Writing Dates in Spanish

Writing Conventions Differ From Those of English

calendar for Spanish lesson on dates
Algunos meses tienen 30 días. (Some months have 30 days.). Daphne Cholet/Creative Commons

There is a variety of subtle differences between writing common things in English and in Spanish. Such is the case with writing dates in the two languages: where in English one might say February 5, 2017, a Spanish writer would express the date as 5 de febrero de 2017.

Note that in Spanish the name of the month isn't capitalized. You can also spell out the number — as in "cinco de enero de 2012" — but this is less common than using a numeral in the example above.

However, in parts of Latin America, especially in areas with U.S. influence, you may also see the form "abril 15 de 2018" in occasional use, and rarely you may see a period used in the year such as "2.006."

Another important distinction between English and Spanish is that in Spanish you should not imitate English by using forms such as "tercero de marzo" as a direct translation of "third of March." The one exception is that you may say "primero" for "first," so "January 1st" can be said as "primero de enero."

In numeral form, that's 1o, or a "1" followed by superscripted "o," not a degree sign. Less commonly, the form "1ero" is used.

Sample Sentences Showing Use of Dates in Spanish

El 16 de Septiembre de 1810 era el día de independencia de México. (Sept. 16, 1810, was Mexico's independence day.)

El 1 de enero es el primer día del año en el calendario gregoriano. (Jan. 1 is the first month of the year of the Gregorian calendar.)

El proceso de recuento parcial comenzó el 3 de mayo y todavía continúa. (The partial recount process began on May 3 and still continues.)

Desde el año de 1974, el primero de julio celebramos el Día del Ingeniero en México. (Since the year 1974, we celebrate the Day of the Engineer on July 1st.)

Use of Roman Numerals

In abbreviated form, Spanish typically follows a day-month-year pattern using a capitalized Roman numeral for the month.

The units may be separated by spaces, slashes or hyphens. Thus the abbreviated form of July 4, 1776, can be written in these ways: 4 VII 1776, 4/VII/1776, and 4-VII-1776. They're the equivalent of 7/4/1776 in American English or 4/7/1776 in British English.

Common forms used for "B.C." are aC and "a. de C. — for antes de Cristo or "before Christ" — with variations in punctuation and sometimes the use of J.C. (Jesucristo) instead of merely using the letter C. In scholarly writing, you may use AEC as the equivalent of the English "BCE," which means antes de la Era Común or "Before the Common Era."

The equivalent of "A.D." is después de Cristo or "after Christ" and can be abbreviated d. de C. or dC with the same variations as noted above. You also may use EC ( Era Común) for "CE" (Common Era).

The abbreviations AEC and EC are even less commonly used in Spanish than their English equivalents are in English, mainly because they aren't universally understood. They normally shouldn't be used unless demanded by the context, such as if writing for publication in an academic journal.

Pronouncing the Years

The years in Spanish are pronounced the same as other cardinal numbers are. Thus, for example, the year 2040 would be pronounced as "dos mil cuarenta." The English custom of pronouncing the centuries separately — in English we typically say "twenty-forty" instead of "two thousand forty" — is not followed.

Saying "veinte cuarenta" instead of "dos mil cuarenta" would strike native Spanish speakers as the mark of an English speaker.

Using Prepositions With Dates

Spanish does not use a preposition as the equivalent of "on" when indicating that something happens on a particular date. The date itself functions as an adverbial phrase, as it does in English when "on" is omitted.

Such examples include "la masacre ocurrió el 14 de marzo" wherein the phrase means "The massacre occurred on March 14, with the Spanish word for "on" ("en") being omitted from the Spanish phrase itself. Similarly in English, one could say "The massacre occurred March 14," and it would still be grammatically correct and mean the event occurred on the date specified. 

During or throughout, on the other hand, can be added into the phrase by including the Spanish word for this, durante.

 Such is the case in the Spanish version of the sentence "Space exploration began during the 20th Century," which can be written as "Durante el siglo XX dio comenzó la exploración espacial."