Date and time notation in the United Kingdom

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Date and time notation in the United Kingdom[refresh]
Full date4 March 2021
All-numeric date04/03/21
5:08 am

Date and time notation in the United Kingdom records the date using the day–month–year format (4 March 2021, 04/03/21 or 04/03/2021). The ISO 8601 format (2021-03-04) is increasingly used for all-numeric dates. The time can be written using either the 24-hour clock (05:08) or 12-hour clock (5:08 am).


Date Stamp on houses in Harmood Street, London

Date notation in English[edit]

Dates are traditionally and most commonly written in day–month–year (DMY) order:[1][2]

  • 31 December 1999
  • 31/12/99

Formal style manuals discourage writing the day of the month as an ordinal number (for example "31st December"), except with an incomplete reference, such as "They set off on 12 August 1960 and arrived on the 18th".[1][3]

When saying the date, it is usually pronounced using "the", then the ordinal number of the day first, then the preposition "of", then the month (for example "the thirty-first of December"). The month-first form (for example "December the third") was widespread until the mid-twentieth-century and remains the most common format for newspapers across the United Kingdom.[citation needed] The month-first format is still spoken, perhaps more commonly when not including a year in the sentence, but is now less frequently used.

All-numeric dates[edit]

All-numeric dates are used in notes and references, but not running prose. They can be written in several forms:[1]

  • 31/12/99 or 31.12.99
  • 31.xii.99
  • 1999-12-31

The date in the day–month–year (dd/mm/yy) sequence can be written with either an oblique or a point: 2/11/03 or 2.11.03 represents 2 November 2003. The year may also be written in full (2/11/2003).[1] It contrasts with date and time notation in the United States, where the month is placed first, leading to confusion in international communications: in the United States, 2/11/03 is interpreted as 11 February 2003. To remedy this, the month is sometimes written in Roman numerals, a format common in some European countries: 2.xi.03.[1] This format, however, is not machine-readable.

The ISO 8601 format (adopted as British Standard BS ISO 8601:2004)[4] is unambiguous and machine-readable, and increasingly popular in technical, scientific, financial, and computing contexts.[1] The Government Digital Service requires it for all forms of data transmission.[5] Dates in this format are separated with hyphens: 2003-11-02.[6]


Weeks are generally referred to by the date on which they start, with Monday often treated as the first day of the week, for example "the week commencing 5 March".[citation needed] Some more traditional calendars instead treat Sunday as the first day of the week. ISO 8601 week numbers are found in diaries and are used in business.

Date notation in Welsh[edit]

The day–month–year order is also used in modern Welsh:[citation needed]

  • 20 Mai 1999
  • 20fed Mai 1999 or 20fed Mai 1999

The month–day–year order (for example "Mai 20, 1999") was previously more common: it is usual to see a Welsh month–day–year date next to an English day–month–year date on a bilingual plaque from the latter half of the 20th century.

"20 Mai 1999" is read as yr ugeinfed o Fai mil naw naw naw with the usual soft mutation of M to F after O (of). The year 1999 can be read as either mil naw naw naw (thousand nine nine nine) or un naw naw naw (one nine nine nine).


The Shepherd Gate Clock with Roman numbers up to XXIII (23) and 0 for midnight, in Greenwich

Time notation in English[edit]

Both the 24-hour and 12-hour notations are used in the United Kingdom:[7]

  • 16:30 or 16.30
  • 4.30 p.m.

The 24-hour notation is used in timetables and on most digital clocks, but 12-hour notation is still widely used in ordinary life. The 24-hour notation is used more often than in North America – transport timetables use it exclusively, as do most legal documents – but not as commonly as in much of the non-English-speaking world. The BBC has been using 24-hour notation in its online radio and TV guides for many years, though ITV, Channel 4, and Channel 5 still maintain 12-hour notation.[citation needed]

It is rare to use the 24-hour format when speaking; 21:30 is colloquially spoken as "half past nine" or "nine thirty" rather than "twenty-one thirty".[citation needed] The spoken 24-hour format is used in airport and railway station announcements: "We regret to inform that the fifteen hundred [15:00] service from Nottingham is running approximately 10 minutes late"; "The next train arriving at Platform four is the twenty fifteen [20:15] service to London Euston". Like North America but unlike mainland Europe, a leading zero is used for the hour of the 24-hour format, as in 08:30 (read "oh eight thirty").

To separate the hours, minutes and seconds, either a point or a colon can be used. For 12-hour time, the point format (for example "1.45 p.m.") is in common usage and has been recommended by some style guides, including the academic manual published by Oxford University Press under various titles,[7] as well as the internal house style book for the University of Oxford,[8] that of The Guardian[9] and The Times newspapers.[10]

The colon format (as in "1:45 p.m.") is also recognised and is common in digital devices and applications. The more descriptive 2014 revision of New Hart's Rules concedes that the colon format "is often seen in British usage too", and that either style "is acceptable if applied consistently."[7]

The time-of-day abbreviations (which are generally lowercase only) are handled in various conflicting styles, including "a.m." and "p.m." with a space between the time and the abbreviation ("1.45 p.m.");[7] "am" and "pm" with a space ("1.45 pm" – recognised as an alternative usage by Oxford);[7] and the same without a space ("1.45pm" – primarily found in news writing).[9][10][11]

In 24-hour time, a colon is internationally standard (as in "13:45"). Some British news publishers favour "13.45" format instead, such as The Guardian.[9] Some stick with the colon, including the Evening Standard[citation needed] and the BBC.[12] Oxford recognises both styles.[7] The "a.m." and "p.m." abbreviations are not used with 24-hour time in any form.

British colloquialism[edit]

In British English, the expression "half [hour]" is used colloquially to denote 30 minutes past the hour. For example, "half ten" means 10:30 (without specifying morning or night). This is itself an abbreviation of an older colloquialism, "half 'past' ten". The abbreviation can cause misunderstanding with non-British English speakers as this contrasts with many European languages, where the same type of expression denotes 30 minutes before the hour. For example, in Czech, půl desáté ("half ten") means 9:30. Another example, in German, halb zehn ("half ten") means 9:30.

The following table shows times written in some common approaches to 12-hour and 24-hour notation, and how each time is typically spoken:

12-hour 24-hour Spoken
12 am 00:00 midnight
6.05 am 06:05 five past six
six oh five
9.18 am 09:18 eighteen minutes past nine
nine eighteen
11.15 am 11:15 quarter past eleven
eleven fifteen
12 pm 12:00 noon / midday
twelve o'clock
4.30 pm 16:30 half past four / half four
four thirty
5.38 pm 17:38 twenty-two minutes to six
five thirty-eight
10.35 pm 22:35 twenty-five to eleven
ten thirty-five

Time notation in Welsh[edit]

The Welsh language usage of the 12-hour and 24-hour clocks is similar to that of UK English above.[citation needed] However, the 24-hour notation has only a written, not a spoken form. For example, written 9:00 and 21:00 (or 09.00, etc.) are said (naw o'r gloch, literally 'nine of the bell'). Minutes are always either wedi ('after') or i ('to') the hour, for example 21:18 deunaw (munud) wedi naw ('eighteen (minutes) past nine') and 21:42 deunaw (munud) i ddeg ('eighteen (minutes) to ten'). Phrases such as y bore ('(of) the morning'), y prynhawn ('(of) the afternoon') and yr hwyr ('(of) the evening') are used to distinguish times in 12-hour notation, much like Latin a.m. and p.m., which are also in common use, for example 9.00yb (09:00) as opposed to 9.00yh (21:00).


  1. ^ a b c d e f "11.5 Date forms". New Hart's rules: the Oxford style guide. Anne Waddingham (ed.) (2 ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2014. ISBN 978-0-19-957002-7.CS1 maint: others (link)
  2. ^ "dates". Guardian and Observer style guide. Guardian Media Group. 2017. Retrieved 9 July 2017.
  3. ^ "8.1 Dates". MHRA style guide: A handbook for authors and editors. Brian Richardson, Robin Aizlewood, Derek Connon, Malcolm Cook, Gerard Lowe, Graham Nelson, Chloe Paver (eds.) (3 ed.). London: Modern Humanities Research Association. 2013. ISBN 978-1-78188-009-8.CS1 maint: others (link)
  4. ^ "BS ISO 8601:2004 - Data elements and interchange formats. Information interchange. Representation of dates and times". British Standards Institution.
  5. ^ "Date-times and time-stamps". GOV.UK. 31 January 2018. Retrieved 25 July 2018.
  6. ^ Kuhn, Markus (19 December 2004). "International standard date and time notation". University of Cambridge Department of Computer Science and Technology. Retrieved 25 July 2018.
  7. ^ a b c d e f "11.3 Times of day". New Hart's rules: the Oxford style guide. Anne Waddingham (ed.) (2 ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2014. ISBN 978-0-19-957002-7.CS1 maint: others (link)
  8. ^ "University of Oxford style guide". University of Oxford Public Affairs Directorate. 2016. Retrieved 9 July 2017.
  9. ^ a b c "times". Guardian and Observer style guide. Guardian Media Group. 2017. Retrieved 9 July 2017.
  10. ^ a b Brunskill, Ian (2017). The Times Style Guide: A guide to English usage (2 ed.). Glasgow: HarperCollins UK. ISBN 9780008146184. OCLC 991389792. Formerly available online: "times". The Times Online Style Guide. News UK. 2011. Archived from the original on 4 August 2011. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  11. ^ "Time". The Economist Style Guide. Economist Group. 2017. Retrieved 9 July 2017.
  12. ^ BBC Academy. "Time". BBC News Style guide. British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 9 July 2017.

See also[edit]