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European Date Format

European Date Format

European Date Format

The European date format is something that creates a lot of confusion with visitors from the US. Being essentially ‘backwards’ by American standards, European date format can cause mix ups and problems with everything from arranging meeting times to running software.

Most Americans will be used to the date format that puts the month before the day. As such the third of December would be written as ‘12/03/2010’. In the European date format however the month and day are the other way around, e.g. ‘03/12/2010’. This then causes difficulty for those arranging to meet on that day, as an American visiting from overseas might write it in their diary under the 12th March and thus be very early for their appointment. Meanwhile this can cause certain software to crash if it is reliant on reading the date to perform. Developers should prevent this problem by allowing the user to select either European date format or US. Famously, though the Terrorist attacks are referred to world-wide as ‘9/11’, in the European date format used by most territories this would actually denote the ninth of November, which interestingly is the date that the Berlin Wall came down.

European date format can only cause this misunderstanding when the date is before the 13th of that month. The reason for this is that there are only 12 months, thus if one of the numbers is above 13 you can deduce whether the writer is using US or European date format. For example ‘03/20/2010’ has to be written using US date format as there is no 20th month.

While this European date format is unusual for visitors, it is actually the US date format which is different with the majority of the countries in the world using European date format over the American counterpart. The only countries that do not share the European date format in fact are the US, Philippines, Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, Canada and Belize.

Interestingly the European date format is not used by the European Union itself, and for international affairs many countries opt instead to use ‘ISO 8601’ standard date format. Here the organisation is closer to the US dating but with the year placed at the start, for example ‘2010/12/20’. This provides a standard that allows important dates to be discussed and means that numerical sorting of dates allows them to be ordered chronologically and applied to various algorithms and automated systems unlike European date format.

34 Comments so far

  1. mihai   July 6, 2010 3:50 am

    yep, the european date format is a little confusing for the americans. in my opinion, it should be standardized, so that we all know the same format. and the european date format seems more logical than the american one. are there any other date formats?

  2. Valerie   July 6, 2010 7:23 am

    The European date format is way much easier to understand. It is better divided: day/month/year. This is logical for everyone. I don’t know why the american date format is different from the european date format and how they managed to choose it.

    Mihai, it would be better to have an unique date format, but everyone can choose whatever he likes (on phones, clocks etc)

  3. Johnee   July 8, 2010 3:21 pm

    Hehe, I got tricked a couple of times because of this. I always set my date format to be the european date format. However, a friend of mine made me a prank and switched it from the american format. That’s how I missed my best date ever. Thanks to the european date format. Damn.

  4. Miller   July 8, 2010 3:28 pm

    What’s the format in Canada? You say it’s different from the european date format. Is it the same with the american format? Does anyone know? Thank you.

  5. Malcolm   July 28, 2010 12:10 am

    What other date formats are there? Well, there is year/month/day, which is used in Asia, and is just as logical as day/month/year. Moreover, it is less likely to lead to any confusion if one uses 4 digits for the year, and thus is the preferred standard for programming.

    As for why Americans use month/day/year, this arose because Americans say March 12th, not 12th March (although 12th of March is also used, but it sounds a little archaic).

  6. Ralph   January 22, 2011 8:34 am

    I can see why this would cause much confusion. We just need to remember that the European date format is not the same as ours. I have trouble remembering this unless the date is the 28th of May. Obviously there is no 28th month so when it is written 28/5/11, I know that it means the 28th day.

  7. August   February 6, 2011 9:32 am

    I agree with Ralph. It is easy to figure out if the month is higher than 12. But when it is 1/2/11, I can see how one may get confused and then think it says the 2nd of January. It does make sense though how Malcolm describes it above.

  8. Erik Rifkin   February 26, 2011 4:23 pm

    Specifically — Why is the European and American date order different?

  9. ciuciu   March 5, 2011 3:14 pm

    For me, European date format is sometimes confusing.
    I live in Romania and here the European date format is different from other countries. First is the day, then month and year. In England and other countries first is the month, then the day. It can be very confusing. Especially when we are in a day, smaller than 12, so that it can be confused with the month.

  10. pitiqu   March 6, 2011 6:38 am

    Why are so many differences between countries?
    European date format, currencies and all that are different to one country for another. This can create difficulties for some people. And for me it is very confusing.
    European date format, in my opinion, should be the same in all countries.

  11. Miagy   April 3, 2011 3:46 am

    European date format is, indeed, something that creates a lot of confusions. I manage very well with different styles of European format. Even so, I was tricked twice when I was asked about what date is today.
    In my country first is day then month. This can be very tricky when I’m in a country where first is month then the day.

  12. Leonardo   April 9, 2011 3:05 am

    I see everybody is upset regarding European date format from different countries. I agree with them, because this difference between styles of European date format can be misleading. It never happened to me saying the wrong date, but you never know when this could happen.
    All you have to do is to be careful and to think twice before you say the date. This way you cannot be wrong. :D

  13. George   April 10, 2011 12:35 pm

    To me,differences between European date format styles are not a problem. If you are careful enough you cannot be wrong.
    How can you be wrong? You must think about what month is and then when you see the number of the month you know what European date format is that. It is not so hard. Think before you act!

  14. Foxy   April 20, 2011 8:19 am

    What is wrong with you people? How can different styles of European date format put you in difficulty? Are you guys so stupid that you cannot say what day is today? The comments on this post about European date format are really stupid. However, the article it’s interesting.

  15. Cioco   May 8, 2011 12:43 pm

    I know that European date format is a little different from a country to another. It can be very tricky for some people. For me it’s not so difficult. I don’t have any problems with European date format. If you are careful enough you cannot be wrong.

  16. Jim   July 10, 2011 8:11 am

    I use a computer format YYYY MM DD. That way my file names are always in order.

    Foxy: obviously we are talking about dates other than today. Such as expiration dates for food or medicine. Can you tell me when 9/12/10 is?

    Sept12,2010 Sept10,2012 Dec9,2010 Dec10,2009 Oct12,2009 Oct9,2012 ??

  17. Ian Fraser   August 29, 2011 1:33 pm

    It says in the notes that the Canadian date format is the same as the USA. This is not true, most definitely. I am Canadian, and I can assure everybody that we use the same date format as most of the rest of the planet, i.e. DDMMYYYY

  18. Leo   September 10, 2011 8:53 am

    The European date format is not confusing to me. But then again I grew up with it. If you grow up with it then you are used to it. It would be no different for me to go to America and have to relearn the date format.

  19. Jessie Peters   September 10, 2011 11:43 am

    I had to learn the date format in my German class. At first it was confusing. But after a while it just became second nature. It is easy for me to remember now.

  20. jerrie   November 9, 2011 6:03 am

    Because there’s a lot of confusion, some time ago (since 1988) the internationally accepted ISO 8601 format was invented. It is an ISO standard AND it is sortable since it (like in all numbers) puts the most significant part first and the least significant part last. Refer to and let’s all forget about all other formats. Trying to support and parse different formats in software is a very costly problem in ICT and therefore shoud be solved by using this ISO standard.

  21. Peter   February 6, 2012 7:46 pm

    First of all there is no such thing as European date format. In my country for ex. it is YYYY:MM:DD so descending order. In many countries it is the opposite DD:MM:YYYY which also makes sense since it is an order unlike the US format.

    An advice: if you have problems in Europe try using the name of the month instead of numbers. Ex: 05.Aug.2011. It will work in most countries, and you can avoid the confusion.

  22. Jamie   April 3, 2012 10:26 pm

    In Canada we have been tenderly blessed with both formats. We are officially European format, but there is so much bleed-over from the US that I never know what format I’m looking at. It’s an infuriating situation.

  23. John   April 10, 2012 3:19 pm

    The ISO standard uses hyphens, not slashes, to separate yyyy-mm-dd. This natural order (not the European one) is used in China and Japan.

  24. DoubleA   June 6, 2012 12:45 am

    I am originally from Nepal and completed my K-12 education in India. In both these countries we use the European date format. Now I’ve been living in the US for 6 years and i still find it very confusing to write the date in the American way. In order to avoid any confusion i just write the date in words like June 5th ’12.

  25. Dave   July 30, 2012 12:17 am

    Just write in the first few letters of the month ie instead of 07 – Jul; instead of 06 – Jun; or 11 use Nov – this way no confusion month can be European or American – no hassle.
    Excel spreadsheets accept month name as do Open office and Lotus 123.
    Microsoft can change their software so that month 04 now becomes Apr – not a big deal to programmer.

  26. Mrs. Lisa   July 31, 2012 3:42 pm

    I type 7-31-12 or 9-11-01. Ok, bye

  27. SGA   January 9, 2013 5:09 am

    I have been confused, and seen others being confused by date formats
    in genealogical information.
    For this reason I now always use three letters for the month.
    i.e. Jan, Feb, Mar…. and use the format dd MMM yyyy
    Americans often create incorrect family trees using European data.
    In addition there was a time when the New Year started on the 28th of March. and the church records become ambiguous, and must be closely inspected, and will remain ambiguous unless you enter the date as 14 Mar 1696/1697, for example.

    finally to top it all, in Sweden, they had 30 days in Febuary in 1712, to adjust their calender

  28. Neil   April 26, 2013 1:42 pm

    Your article on “European Date Format” lists Canada as one of the very few countries that does not use said format. It may be worth noting, though, that Canada does not use the U.S. system either, inasmuch as Canada reverses the position of the month and day, so that what would be written as 09/11/2001 (for September 11, 2001) in U.S.A. would be written in Canada as 11/09/2001. Anglophone Canadians may say “September 11th,” rather than “11 September” or “11th September,” but they abbreviate that date when writing it following another logic, in a form moving from the smallest unit of time to the largest, i.e., day/month/year. This may be confirmed by examining any Canadian customs form whenever one might happen to visit that country.

  29. Jen Thomas   June 10, 2013 6:22 am

    I worked for a few years in a company that worked with Asian, European, and US companies simultaneously, so the dates were a big issue (not to mention time zones!).

    To make sure there was no confusion, we used the year and day number, so January 1 is day 1 and December 31 is day 365.

    Unfortunately, Outlook only displays week numbers but you can get add-ins for that.

    To this day, I still have the habit to write ‘US’ after the date if I put it in U.S. syntax — that’s another way to avoid confusion!

  30. Laci   August 4, 2013 7:34 am

    Digital clock with 24-hour time format. hours minutes seconds. Mathematically, this is logical. As of writing numbers. It always starts with the most value. Date Format is logically 2013:08:04 = 2013.aug.04. This Hungarian date format.

  31. sal Ahmed   December 14, 2013 5:01 am

    Please explain to me the expiry date on bottom of Rexona – unilever deodorant that looks like: 21903 LD 23:08
    Thank You,,

  32. culturalinfidel   January 10, 2014 5:38 am

    Wow! Why so much hate for the US? Perhaps they should not provide so much economic aid to other countries if their chronological format is so detrimental to the planet…

  33. Marijan   January 11, 2014 7:19 am

    Hi, culturalinfidel. Maybe you should stop thinking that everyone writes the same as you do or try to force others to use the same. Then it wouldn’t be such an issue. Or trying to think that your ‘economic aid’ is actually an aid and not the way how to expand your own business while not paying a fraction for the employees and other costs (compared to US costs) to bring up the margin and get hefty bonuses.
    The discussion here is around how the date is being understood and written by most of the world and how it creates the issues with software which generally accepts US format quite well but not the European format that so well. Nobody asked for cultural differences but asked for much more consideration while writing software to take different formats into consideration.

  34. papi   March 26, 2014 8:07 am

    Exactly. Maybe YOU should stop thinking everyone should write the same as you. In English you say “March 13th, 2014.” That’s WHY you WRITE it 3/13/2014. Who the heck would write it backwards from the way it’s spoken. Stupid.

    You use everything else from the good old U.S. like Music, Movies, Language, Iphones, Internet, Computers, on and on… why not use our date format too? Come on, try it!

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