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Date and time notation in Europe

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Title: Date and time notation in Europe  
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Date and time notation in Europe

The European Committee for Standardization (CEN) and European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CENELEC) adopted ISO 8601 with EN 28601, now EN ISO 8601. As a European Norm, CEN and CENELEC member states are obligated to adopt the standard as national standard without alterations as well.

Except for Austria, Germany and Switzerland, see the navigation box on the bottom to find individual articles per country.

Post-Soviet states


In the Post-Soviet states DD.MM.YYYY format is used with dot as a separator.


24-hour time notation is used officially and for purposes that require precision like announcements in the media. In colloquial speech, a 12-hour clock is used.

Austria, Germany, Switzerland


The traditional all-numeric form of writing Gregorian dates in German is the little-endian day.month.year order, using a dot on the line (period or full stop) as the separator (e.g., “31.12.1991” or “15.4.74”). Years could be written with two or four digits; the century was sometimes seen being replaced by an apostrophe: “31.12.’91”; however, two-digit years are generally deprecated after the Millennium. Numbers may be written with or without leading zero in Austria or Switzerland, where they are commonly only discarded in days when literal months are being used (e.g., “09.11.”, but “9. November”). German grammar rules do not allow for leading zeros in dates at all, and there should always be a space after a dot. However, leading zeros were allowed according to machine writing standards if they helped aligning dates. The use of a dot as a separator matches the convention of pronouncing the day and the month as an ordinal number, because ordinal numbers are written in German followed by a dot.

Besides that, in Austria also the big-endian year-month-day order, that is also common in its neighboring countries Hungary and Slovenia, has been traditionally used. In 1995, also in Germany, the traditional notation was replaced in the DIN 5008 standard, which defines common typographic conventions, with the ISO 8601 notation (e.g., “1991-12-31”), and becoming the prescribed date format in Germany since 1996-05-01. The latter is beginning to become more popular, especially in IT-related work and international projects. Since portions of the population continued to use the old format, the traditional format was re-introduced as alternative to the standard yyyy-mm-dd format to DIN 5008 in 2001 and DIN ISO 8601 in September 2006 but its usage is restricted to contexts where misinterpretation cannot occur. The expanded form of the date (e.g., “31. Dezember 1991”) continues to use the little-endian order and the ordinal-number dot for the day of the month.

Week numbers according to ISO 8601 and the convention of starting the week on Monday were introduced in the mid 1970s (DIN 1355). These conventions have been widely adhered to by German calendar publishers since then. Week numbers are prominently printed in calendars and are widely used in the business world. It is common to hear people say “I’m still free in week 36” or to have a company write “We expect delivery in week 49”. Especially in business communication, written or spoken, it is common to use week numbers with the abbreviation of Kalenderwoche (literally: calendar week), so the last example would be in German "Wir erwarten die Lieferung in der 49. KW" or just a little shorter "Wir erwarten die Lieferung in KW 49".

Television broadcast weeks continue to start on Saturdays, two days before the DIN 1355 week.

Weekday names are commonly (and according to DIN 1355) abbreviated with two letters (Mo, Di, Mi, Do, Fr, Sa, So), whereas month names are abbreviated (if at all) with three letters (Jan, Feb, Mrz, Apr, Mai, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Okt, Nov, Dez).


In written German, time is expressed practically exclusively in the 24-hour notation (00:00–23:59), using either a colon or a dot on the line as the separators between hours, minutes and seconds. Example: 14:51 or 14.51. The standard separator in Germany was the dot (DIN 1355, DIN 5008) until 1995, when the standards changed it to be the colon, in the interest of compatibility with ISO 8601. The traditional representation with dot allows to drop the leading zero of hours and is usually followed by the literal string “Uhr” (e.g., “6.30 Uhr”). Just as with the date format, leading zeros seem to be less common in Germany than in Austria and Switzerland although the Austrian Standard ÖNORM also recommends the zero only for table-form dates like "Abfahrt: 08:30 Uhr" and not for running text.[1]

In spoken language, the 24-hour clock has become the dominant form during the second half of the 20th century, especially for formal announcements and exact points in time. Systematic use of the 24-hour clock by German TV announcers, along with the proliferation of digital clocks, may have been a significant factor in this development. In Switzerland, only the 12-hour clock is used in speech.

A variant of the 12-hour clock is also used, in particular in informal speech for approximate times. On some radio stations, announcers regularly give the current time on both forms, as in "Es ist jetzt vierzehn Uhr einundfünfzig; neun Minuten vor drei" ("It is now fourteen fifty-one; nine minutes to three").

There are two variants of the 12-hour clock used in spoken German regarding quarterly fractions of the current hour. One always relates to the next full hour, in other words, it names the fraction of the currently passing hour. For example, "dreiviertel drei" (three-quarter three, see table below) stands for "three quarters of the third hour have passed".

The other variant is relative; this one is also used for multiples of five minutes.

Time Absolute Relative
14:00 “zwei Uhr/zwei/um zwei” (two o’clock)
14:05 “fünf nach zwei” (five past two)
14:10 “zehn nach zwei” (ten past two)
14:15 “viertel drei” (quarter three) “viertel nach zwei” (quarter past two)
14:20 “zwanzig nach zwei” (twenty past two) / “zehn vor halb drei” (ten to half three)
14:25 “fünf vor halb drei” (five to half three)
14:30 “halb drei” (half three)
14:35 “fünf nach halb drei” (five past half three)
14:40 “zwanzig vor drei” (twenty to three) / “zehn nach halb drei” (ten past half three)
14:45 "dreiviertel drei" (three-quarter three) “viertel vor/auf drei” (quarter to three)
14:50 “zehn vor drei” (ten to three)
14:55 “fünf vor drei” (five to three)
15:00 "drei Uhr/drei/um drei" (three o’clock)

Note that these phrases are exclusive to the 12-hour clock, just as the "(hour) Uhr (minutes)" format is exclusive to the 24-hour clock.

The controversy between the "absolute" and "relative" ways of giving the time is largely one of regional dialect differences: the "relative" variant (as in "viertel/Viertel vor/auf drei") is the much more common one as it is used in a wide diagonal strip from Hamburg to Switzerland,[2] leaving some of the German south-west and most of eastern Germany as well as the eastern half of Austria with the "absolute" variant (as in "dreiviertel drei" or "drei Viertel drei"). For half-hours, the absolute form as in "halb zwei" is used everywhere. The term controversy may be appropriate insofar as "relativists" often complain about not being able to decode the "absolute" way of telling the time, resulting in missed appointments etc. The same way of giving the time is used also in Slovenia (of course using slovenian language) perhaps as the remnant of the old Austro-Hungarian times.

See also


  1. ^ p.2
  2. ^ Internetumfrage nach IP-Ortung
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