Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

In general, there is a difference between the common spoken ordering of dates between US and UK usage. So in the UK, we would tend to say:

"the 14th of December, 2005"

while in the US, people would tend to say:

"December 14th, 2005"

The US ordering is possible in spoken usage (usually with "the", so "December the 14th, 2005"), but probably not the most common in spoken usage, and definitely not in written usage. In written UK usage-- at least in a modern written style-- one would tend to write: "14 December 2005".

Now my question: how jarring does it look to a native US speaker to write dates using the UK format, i.e. "14 December 2005"? Visually, I quite like the UK style because it keeps the two numbers separated, but the document I'm writing is for a US audience.

share|improve this question
5  
Seeing "14 December 2005" is perfectly clear to me. What throws off us Americans is when we see the more abbreviated version, 14-12-2005. Of course, that one wouldn't be bad but if the date were December 10th . . . 10-12-2005 could be misunderstood as October 12th. –  Kristina Lopez Jan 21 '13 at 22:51
6  
@KristinaLopez Never use little-endian dates: write that 2005-12-14 or whatnot. ISO says so. –  tchrist Jan 21 '13 at 22:56
2  
"14 December 2005" would strike me as non-standard but perfectly understandable. "14-12-2005" or similar would be quite jarring. Why don't you just write the date in a format that's appropriate to your audience? It seems like the easiest solution is just to use the American format, whatever you determine that to be. To me, "December 14, 2005", or "December the 14th, 2005", or "12-14-2005" would fit the bill. –  Patrick87 Jan 21 '13 at 23:10
2  
@Neil: I don't think it's jarring at all; in fact (I've mentioned this on ELU before), I've never noticed much correlation between how dates are written and how they are spoken. Put another way, I don't necessarily pronounce my dates the same way I write them. –  J.R. Jan 22 '13 at 2:30
3  
@BillFranke: 12/14/2005 - the smallest unit - day (14) - appears in the middle. That's called middle-endian. And you certainly can express outrage when you're given 12 11 08 as an example date in a sample of a form you're expected to fill in, and you're expected to guess the format and the right one is middle-endian. –  SF. Jan 22 '13 at 3:21

3 Answers 3

The full form isn't jarring between the two. It isn't even entirely unheard of for people to use the "other" convention from that most common in their country.

Numerical dates though are another matter. It is completely impossible to know when "2/5/2013" or "02/05/2012" is referring to, without knowledge of which convention is used.

If you really need to use the numerical form, then there are three options:

  1. Use the standard which is 2013-01-23 for today in Britain (BS EN 28601), America (ANSI X3.30), Ireland (IS/EN 28601) and indeed every country in the world except Norway and North Korea. And I think Norway may have adopted it recently. Downside: While it's a standard, that only really applies to technical contexts, and many people aren't familiar with it. Upside: Unambiguous, and those who aren't familiar with it can still understand it.
  2. Use the convention (23/01/2013 or 23/1/2013 for Britain, 01/23/2013 or 1/23/2013 for the US) and indicate somewhere that the convention is used. Upside: What people are used to, if the reader is of the target demographic. Downside: That indication will be redundant for most, and might be missed by the rest.
  3. Re-think your assumption that you really need the numerical form.
share|improve this answer

Depends what you mean by document. I'm from Minnesota, and in a work of non-fiction seeing “14 December 2005” would lead to me assume the author is British, similar to seeing a British spelling like “colour.” In a work of fiction, it would lead me to think the character or narrator is British.

But there is considerable variation in how dates are written in the US. US passports list expiration dates in the form “14 Dec 2005” (I assume to match the rest of the world) and receipts are all over the place. For example I've seen “Dec 14'05” on a McDonalds receipt. About the only thing you can't do in the US is write “2/1” intending it to mean the second of January.

So is it jarring? Yes, but no more so than a mixture of US and UK spelling.

share|improve this answer

It's clear there's scope for confusion when using digits, but that's completely irrelevant to this question about spelled-out dates. Here's a compilation of five comments from Americans.

Kristina Lopez, Illinois:

Seeing "14 December 2005" is perfectly clear to me.

J.R., United States:

I don't think it's jarring at all; in fact (I've mentioned this on ELU before), I've never noticed much correlation between how dates are written and how they are spoken. Put another way, I don't necessarily pronounce my dates the same way I write them.

Mitch, United States:

To the title question, yes, the date/month name/year written form is jarring to most Americans. Understandable and unambiguous but out of the ordinary. Jarring is just the right word to explain the feeling on seeing it.

Bill Franke:

I prefer "14 December 2005" to "December 14th, 2005" and "December 14, 2005".

Patrick87:

"14 December 2005" would strike me as non-standard but perfectly understandable.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.