Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Excel versions: 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2016. If you are using an earlier version (Excel 2003 or earlier), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for earlier versions of Excel, click here: Entering Dates in Excel.
by Allen Wyatt
(last updated December 14, 2020)
Dates are a special case in Excel. If you enter information that can be translated as a date (by any stretch of the imagination), then Excel treats it as a date. It converts your data into a serial number that is internally used to represent dates and times. For instance, any of the following entries will be translated to a date by Excel:
If you enter the first example, Excel will convert it to a date and display that date as best it can determine. If you leave off the year in your entry, Excel assumes you mean the current year. You could also use dashes instead of slashes and Excel will still figure out you are entering a date.
Regardless of how you type a date, it is converted to a special serial number by Excel and stored internally in that format. How you see the date on your screen is a consequence of how the cell is formatted. Even though Excel stores dates in a standard format internally, they can be displayed using any number of different formats.
Understanding that Excel will always try to convert an entry into a date if it can—by any stretch of the imagination—be considered a date, you may be tempted to ask how you can stop Excel from doing such conversions. There are only two ways I've been able to come up with:
Either of the first two approaches forces Excel to treat your entry as text, not as a date. The third approach treats the entry as an actual formula, such that Excel would convert =5/22 to 0.22727273, which is 5 divided by 22.
ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (12386) applies to Microsoft Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2016. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Excel here: Entering Dates in Excel.
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