As we mentioned in a previous post, dealing with numbers in a foreign language is not as easy as one, two, three. Of course, the tendency when studying Spanish is to focus on the seemingly infinite amount of verb conjugations, thus leaving the numbers for ‘another day’, so to speak. When living abroad, however, knowing how to express basic numerical expressions changes from simply being a page in a language textbook to an everyday necessity; information such as phone numbers, bus numbers, prices, and so forth, are daily occurrences, and as a result, must be basic knowledge for any speaker of a foreign language. This being the case, today we’re going to discuss how to express the date in Spanish.
How to express the date in Spanish
The Ten of December?
As you are well aware of, in English ordinal numbers are used to express the date. For example, the date of this post is the 10th (tenth) of December. For Spanish speakers who are learning English, having to use ordinal numbers so regularly is a nightmare due to the fact that they are difficult to pronounce, and of course, because in Spanish cardinal numbers are used to express the date ninety-nine point nine percent of the time. Thus, as opposed to saying ‘the tenth’, for example, in Spanish they say the ‘ten of December’, that is, el diez de diciembre. Some other examples are:
The 4th of July = el cuatro de julio
The 1st of May = el uno de mayo
The 31st of October = el treinta y uno de octubre
Although cardinal numbers are always used to express the date in Spanish, it is not unusual to see ordinal numbers used for extremely formal situations such as university degrees or commemorative plaques, in this case being spelled out entirely:
“…en este vigesimocuarto día de… ”
In any case, this form is uncommon and apparently not sanctioned by the Real Academia Española.
The tenth of December or the twelfth of October?
As soon as you arrive in Spain, you’ll most likely immediately realize that the date is expressed in a different order than in the US. Making this realization is one thing, but getting to the point where you don’t have to pause and think about what date is actually written is another story. As opposed to writing ‘the 10th of December’ of this year as 12/10/14, in Spain the date would be expressed 10/12/14. Of course this is confusing because an American would read this as the October 12th.
Unfortunately, this change is not easy to get used to, but it is necessary to become accustomed to this difference. If not, you’ll have quite a bit of trouble making plans, filling out official forms, dealing with your work schedule, booking hotels, and with anything else that requires using the date. There are plenty of Americans in Spain whose DOB is backwards on official documents, so be careful.
Typical errors in Spanish
A typical error in Spanish — and not only for non-native speakers — is to use capital letters when writing the months of the year. Contrary to popular belief, or simply due to a hangover from English, it is never correct to capitalize the months in Spanish, not for any reason.
Another linguistic occurrence to be aware of is the use or omission of the definite article when referring to years in Spanish. Officially, the rule is that from the year 1 up until the year 1100, the article is typically used:
Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar “El Cid Campeador” falleció en el 1099.
From the year 1100 to 1999, however, the article is normally omitted:
Colón descubrió América en 1492.
Nonetheless, from 2000 on, the article is again frequently used:
Zapatero empezó su primer mandato como presidente del gobierno en el 2004.
¿Cuál es la fecha?
As we’ve mentioned, being able to say the date, although perhaps not emphasized in the classroom stateside, is an integral part of speaking Spanish while in country. Make sure you’re ready when you have to fill out forms or when someone asks you, “¿Cuál es la fecha de hoy?”.