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What format of date is appropriate for different contexts (business, personal) in written German, nowadays? Is it the same as in English?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Valid date and time formats are defined internationally by the International Organisation of Standardization ISO 8601. In Germany the DIN EN 28601 deducted from ISO 8601 is valid:

YYYY-MM-DD: e.g. 2011-12-13

This is a generally used and valid format for a date. However in Germany this format is used preferably in information technology as there may be confusion from day and month order of older still valid date formats.

DD.MM.YYYY (e.g. 13.12.2011) or
13. Dezember 2011

To avoid confusion when writing a date it is recommended to use the last of the three mentioned valid formats, i.e. always write out the month in words:

  1. Dezember 2011

Or, when placed within a sentence in the following format e.g.:

Die Antwort kam am Freitag, den 12. August 2011.
Diese Frage wurde Freitag, den 12. August beantwortet.
Diese Frage wurde am 12. August beantwortet.

Other formats (see this answer and others) may still be used but they are no longer officially supported and should therefore be avoided.

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For German IT folks and mathematicians it is 2011-12-13 (year-month-day).

It is an official German date format, but it is not generally known. The advantage is that you can sort dates alphanumerical.

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Unless I looked it up, I didn't know that this was an official format (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ISO_8601#Calendar_dates). I used this sometimes myself for numbering things like backup folders. As you already said: Especially non-IT folks will have difficulties with this format. –  0x6d64 Aug 12 '11 at 7:02
1  
@0x6d64: Ah, and here's the German link. It seems that for some years, this was the only official date format. But naturally, "normal" people don't ever use it since it isn't in accordance with the spoken language. –  Hendrik Vogt Aug 12 '11 at 8:16
2  
I'm a mathematician, and I user this format only for file and folder names. I never use it for jotting down dates or for letters, meeting minutes etc. –  Hendrik Vogt Aug 12 '11 at 11:14
    
Yes, on the PC, for filenames and such, I always use this too, and for the same reason: sorting. –  user unknown Aug 12 '11 at 12:11
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I use this almost everywhere (except in sentences, because it is awkward to read or speak). I never had a complaint or even a remark. –  starblue Aug 12 '11 at 12:34
  • 13.12.2012
  • 3.4.2012
  • 03.04.2012
  • 12.12.12 possible, but can be irritating
  • 3.4.'12

In Germany, we order it day-month-year, always. And we use a dot as delimiter. If I see a 11/12/13 I would assume it an American or British date, meaning 13. Dez. 2011. Or dashes 04-05-06 := not German.

Very common is the leading 0 in days and months - without good reason. Im not sure, but I would bet that you don't find it in the 60ies. That it appeared with bureaucratic computer systems, which punished the user to fill in a zero, and forms ..__ .

Some people became used to it, and adopted the style, where it wasn't appropriate, but now looked modern, for example in written letters.

Todays formulas and software can often deal with dates like 7.7.2007 (but might have troubles with 7.7.7).

I would expect to see more 03.08.2012 than 3.8.2012 dates in todays common usage, but I personally don't like it.

Before the year 2000, the usage of 2 digits for the year was very common, but if you use 07 for 2007 - why not just 7? So 7.7.7 is a valid and unambiguous date, but it looks uncommon for most people.

I guess from 2032, we will find more dates like 7.7.32 again, but the small numbers of the early years in the century are irritating.

Do you remember the summer of '68? Well, the apostrophe vanished since '99 too, and will maybe become more popular 2032.

    1. Mai 2013 or
  • Fr. 29.03.

are other possible forms. In the text flow of an invitation they will be more popular than in the head of a letter.

In the head of letters I would mainly expect the solutions 1, 3 and 4 - mainly in conservative business. However - who want's to demonstrate a polyglott attitude, an international flair, and creativity, might use 32/01/31 or {04:2]-83}De¢ of course.

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3  
I'd always write 3.4.12; I've never seen the version 3.4.'12 with apostrophe. But I fully agree with your discussion of leading zeros. –  Hendrik Vogt Aug 12 '11 at 6:39
    
+1 for your solutions 1-3, for the reasons you mentioned I don't like using only two characters for the year unless it is absolutely clear which year is meant or your have to save space. –  0x6d64 Aug 12 '11 at 6:54
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Date formats with / as a separator should be eradicated. The US format is awful for its inconsistent order, and other formats with / could be confused with it. –  starblue Aug 12 '11 at 12:38

There's a nice Wikipedia page describing the various norms.

Especially in "official" texts (judgements, for example), dates are written using the alphanumerical format (12. August 2011 instead of 12.08.2011). Likewise, i prefer the alphanumerical format when writing a letter (Karlsruhe, den 12. August 2011 instead of Karlsruhe, den 12.08.2011). The numerical format is used when filling out forms, for example. In legal contexts, IMHO either the format DD.MM.YYYY or the alphanumerical version is used.

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