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Is there a universally accepted format for writing dates? Which comes first, the month or the day? What's the year, anyway? How do you know when to use numerals and when to use words for a date? What's the deal with acronyms When and how should punctuation be used Is today, September 21st, the 21st, or the 21st? Which comes first, personal preference or established norms?

As expected, the answers shift depending on the specifics of the inquiry, but there is some consensus among the researched options.

Words only

The entire date is typically written out in words in the most formal forms of writing, such as contracts, invitations, plaques, and presentation documents. Dates are written without the years and months capitalized.

at the 16th hour of the 16th day of June, 1997
Today is Saturday, December 7th, 2002, which is:

Writing a date in both numerals and letters, with one form enclosed in parentheses, is acceptable only in contracts and other formal legal documents. This "legalese" can be used in the following documents:

starting in 1999 (the year 1999) and ending in 2010 (the year 2010)
Starting in 1999 and ending in 2010, inclusive.

The combination of alphabetic and numeric symbols

Numerous sources advise including the full month name when writing a letter, paper, or report; most also agree that 14 July 2002 or July 14th, 2002 is correct when writing the date. Keep in mind that there is no comma after the day in the day-month-year sequence, but there is after the day if the month comes first, and there is also after the year in a sentence.

No commas should be placed before, after, or in the middle of the parts of the date if it is written in the format day-month-year:

A meeting on January 10, 1996, did little to ease tensions.

However, if the information is presented in the format of month, day, and year, then the day and year are separated by a comma, and the year should normally be followed by a comma within the context of the sentence.

After September 11, 2001, a new era began.
On that fateful Tuesday, September 11, 2001, a new era began.

No comma should be used if only the month and year are given:

In February 2002, the proposal was approved by the Treasury Board.

From Chapter 7 of The Canadian Style (1997) Twenty (revised examples)

Cards as a rank or order

The number 21 in September can be written either as a cardinal or ordinal number, or the whole date can be written out in words, despite the fact that it is spoken as an ordinal number. Dates should not be written as ordinal numbers if the year is also included (for example, September 21st, 2004 or September 21st, 2003). Change to cardinal form by September 21, 2004

Dates as ordinal or cardinal numbers RECOMMENDED NOT Advised Tuesday, September 21
As of the 21st of September

Monday, September 21 In chronological order of the months but excluding the year:
Date: September 21 Thursday, September 23, 2004

Day of the Week: 21 September, 2004

Typical date and year: September 21st, 2004

On this day in 2004 (September 21)

Condensed and abbreviated versions

According to The Canadian Style and other sources, months should always be written out in full and should only be abbreviated in layouts like tables, forms, and references. If it is necessary to do so, the months can be shortened to three letters as follows:

Jan  Feb  Mar  Apr  May Jun  Jul  Aug  Sep  Oct  Nov  Dec

Not that it matters, but there is no period after "May" because it is not an abbreviation.

When space is at a premium, we use the usual month abbreviations. The positions of the months J, A, and M in a calendar or list make the meaning of those single-letter abbreviations clear:

the combined use of a single letter and a double letter where both clarity and space are paramount:

Ja F Mr Ap My Je Jl Au S O N D

Class of 1999; the flood of 2005 (but is that 1905 or 2005?) both use apostrophes to indicate the abbreviated year. ) Note that The Canadian Style recommends the forms without an apostrophe (the 1960s, the 1970s), while other style guides consider the apostrophe optional (the 1940's or the 1990's) when referring to specific decades. The Roaring Twenties, the Dirty Thirties, the Swinging Sixties, and other such eras have earned the right to be referred to by their respective monikers, which are always capitalized. When referring to centuries, it is customary to use lower case:

20th century, or the modern era

century, twenty-first, or twenty-first-century

Century XIX, not XIXth

That would be the twenty-first century, not the twenty-first.

Only numerals

When it comes to lists, forms, and data that will be processed by computer, many people and businesses prefer to use only numerical dates. This not only makes the data more readable across languages, but also makes it possible to perform basic mathematical operations like sorting and calculations without any additional processing. Nonetheless, as any Canadian will tell you, there are a few different ways to represent dates in numerals. Day-month-year is the preferred format in Europe, while month-day-year is the norm in the US. The question is, how do we get out of this sticky situation?

Fortunately, ISO (the International Organization for Standardization) has thought about the issue and published a standard, ISO 8601. Although the standards for verbal dates are not covered, this document covers the date and time formats used in information interchange. Chapter 1 of the Federal Identity Program Manual contains the Canadian government's regulations for using only numerals in dates. 2. which directs the reader to the most recent version of a national or international standard (i.e. e ISO 8601:2000)

Dates and times must be written in descending order of magnitude from left to right in accordance with ISO 8601:2000. Basic date formats include YYYYMMDD, while extended formats include YYYY-MM-DD. When the document's primary audience is a computer and saving space is a top priority, the short (no hyphens) format should be used, while the long (with hyphens) format should be used for general readers.

July 1, 2002  =  20020701  =  2002-07-01


  • Canada's Official Style Guide, 1997, Chapters 4 17, 5 25, 5 14 and 7 20
  • ISO 8601, Revision 2 (2000-12-15) ISO 8601:2000(E) is the relevant reference.
  • A Brief Explanation of ISO 8601, the Worldwide Standard Time and Date Notation, by Markus Kuhn ( (www) (en).
  • Information for the Federal Identity Program, 1990, Pages 26 and 27
  • Sections 345, 409, and 437–439 of the 1999 Gregg Reference Manual, Fifth Canadian Edition

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