writing - How to write date range succinctly and unambiguously in American written English?

  • Problemania

    How to write date range succinctly and unambiguously in American written English?

    In a sentence I usually use "from January 1, 1923 through December 31, 1986". But it is too long for use in section titles.

    It is relatively easy to find documentation on single date formatting compliant to standards and conventions for different locales. But I can't seem to find standards on date ranges formatting.

    For example, for American English, how to format a date range so it's both succinct and unambiguous?

    If the ends have different years, both should show up, e.g. 5/1/2011 - 5/4/2012.

    What if the two years are same? I don't like 5/12/2012 - 7/21/2012 as it repeats the year unnecessarily; 5/12 - 7/21/2012 seems odd too. Any suggestions?

  • Answers
  • Eduardo

    Many airlines codify the dates in terms of DDMMMYY but with explicit reference to the month name instead of the month number. For example, your example could be represented as 01JAN23-31DEC86. Depending on the space and the context you could give yourself a some rope and expand the items a little bit. Given the particular nature that in this case both dates belong to another century, you could be a little more specific: 01JAN1923-31DEC1986. If you can spare some more space, maybe some spaces would be fine to make a clearer reading: 01 JAN 1923 - 31 DEC 1986. Another detail could be turning all those caps in month names to normal capitalization, as in 01 Jan 1923 - 31 Dec 1986. You could even drop the leading 0s 1 Jan 1923 - 31 Dec 1986.

    On the other hand, I've found this guide on date ranges. The following is just an extract, as there are more considerations when dealing with ranges with different lengths.

    Dates of birth and death

    At the start of articles on people, their dates of birth and death are provided. For example: "Charles Robert Darwin FRS (12 February 180919 April 1882) was an English naturalist ..." The two dates are separated by an en dash (HTML code: –). When either date contains a space, the en dash is preceded by a space (preferably a non-breaking space, code:  ) and followed by a space. When full dates are provided in the text or in an infobox, year-pairs can be sufficient for the lede in some cases; in such cases no spaces are used, e.g., "(1943–1971)".

    1. For an individual still living: "Serena Williams (born September 26, 1981) ...", not "... (September 26, 1981 –) ..."
    2. When only the years are known: "Socrates (470–399 BC) was..."
    3. When the year of birth is completely unknown, it should be extrapolated from earliest known period of activity: "Offa of Mercia (before 734 – 26 July 796) ..."
    4. When the year of birth is known only approximately: "John Sayer (c. 1750 – 2 October 1818) ..."
    5. When the years of both birth and death are known only approximately: "Dionysius Exiguus (c. 470 – c. 540) ..."
    6. When the date of death is completely unknown, it should be extrapolated from last known period of activity: "Robert Menli Lyon (1789 – after 1863) ..."
    7. When the reign of a sovereign is uncertain: "Rameses III (reigned c. 1180 BCE – c. 1150 BCE) ..."
    8. When the individual is known to have been alive (flourishing) at certain dates, [[floruit|fl.]] or {{fl.}} is used in articles, not disambiguation pages, to link to floruit, in case the meaning is not familiar: "Osmund (fl. 760–772) ..."
    9. When the individual is known to have been alive as early as about 660, and to have died in 685: "Aethelwalh (fl. c. 660 – 685) ..."

    In biographical infobox templates, provide age calculation and microformat compatibility with date mathematics templates. See the documentation for those templates in order to use them properly, and Wikipedia:Manual of Style/Biographies for more guidelines on articles about people.

    Other date ranges

    Dates that are given as ranges should follow the same patterns as given above for birth and death dates.

    Hope it helps.

  • Problemania

    I decided to use

    2 - 3 Feb 2011

    2 Feb - 4 June 2011

    2 Dec 2011 - 4 Jan 2012

  • Related Question

    What is the best format to use when writing out dates?
  • rem

    What format of date is appropriate for different contexts (business, personal) in written English, nowadays?

    • 1st of April, 2010
    • April the 1st, 2010
    • April 1, 2010
    • April 01, 2010
    • another one

  • Related Answers
  • Jonik

    The context that matters most is where you are located geographically (or which variety of English you otherwise wish to employ).

    Paul covered the case of the US: "April 1, 2010". That would surely be understood in the UK too, but to my knowledge "1 April 2010" (NB: no comma) or "1/4/2010" would be more common there.

    Edit: Based on some quick "research" I just did, most commonwealth countries (Australia, New Zealand, South Africa) also seem to prefer "1 April 2010", while in Canada "April 1, 2010" would be more common (probably due to US influence).

    As Paul mentioned, YYYY-MM-DD is pretty good for getting across universally, yet concisely. In my opinion the format often used by airlines – "01 Apr 2010" – is useful too; there isn't much room for misinterpretation there.

  • Paul Lammertsma

    In the United States, it is customary to write "April 1, 2010", regardless of context. This is spoken, however, as "April first, 2010".

    I would discourage using MM/DD/YYYY (e.g. 4/1/2010) format, because this may cause confusion as the rest of the world writes the day before the month. If you really need to write dates in a consise format, I recommend YYYY-MM-DD format.

  • Pavel Radzivilovsky

    There's now an international standard of date format, aka ISO8601 - so if you care about making the world a better and less confusing place, you should only use the standard - YYYY-MM-DD, forever dropping the old local date format ideas.

  • bromfiets

    I always write the month as either "Apr" or "April" and the year like 2010 to avoid any confusions. For example,


    is way too ambiguous.

    1 Apr 2010

    is much clearer. Personally I prefer


    but I realize that this is because I am a geek, i.e. the chances of this format being accepted generally are pretty slim.

  • TRiG

    I'd usually go for 1st April 2010.

    (That's jS F Y.)