The Modern Language Association recommends specific MLA date formats when using the MLA writing style. Learn how to correctly reproduce dates, no matter the citation source, with the guide below.
Definition: MLA Date Formatting
The MLA style was formalized in 1951 as a way of codifying citation and formatting academic writing. The style guide is widely adopted across the English-speaking world, mostly in humanities subjects and English language/literary studies in particular.1 The latest 9th edition of the MLA Handbook is the most up-to-date guide.
As with many other aspects of academic writing, the MLA style has guidelines on how to represent dates throughout your paper and citations. In the Works Cited section of your paper, you should follow a day-month-year order when reproducing dates. Sometimes you won’t need to reproduce detailed date information where only a year is listed. As a good rule of thumb, if a source lists a complete date, include it. Learn the details of MLA date formatting below.
MLA Date Formatting: The Main Text
An MLA date is treated differently in the main body than in reference sections. In your main text, header, and title page are written as completely as you can with no abbreviations. Do not repeat months as “on 17 Aug 2022”. Instead, use the full “on 17 August 2022”.
It is not necessary to follow the traditional day-month-year MLA date formatting order used in the citation when repeating dates within the main text. Month Day, Year, or Day Month Year are both valid.
While it is free to choose a method, consistency is key. Do not mix and match MLA date formatting within the main text. The same goes for numerals or spelled-out dates. While days and years should always appear as numerals, periods or decades can be spelled out.
MLA Date Formatting: Months
While dates of any kind in the main text should not be abbreviated, the Works Cited page requires an abbreviation of all months over 4 characters long. Abbreviate these months to three characters in length followed by a period.
MLA Date Formatting: How Detailed for the Works Cited?
The year of publication in a Works Cited entry should always be included where possible. However, some resources provide extra details that should also be reproduced. Journals are published within a month or quarterly season while newspapers require daily publishing information.
Try to provide all the details available for any given source. For specific references like radio broadcasts on a particular date, the date is an important marker of the resource’s content and should therefore be printed in full. When information just isn’t available, omit the date or use an approximated archival listing.2
Here are some examples of how dates should appear in a Works Cited section per resource.
|Book||Year||Carruthers, Gerard. Scottish Literature. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009.|
|Journal article||Month and year||Duggan, Timothy J. “Creating School Work That Students Value.” The English Journal, vol. 108, no. 2, Nov. 2018, pp. 31–38.|
|Online news article||Day, month and year||Bruntlett, Melissa, and Chris Bruntlett. “Way to Go: Why Germany’s €9 Travel Pass Is a Big Step in the Right Direction.” The Guardian, 28 July 2022, www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jul/14/germany-9-euro-travel-pass-cheap-fares.|
|Comment on a webpage||Specific time of day||SAMcG. Comment on “Way to Go: Why Germany’s €9 Travel Pass Is a Big Step in the Right Direction.” The Guardian, 14 July 2022, 4:03 p.m., www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jul/14/germany-9-euro-travel-pass-cheap-fares#comment-157595540.|
MLA Date Formatting: Access Date
You should include an access date for online resources if:
- the source has no listed publication date
- the source has been removed
- the source is continually updated
To format the date in your Works Cited page, add “Accessed” followed by the day-month-year of viewing:3
MLA Date Formatting: A Period of Time
Some sources take place over some time and should be cited as a range of dates. Examples include a broadcast series or books/texts published as volumes. Include an en dash without a space (–) between the date range.
You shouldn’t repeat elements that are the same for both dates. For instance, you don’t need to repeat the last two digits in a year range if the first two are the same. Likewise, do not repeat a month if the date range takes place within one month. When it comes to ongoing date ranges, leave an unfilled gap after the en dash.
All the following are correct:
- 12 Nov. 2021–12 Jan. 2022.
- 10–20 Dec. 2022.
- 12 Feb. –18 July 2022.
- 2000– .
MLA Date Formatting: Uncertain or Approximate Dates
Some sources are either undated or approximated. This is usually the case with archival material, ephemera, or museum artifacts.
Uncertain dates will be listed with a question mark or “probably XXXX”. To use these sources, place a question mark after the year in that source’s Works Cited entry.
Approximate dates are those placed within a particular era. You’ll often see this listed as “c.” or “circa”, Latin for “about”. For these sources, precede the MLA date range with “Circa” spelled out:
Oftentimes, historical objects are approximated to a century or period. Here, you don’t need to provide “Circa” but instead must write the century. Do not use numerals.
MLA Date Formatting: Referencing Classic Works
For classic works seen in facsimile form or reprinted in many editions, you must always include the date of the edition you’ve consulted. However, for context, you may want to list the original date. Here, place the original date after the author’s name in the Works Cited entry. Add the date of the edition you consulted at the end with the publishing information.
Yes. Any month over four characters long must be abbreviated in the Works Cited entry. Do not abbreviate months within the main text.
For undated online sources, provide an access date as “Accessed Day Month Year.”
Try to provide as much given date information as possible following the formatting conventions.
1 Modern Language Association. “MLA Style.” Accessed January 14, 2023. https://www.mla.org/MLA-Style.
2 CSUDH. “Citations for Archival Materials.” Accessed January 14, 2023. https://libguides.csudh.edu/archives-citation/mla.
3 Purdue University. “MLA Works Cited: Electronic Sources.” Accessed January 14, 2023. https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/mla_style/mla_formatting_and_style_guide/mla_works_cited_electronic_sources.html.