How to Spell out Dates in MLA

The Modern Language Association style is often used in the humanities field, usually when people are writing on language and literature. According to the ninth edition of the MLA Handbook, released in 2021, how you spell out the date can depend on whether it is at the beginning of a sentence or within the text.

In the body of your writing, the MLA 9th edition is clear: do not abbreviate dates and be consistent. Choose either a day-month-year style or a month-day-year style.

5 June 2021

June 5, 2021

In your cited works list, use ​only​ the 5 June 2021 style.

Decades can be written out or numeric

the nineties

the 1990s

Centuries should be spelled out

the nineteenth century

Date of access, for online works

If you suspect the online work will be altered or removed, append a date of access:

Revermann, Susan. "How to Spell out Dates in MLA" penandthepad.com, https://penandthepad.com/spell-out-dates-mla-1282.html. Accessed 6 June 2021.

Date ranges beginning later than 1000 CE

For more modern date ranges, write both years unless they first two digits are the same.

1798-1805

2001-21

To indicate incomplete ranges that are ongoing add a space after the hyphen.

The United States War in Afghanistan (2001- ).

Approximate Date in Source

Say a museum provides an approximate date like early 14th century or circa 1230-1240, the MLA 9th edition handbook would like phrases normally spelled out in prose to override the source. So ​early 14th century​ becomes ​early fourteenth century​.

And if the museum says the date is uncertain, list the date in your citation followed by a question mark: possibly 1570 becomes 1570?

Capitalize months and days

For terms, like June or Monday, the MLA 9th edition would like the names for the months of the year and the name for days of the week to be capitalized.

Publication Date

The version of your cited work is conveyed through the MLA Publication Date element. For unpublished material, like letters, the date of composition or the date of revision or upload or update, like a blog post. The Publication Date element is a container that may include:

  • a year
  • a day and month
  • a time stamp
  • a date range
  • even a season

Dates in text should have a number rather than an ordinal.

April 6 (not April 6th)

Punctuate common forms of dates as follows:

  • April 1967 (no comma)
  • April 6, 1967
  • 1968–1972 (en dash)
  • May–June 1967 (en dash)
  • 1965– (en dash for open-ended date)
  • fiscal year 1958/59 (eliminate century in the second year if it is the same)
  • school year 2004/05 (same as fiscal year)
  • association year 2004/05 (same as fiscal year)
  • 1970s (no apostrophe)
  • the ’70s (apostrophe before year)

Beginning of the Sentence

If you must use a date at the beginning of the sentence, the month should come first, spelled out. When at all possible, rewrite the sentence to place the date within the text.

For example, "September 21 was..." rather than "21 September was..."

In Text

When you are writing a date inside the body of text, you can use one of two formats. The U.S. format is "month day, year." The universal or European format is "day month year." The year should be four digits. No comma is needed if only the month and year are provided. Be consistent throughout your document with whichever format you decide to use; do not switch between the two.

U.S. format: "On February 5, 2000, the…"

Universal or European format: "It went into effect on 5 February 2000."

Dates in References

The dates you use in the references section are spelled out a bit differently than in-text dates. Abbreviate the month to three letters, except May, June and July, which you would spell out, and September, which you shorten to Sept. Just like in-text dates, you should use a four-digit year. For example "Sept. 2012" or "21 Jan. 1998."