Spoken dates

Although we generally say something like “the fifth of November” or “April the seventeenth” (or similar variants depending on e.g. UK or US, which often prefers “April seventeenth”), it’s not normal to write it out that way in running text.

One of those cases where what’s written isn’t necessarily the same as what’s spoken. After all, who says “dollars four point five-oh” for $4.50?

  • Okay, if you’re quoting someone’s actual words verbatim, it might be reasonable (particularly when the year isn’t given). “When do we leave?” “On the seventeenth.” “When’s Easter this year?” “April the fifth.”
  • usage does vary, but as a general rule you can stick in writing to
    5 November 1982 for EN-UK
    November 5, 1982 for EN-US
    and nobody’s likely to object much
  • similarly, the use of the ordinals 3rd, 11th, 22nd, 31st or whatever is indeed spoken but no longer really needed
  • a useful hint, by the way: because there can be confusion about whether 9-11 means 11 September (US) or 9 November (elsewhere), it’s worth avoiding ambiguous, purely numeric date formats as a matter of principle.

One exception is legalese, where dates are occasionally written out completely and in old-fashioned language: the twelfth day of October in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and forty-seven. But even then, there’s not much point…

Prevalence: medium. Possibly often because people are unsure about the correct US or UK form and try to stick to the spoken version?
Frequency: low. Doesn’t tend to come up too often in the same document – people tend to use short forms and tables when there are lots of dates.
Native: no. Except for the legal usage as described above.

Published by Mike Wilkinson

Twenty years of translating and editing Dutch into English, as well as writing and publishing in English.

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