What is the correct date format in English? How you do this usually depends on whether you write a formal letter or an informal note; or whether your use the British or American date format. As you can see from the examples below, there are a number of ways in which you can write the same date. A general rule: the more complicated the style of date, the more formal it is.
In British English, which is mainly used in Australia, the day is followed by the month, which is then followed by the year. The 6th day of the month September, in the year 2019, might be written in full (in order of complexity):
- 6 Sept
- 6 September
- 6 September 2019
- 6th September 2019
- the 6th of September 2019
- the 6th of September, 2019
The last two date formats are more formal. The “the” and “of” are optional but if you do use them, you must add both “the” and “of.” It is incorrect to say only “6th of September” or “the 6th September.”
As for the year, commas are not necessary when you write the date in British English, but you can if you prefer this style.
If you wish to add the name of the day, it should come before the date, and should either be separated by a comma or joined by “the” and “of.”
- Saturday, 13 April 2019
- Saturday the 13th of April, 2019
If you prefer to abbreviate the date, you can use the following style in British English. Again, the day comes first, then the month, then the year.
- 6/9/19 or 6.9.19 or 6-9-19
- 06/09/2019 or 06.09.2019 or 06-09-2019
- 9Sept2019 or 6-Sept-19
The most commonly used separator in the all-numeric date format is a forward slash (/). However, you can also use a hyphen (-) or a period (.).
When you prefer to write the date in American English, usually the month comes before the day, then followed by the year. If we use the same example as before: The 6th day of the month September, in the year 2019, then the date in American English should be written as:
- Sept 6
- September 6
- September 6, 2019
- Monday, September 6, 2019
Dates written as April the 13th or April 13th are not incorrect, but are less common in American English.
In American English, if you want to write the date in all-numeric, you will need to use the following style. Here, too, the month comes first, then the day, then the year.
- 04/13/19 or 04.13.19 or 04-13-19
- 04/13/2019 or 04.13.2019 or 04-13-2019
- Apr. 13, 2019
The International Standard
In an effort to avoid miscommunication between people using the British date format and those using the American date format, an International Standard was developed. If an Australian writes February 3, 2019 as 03/02/2019, but an American writes the same date as 02/03/2019, who’s right? The international standard recommends writing the date as year, then month, then the day: YYYY-MM-DD. So if both the Australian and American used this, they would both write the date as 2019-02-03.
Writing the date this way avoids confusion by placing the year first. Much of Asia uses this form when writing the date. For example:
January 1, 2018 would be written as 2018 January 1. (Did you notice there’s no comma?).
Using the correct date format for IELTS
Whatever the format, in British English, dates are usually written in the order day – month – year, while in American English they are written month – day – year. For IELTS, you can use both date formats.
For IELTS, it doesn’t matter if you use American English spelling, or British English. Both are acceptable. However, you should pay attention to the tone of your letter: writing an email to a friend is different than writing a formal letter to your employer. The use of your date format should be appropriate to tone of the letter. For example, in a formal letter, you wouldn’t use contractions (you should write cannot instead of can’t, or would not instead of wouldn’t). If the IELTS Writing task tells you to start with “Dear Sir or Madam” (which indicates it’s a formal letter), you should try to use a formal date-style.
- IELTS Writing tip: With the exception of May and June, months can be shortened as follows: Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, Jul, Aug, Sept, Oct, Nov, Dec.
In formal American English or British English, you never want to omit the year (eg. 20 November or November 20). You also want to avoid a purely numerical form for the date (eg. 20/11/2019 or 11/20/2019). For example, if you were to write a formal business letter, you’d write out the entire date, including the full month. In British English, you could write the date as 6th September 2019. In American English, you could use September 6, 2019.
- IELTS Writing tip: Remember, the months are always written in Capital letters.
Dates in informal writing
If your task requires a less formal response (for example a letter to a friend), a shorter date format can be used. This typically uses only numbers separated by full stops or slashes, rather than writing out the month. Shortening the year is also acceptable, such as in the following:
You can also write out the date but shorten the month to save space:
- 8 December 2019 → 8 Dec 2019
- 7 October → 7 Oct
If you’re not sure about your IELTS Writing, get in touch with the professionals and get some coaching to increase your IELTS score.
The first tip for your listening test: Be careful to note word limits. If there is an instruction in the question: “Write no more than two words,” writing more than two words will mean you will receive no marks at all for your answer, even if some of the words are correct.
When you are writing dates as an answer to any question, remember that there are several correct ways to write them (e.g. 24th April, April 24 and 24 April are all correct).
A second tip: When writing the date in the IELTS Listening test you can write dates as numbers such as 19/02 or 02/19 (for 19 February). This eliminates spelling mistakes and complies with questions that only allow 1-word answers.
Saying a date in English is sometimes different from how you would write the date. In spoken English we always use ordinal numbers for dates. Ordinal numbers are numbers that show the order or sequence. Normally a “th” appears at the end of the number. For example, four → fourth (or 4 → 4th) and two → second (or 2 → 2nd).
As you’ve seen before, in written English you may write a normal (cardinal) number without the “th” or “st” etc. after it. Even if it is not written, the ordinal number is still said in spoken English. In American English it is not common to put the -th after the number in written English.
- Speaking test tip: Practise the pronunciation of numbers to be sure that your meaning is clear. For example, many numbers can sound very similar when spoken, so be sure to say them clearly, e.g. ‘Thirty’ and ‘Thirteen’, ‘Forty’ and ‘Fourteen’, ‘Fifty’ and ‘Fifteen’, etc.
Let’s have a look at how you can say the date correctly in your IELTS Speaking test:
- 30 March 1993
American English: ‘March the thirtieth, nineteen ninety-three’ or ‘March thirtieth, nineteen ninety-three’
British English: ‘the thirtieth of March, nineteen ninety-three’
- 1 December 2017
American English: ‘December the first, twenty seventeen’ or ‘December first, two thousand and seventeen’
British English: ‘the first of December, twenty seventeen’
How do you say years in English?
When you are talking about years, this is how you would say the year correctly in English:
- 1100 = ‘eleven hundred’
- 1309 = ‘thirteen hundred and nine’ or ‘thirteen ‘oh’ nine’
- 1678 = ‘sixteen (hundred and) seventy-eight’
- 1910 = ‘nineteen (hundred and) ten’
- 1946 = ‘nineteen (hundred and) forty-six’
- 2000 = ‘two thousand’
- 2007 = ‘two thousand and five’ or ‘twenty ‘oh’ seven’
- 2019 = ‘two thousand and nineteen’ or ‘twenty nineteen’
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