How Are Dates Written in Different Countries?

Date formatting is something that every translator must pay attention to. It is essential to write them correctly and intelligibly for the intended audience of the translation. To do this, it is necessary to understand how dates are written in the source language, as well the correct way of writing them in the target language. This is a challenge when dates are in an xx-xx-xx format, where the day, month and year are each marked by two digits.

The D-M-Y (day, month, year) format is the most widely used around the world, whether we count the number of countries that use it or number of inhabitants of these countries. It is used throughout South and Central America (except Belize), Mexico, Africa, Oceania, much of Asia and most of Europe. In Spanish, regarding the number format, it is recommended to not use zeros when the day or month is a single digit. Thus, 2/3/2015 is preferable over 02/03/2015. In any way, in such cases where it can be confusing as to which digit is the month and which is the day, it is recommended to write out the month or abbreviate it (2-MAR-2015 or March 2, 2015).

The M-D-Y (month, day, year) is almost exclusive to the United States. It is also the main way of writing dates in Belize and Micronesia, and is an alternative to the D-M-Y format in the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Canada. On the other hand, the Y-M-D (year, month, day) format is used in Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea, Taiwan, Hungary, Lithuania and Iran, and is also used secondarily in some countries in Europe and Asia. The latter format is also approved by ISO 8601 and as such, its use is more internationalized.

At this point, you may have noticed something: the translation of a date does not have much to do with the target language, but rather with the country in which the document in question will be read. The translation of a date into English will be different if the target country is the United States, the United Kingdom, or if a unified intermediate option is sought. In the first case the M-D-Y format is used, in the second, the D-M-Y format, and in the third, it is recommended to go with the ISO standard, i.e., the Y-M-D format, which will avoid any confusion. On the other hand, if we have a date to be translated from English to Spanish but the text is aimed at the Latino population living in the United States, the client in this case will most likely prefer to keep the M-D-Y format, as it is the preferred format in that country.