1. Reading dates
Let’s start with an example date.
You see this:
How can you say it? There are two common possibilities:
- November the fourteenth
- The fourteenth of November
Both are correct, and it doesn’t matter which you use. The most important point is that the words the and of are almost never written.
If you see September 30th written, you need to add the words the and/or of when you read the date:
- September the thirtieth
- The thirtieth of September
You might sometimes hear native speakers read dates without the, especially in American English.
If you aren’t sure, it’s better to use the.
How would you say these five years?
The correct answers are:
- 1900—nineteen hundred
- 1902—nineteen oh two
- 1980—nineteen eighty
- 2001—two thousand and one
- 2010—two thousand and ten/twenty ten
Reading years is complicated, because we need different rules for years before and after 2000.
For years before 2000, use the following rules:
- If the year ends in ’00’, use hundreds not thousands. So say nineteen hundred not
one thousand nine hundred
- If the year ends in ’01’, ’02’, ’03’ etc., pronounce the zero as ‘oh’, and don’t say hundred. So we say nineteen oh one, eighteen oh two, seventeen oh five and so on
- If the year ends in a number bigger than ten, say the year in two parts.
- 1820 –> eighteen twenty
- 1955 –> nineteen fifty-five
- 1999 –> nineteen ninety-nine
For years after 2000, use these rules:
- For the years 2000-2009, use the full number: two thousand, two thousand and one, two thousand and two.
- For years 2010-2019, you can say the full number or say the year in two parts: two thousand and ten or twenty-ten, two thousand and eleven or twenty-eleven.
- For 2020 and after, you can still choose to say the year in two parts or say the full number, but saying the year in two parts is more common: twenty-twenty, twenty-thirty three, etc.
3. Short forms of dates
We often shorten years from the recent past by just reading the last two numbers of the year.
- 1981 = ‘eighty-one’ –> My brother was born in eighty-one.
- 2001 = ‘oh-one’ –> I graduated in oh-one.
- 1999 = ‘ninety-nine’ –> She started working here in ninety-nine.
We also sometimes shorten months by using the number of the month, instead of the name.
So if your birthday is June 20th, 1989, you could read it as twentieth of the sixth, eighty-nine.
This is very common when giving information on the phone.
The key points from the lesson:
- You sometimes need to add the words the and of when you read a date.
- When reading years, you need to use different rules for years before and after 2000.
- Years from the recent past are often shortened to just two numbers.
- Months can also be shortened to a number in certain situations.
We hope you enjoyed this Oxford Online English lesson on reading dates in English!