Formatting dates in MLA style

In MLA Works Cited entries, publication dates are presented in day-month-year order. If the name of the month has five or more letters, abbreviate it to the first three.

Sometimes you just list the year (e.g. when citing a book), but if the source provides a more specific publication date, you should usually include it (e.g. when citing a journal article or web page). Occasionally you might even list the time of publication in addition to the date (e.g. when citing a timestamped online comment).

  • 2017
  • spring 2017
  • Mar. 2017
  • 5 Mar. 2017
  • 5 Mar. 2017, 1:15 p.m.

Don’t use ordinal numbers (e.g. “5th”) or commas within a date in the Works Cited list. Don’t include a 0 before a single-digit date (e.g. “05”), even if your source does.

Abbreviating months

All months with names five or more letters long are abbreviated in Works Cited entries. Abbreviate to the first three letters, followed by a period.

Bear in mind that months are not abbreviated in the main text or the header, though—only in the Works Cited list.

Month Abbreviation
January Jan.
February Feb.
March Mar.
April Apr.
May May
June June
July July
August Aug.
September Sep.
October Oct.
November Nov.
December Dec.

Levels of detail in MLA dates

An MLA Works Cited entry always contains the year of publication, but some source types specify more precise publication dates. For example, journals generally provide a month or season of publication, while newspapers and online articles usually have a specific date. As a general guideline, include the level of detail your source gives.

The level of detail can sometimes vary based on your reasons for citing the source. For example, for an episode of a TV series you’d usually just give the year, but you might give the day and month too if you’re discussing the context in which the episode aired.

The table below indicates the level of detail usually given for each source type. If less detail is available for your source than shown here, just include as much detail as you do have (e.g. just the year for a web page that only lists the year).

Level of detail Source types Example
Year
  • Book
  • Book chapter
  • Movie
  • Song/album
  • TV episode
Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. 2nd ed., Routledge, 1999.
Month & year
  • Journal article
Eve, Martin Paul, and Joe Street. “The Silicon Valley Novel.” Literature and History, vol. 27, no. 1, May 2018, pp. 81–97, https://doi.org/10.1177/0306197318755680.
Season & year
  • Journal article (if that’s what is shown in the journal)
Britton, Jeanne M. “Novelistic Sympathy in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.” Studies in Romanticism, vol. 48, no. 1, spring 2009, pp. 3–22, www.jstor.org/stable/25602177.
Day, month & year
  • Web page
  • YouTube video
  • Newspaper article
  • Magazine article
  • Lecture/performance
  • Podcast
Smith, Helena. “The Women Who Brought Down Greece’s Golden Dawn.” The Guardian, 22 Oct. 2020, www.theguardian.com/­world/­2020/­oct/­22/­the-­women-­who-­brought-­down-­greeces-­golden-­dawn.
Specific time of day
  • Comment on a web page/video/article
  • Forum post
Caulfield, Jack. Comment on “How to Cite a Book in MLA.” Scribbr, 22 Apr. 2021, 5:22 p.m., www.scribbr.com/mla/book-citation/.

What can proofreading do for your paper?

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See editing example

When to include an access date

For online sources, MLA advises including an access date for

  • A source with no publication date listed
  • A source that’s continually updated
  • A source that may have been deleted since you used it

At the end of the Works Cited entry, write “Accessed” followed by the day, month, and year on which you accessed the source:

Online source with access date
“A Complete Guide to MLA Style.” Scribbr, www.scribbr.com/category/mla/. Accessed 28 Mar. 2021.

But only use access dates with online sources. No access date should be added for, e.g., a printed book without a publication date.

Date ranges

When citing the entirety of a source published over a longer period of time (e.g. a TV series, a book published in several volumes, an event that took place over several days), you’ll have to cite a range of dates rather than just a single date.

Use an en dash (–) with no spaces to specify a range of dates.

Don’t repeat elements that are the same in both dates. For example, if citing a range of dates within one month, don’t repeat the month. In a range consisting only of years, you can omit the first two numbers from the second year if they’re the same as those of the first year.

  • 2009–15.
  • 15 Dec. 2019–22 Jan. 2020.
  • 19–21 Mar. 2021.
  • 27 Apr.–4 May 2018.

If citing a publication that is still ongoing, leave a space after the en dash to indicate this.

Incomplete date range
1989– .

Note that date ranges are not needed to cite a single episode in a series, a single volume of a book, or a single issue or article within a journal. They’re only needed when you’re citing the whole longer publication.

Approximate or uncertain dates

Occasionally, you might only have an approximate or uncertain date for a source. This is sometimes the case with older works, and artworks contained in museums, where the exact year of composition is unknown.

Approximate dates

The term “circa” (Latin for “around”) is used for approximate dates, sometimes abbreviated to “c.” Use it in your Works Cited entry when applicable—spelled out, not abbreviated. It may appear with a single year or a range.

Works Cited entries with approximate date
Bruegel, Pieter, the Elder. The Tower of Babel. Circa 1563, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

Goya, Francisco. Saturn Devouring His Son. Circa 1819–1823, Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Alternatively, a general period such as “late thirteenth century” may be given. Spell out the ordinal number in this case (i.e. “thirteenth,” not “13th”), even if your source doesn’t.

Works Cited entry with general period
Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Early fifteenth century, U of Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, Corpus Christi College MS 198.

Uncertain dates

Your source may indicate that the date given is uncertain with a question mark or with qualifiers like “possibly 1819” or “probably 1745.”

In these cases, include a question mark after the year in your Works Cited entry. If a period would usually follow the date, omit it, but retain a comma in addition to the question mark if one would usually appear there.

Works Cited entry with uncertain date
Dickinson, Emily. “Distance – is not the Realm of the Fox.” 1870?, Pierpont Morgan Library, New York City. Manuscript.

Adding the original publication date

Classic works are often republished in thousands of different editions. The most important publication date to give is that of the edition you used.

But you might decide in some cases that it’s also useful to give the original publication date. For example, if you’re discussing how a particular writer’s work developed over time, it might be useful to give the original publication date for each text in your Works Cited list.

The original publication date should be added directly after the title of the source it refers to, while the publication date of the edition you used appears later in the usual position of the date element.

Works Cited entry with original publication date
Beckett, Samuel. “Catastrophe.” 1982. The Collected Shorter Plays, Grove Press, 2010, pp. 293–300.

Formatting dates in the main text

In the main text, dates are presented differently. The main difference is that you shouldn’t abbreviate the names of months in the main text. This is done in the Works Cited list to save space, but it’s not appropriate elsewhere.

Additionally, dates don’t have to be presented in day-month-year order in the main text. You can use one of two formats: Month Day, Year, or Day Month Year. Choose one or the other and use it consistently.

  • Mary Shelley was born on August 30, 1797, and died on February 1, 1851.
  • Mary Shelley was born on 30 August 1797 and died on 1 February 1851.

Days and years should always be written as numerals. You can refer to decades either with numerals or spelled out. Use one style or the other consistently.

  • Blade Runner is one of the most influential films of the 1980s.
  • Blade Runner is one of the most influential films of the eighties.

Frequently asked questions about MLA citations

How are dates formatted in MLA style?

In your MLA Works Cited list, dates are always written in day-month-year order, with the month abbreviated if it’s five or more letters long, e.g. 5 Mar. 2018.

In the main text, you’re free to use either day-month-year or month-day-year order, as long as you use one or the other consistently. Don’t abbreviate months in the main text, and use numerals for dates, e.g. 5 March 2018 or March 5, 2018.

Should I abbreviate the names of months in MLA style?

In an MLA Works Cited list, the names of months with five or more letters are abbreviated to the first three letters, followed by a period. For example, abbreviate Feb., Mar., Apr., but not June, July.

In the main text, month names should never be abbreviated.

Should I list a publication year or a full date in an MLA Works Cited entry?

The level of detail you provide in a publication date in your Works Cited list depends on the type of source and the information available. Generally, follow the lead of the source—if it gives the full date, give the full date; if it gives just the year, so should you.

Books usually list the year, whereas web pages tend to give a full date. For journal articles, give the year, month and year, or season and year, depending on what information is available. Check our citation examples if you’re unsure about a particular source type.

How do I cite a source with no date in MLA style?

When an online source (e.g. web page, blog post) doesn’t list a publication date, you should instead list an access date.

Unlike a publication date, this appears at the end of your MLA Works Cited entry, after the URL, e.g. “A Complete Guide to MLA Style.” Scribbr, www.scribbr.com/category/mla/. Accessed 28 Mar. 2021.

For offline sources with no publication date shown, don’t use an access date—just leave out the date.

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Jack Caulfield

Jack is a Brit based in Amsterdam, with an MA in comparative literature. He writes and edits for Scribbr, and reads a lot of books in his spare time.

1 comment

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
July 7, 2021 at 9:33 PM

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