiguous and error-prone.

    Language is about communication in general, not strictly between humans. The old date formats are confusing for people as well, not just computers. An extremely valuable end is indeed served by suddenly imposing a new standard, when that standard is a vast improvement on the old order. ISO is such an improvement.

    True, and they serve best by organizing and presenting accurate and timely information. If it was simple matter of conversion, there would not be so many errors and misunderstandings when converting dates. And it's not always a simple matter. When the dates are in separate, clearly defined fields in a database, it's manageable, but when they are part of a filename, for instance, which is often the case for archived copies of files, try to get Windows to sort your filenames in date order, when they are named using an existing US or European format. It's not just difficult, it's impossible, given the tools Windows offers for the task.

    Don't agree. He's defending a system that has long since outlived its usefulness.

    <-----Responses to delete comments removed by moderator (Florentia52)-----> I explained clearly WHY the existing formats are bad, and why the ISO standard is superior. <…> I can only tell you that as someone who is <…> fully active in the field, I deal with the issue of dates constantly, importing and exporting data from/to both US and European sources. The two old formats are a constant headache, whereas the ISO format solves all problems I have ever experienced with dates, completely and permanently.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 23, 2015
  21. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)


    The ISO standard does not apply to business letters. For me to write "2015.11.02" on a business letter in the U.S. would be "wrong" in that context. It would not pass muster. "Wrong" is a very relative thing.

    Yes, traditional date formats can be confusing and ambiguous, I agree. They are not inherently error-prone. I don't know anyone who writes "July 5, 2014" when they mean to write "June 12, 2013". And there is nothing in the ISO standard that keeps someone from keying 2015.05.05 when they should have typed 2015.05.15. All data is susceptible to error.

    Your comments are, at best, idealistic. Try dating a check in ISO format as you write it out. Try texting a friend and saying "I've been in Cabo for P3D12H now and can't believe in P4D6H30M I have to leave. Time's flying!"

    It is an effective standard for data exchange. It is not the standard outside of data exchange.
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2015
  22. sdgraham

    sdgraham Senior Member

    Oregon, USA
    USA English
    ... which is why we have style books for humans:)
  23. pdanes New Member

    English - US
    Given the custom today, I suppose I would have to agree that ISO format on a business letter would be "wrong" to use, in the sense that it does not comply with accepted practice. New ways of doing things are always "wrong" in that sense. If they weren't, they wouldn't be new. But it shouldn't be wrong, and I personally use the ISO format in all my own correspondence. I encounter an occasional raised eyebrow, but my MEANING is always clear, and that is what is of paramount importance to me.

    Word versions of months are not ambiguous, although some abbreviations can be. I have seen 'Ju' used, in a misguided attempt at brevity. And there is the issue of foreign languages. Do you know, off the top of your head, what month 'Srpen' is? I do, because it is in a language I speak fluently, but most people worldwide would have to look it up. The ISO format is completely clear, no matter what your language skills are.

    And I have to disagree on the matter of inherently error-prone. Look up earlier in this very thread, what started this whole discussion. The question was posed, "If date of birth is written like 5.11.1989, then what does it mean?" When "5.11." can mean two completely different things, and there is no clear way to determine which of the two things is correct, that is the very definition of error-prone.

    As for your Cabo example, I think you might admit, that was stretching it just a little. A text message to your pal is likely to be full of odd things, with meanings not rigidly defined by a standards committee. LOL, for example. But if your friend is to meet you at the airport, I don't think there would be any misunderstanding if you texted him to meet you at Terminal 2, 2015-06-22 14:35.

    "It is an effective standard for data exchange. It is not the standard outside of data exchange."
    No, it's not, and more's the pity. I can only hope that reason will prevail in time, and I am doing everything I can to convince people to use it, always and everywhere.
  24. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    This is why you got such pushback on your initial impassioned statement. Many people who visit this forum are learning English. It does them a disservice to tell them that the format they will encounter daily in "real life" is wrong. You are welcome to urge people to try it, but not to tell people learning how to write in English that the accepted standards for date formats are wrong.
  25. pdanes New Member

    English - US
    I suppose that I should have made that clearer - not that is is wrong to use it in a job environment, when current practice is to do it that way, but that the formats are an inherently wrong way to represent the information.

    The former is not the case, and a specific employer may very well require such usage. However, I stand by the latter.
  26. AmaryllisBunny

    AmaryllisBunny Senior Member

    Common in AmE: January 1, 2015 [read: January first two-thousand fifteen].
    MLA*: 1 Janaury 2015 [read: the first of January two-thousand fifteen].

    *MLA is the Modern Language Association, which is a prominent style guide for formatting in America. Its counterparts are APA, the American Psychological Association, and the Chicago Manual of Style.
    <Gloss added at poster's request. Cagey, moderator.>
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 24, 2015
  27. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    They are only "wrong" by your definition of "wrong".
    It would be wrong, and unsafe, to use the ISO format in human-readable presentations. The first examples you give demonstrate that point clearly.
    November 5th, 1989 = 1989.11.05
    May 11th, 1989 = = = 1989.05.11

    Until you can untrain humans from their taught-from-birth understanding, those particular examples will be misunderstood either by all AE-speaking readers or all BE-speaking readers.

    The UK NHS standard for date representation - for people to read - allows two forms for this specific date:
    05 November 1989
    These are unambiguous.

    The internal representation is CCYY-MM-DD
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2015
  28. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    The earlier posts in this thread usefully summarize the conventional ways of writing dates in British and American English.

    The issue of whether these conventions are 'wrong' by some external standard is outside the scope of the forum, and is probably incapable of resolution.

    This thread is now closed.

    Thank you everyone, for your contributions.

    Cagey, moderator.
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