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Reading, Writing and Understanding Arabic Dates and Years

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Everybody knows that numbers are just no fun to learn in other languages.

I’ve had plenty of language teachers—fluent, expressive users of English—fall back on their native tongues when quickly counting out handouts.

Boy Frustrated with Homework

Sorry to tell you, but the numbers are easy. It’s dates you have to worry about. Especially Arabic dates.

Ever read through an article in a foreign language, and just mentally read the dates out in your head in English because you didn’t want to figure out how to really say them? Everybody has.

If you’re not used to reading numerals aloud in Arabic, check out our article on numbers in Arabic for a little bit of practice. It’s good to have a strong foundation in number-reading before you tackle date-reading; this way, dates in Arabic numbers will be much easier to pick up.

Table of Contents

  1. Reading and Writing Dates in Arabic
  2. Reading Years Aloud
  3. Reading Months Aloud
  4. The Week in Arabic
  5. Reading Days Aloud
  6. Putting it All Together
  7. Phrases You Need to Talk about Dates in Arabic
  8. Conclusion: How ArabicPod101 Can Help You Master Arabic

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1. Reading and Writing Dates in Arabic

Weekdays

First, the easy part. How are dates written in Arabic?

We’ll start with just the numbers as they appear on paper. Don’t worry about how to actually read them out yet. Baby steps here.

Like most of the world, dates in Arabic format look like this: day/month/year. February 15, 2019, appears as 15/2/2019.

You’re likely already at least passingly familiar with the Arabic alphabet, and when you learned that, you might have learned about the numerals used by many Arabic speakers. In Eastern Arabic numerals (as opposed to the Western Arabic ones that we, confusingly, call “Arabic numerals” in English), that particular date in Arabic would appear like so: ٢٠١٩/٢/١٥/ (15/2/2019).

As you’ll recall, the Western Arabic numerals are widely used in the Arab world, but when the Eastern ones are used, they’re written left-to-right in running text.

All right, so far so good for how to write dates in Arabic. Let’s move on to reading things out loud.


2. Reading Years Aloud

Numbers

Okay, reading dates in Arabic.

Fortunately, as long as you can read numbers, you can read years.

Arabic numbers are read out with lots of “and”s, because as you’ll recall, numbers above twenty are read out with the tens place and the ones place, as follows:

خمسة وعشرون
ḫamsah wa ʿišrūn
twenty-five
five and twenty

تسعة وتسعون
tisʿah wa tisʿūn
ninety-nine
nine and ninety

Years in Arabic are read as if they were long numbers—so 1925 is “one-thousand nine-hundred and five and twenty”:

ألف وتسعمائة وخمسة وعشرون
ʾalf wa tisʿumiʾah wa ḫamsah wa ʿišrūn
one-thousand nine-hundred and five and twenty

Let’s try reading out two more dates for practice.

1956 (the year Morocco gained formal independence from France):

ألف وتسعمائة وست وخمسون
ʾalf wa tisʿumiʾah wa sitt wa ḫamsūn
one-thousand and nine-hundred and two and twenty

2022 (the date the World Cup will be held in Qatar):

ألفان واثنان وعشرون
ʾalfān wa iṯnān wa ʿišrūn
two-thousand two and twenty

By the way, things have been happening in the Arab world for a long time. How do we say BC and AD?

If you’re using the Gregorian calendar (more on that very soon), it’s not difficult at all. After the date, we simply add ق.م for BC and ميلادي (miladi) for AD. Of course, this is only for when you specifically need to distinguish between the two dating systems.


3. Reading Months Aloud

Months

When it comes to months in Arabic, it’s time to relax and savor one of the vanishingly few times that you can transfer your knowledge directly from English. Well, for now.

Take a look at this table and see how you like it:

English           Arabic (Gregorian Names) Arabic Pronunciation
January            يناير yanayer
February           فبراير febrayer
March           مارس mares
April           أبريل ebril
May           مايو mayo
June           يونيو yonyo
July           يوليو yolyo
August           أغسطس ʾuġusṭus
September           سبتمبر septamber
October           أكتوبر oنtober
November           نوفمبر novamber
December           ديسمبر desamber

These are so friendly and familiar because all Arab countries use the Gregorian calendar for official governmental business. When using this calendar system, how to pronounce dates in Arabic is so simple.

Where’s the catch? Well, you’ll still find other calendars (or the same calendar with different etymology) in other countries.

In the Levant, it’s still quite common for people to refer to the months by their Aramaic-derived names instead of the Latin ones. Here’s what those look like.

English           Arabic (Aramaic Names) Arabic Pronunciation
January           كانون الثاني kānūn al-ṯānī
February           شباط šubāṭ
March           آذار ʾāḏār
April           نيسان nīsān
May           أيار ʾyār
June           حزيران ḥazīrān
July           تموز tamūz
August           آب ʾāb
September           أيلول ʾaylūl
October           تشرين الأول tišrīn al-ʾawwal
November           تشرين الثاني tišrīn al-ṯānī
December           كانون الأول kānūn al-ʾawwal

You’ll also find the Islamic calendar in wide use in religious contexts, as well as more secular contexts in Saudi Arabia. It’s a lunar calendar, starting from 622 CE, so both the month and the year are quite different from the solar calendar. For most of 2019, it’s the year 1440 according to this calendar.

You probably already know the holy month of Ramadan—now it’s time for the rest.

Approximate English Meaning Arabic           Arabic Pronunciation
Forbidden محرم           muḥarram
Void سفر           safar
The First Spring ربيع الأول           rabīʿ al-ʾawwal
The Second Spring ربيع الثاني           rabīʿ al-ṯānī
The First of Parched Land جمادي الأول           ǧamādī al-awwal
The Last of Parched Land جمادى الثاني           ǧamādī al-ṯānī
Respect رجب           raǧab
Scattered شعبان           šaʿbān
Burning Heat رمضان           ramaḍān
Raised شوال           šawwal
The One of Truce ذو القعدة           ḏū al-qiʿdah
The One of Pilgrimage ذو الحجة           ḏū al-ḥiǧǧah

That’s a lot of months to keep straight! Don’t stress about memorizing them all right now—just be aware that they’re likely to come up at some point during your Arabic studies, and it’ll be good to understand them when they do.


4. The Week in Arabic

After all those months, you really can breathe a sigh of relief when you turn to the days of the week. The “first day” is Sunday, and the next four follow a simple numbering pattern.

Friday and Saturday get special names, but one might not be too unfamiliar to you.

English      Arabic      Arabic Pronunciation
Sunday      الأحد      al-ʾaḥad
Monday      الإثنين      al-ʾiṯnayn
Tuesday      الثلاثاء      al-ṯulāṯāʾ
Wednesday      الأربعاء      al-ʾarbaʿāʾ
Thursday      الخميس      al-ḫamīs
Friday      الجمعة      al-ǧumʿah
Saturday      السبت      al-sabt

You may have caught it – the word for “Saturday” is quite close to the English “sabbath,” as they both mean “day of rest.”

Man Relaxing

Speaking of rest, when’s the “نهاية الأسبوع” (nihāyatu al-ʾusbūʿ) or “weekend?”

Usually, Friday. In the Middle East, Friday and Saturday (or Thursday and Friday) are the official weekends when schools and offices are generally closed.

In other Muslim-majority countries, Saturday and Sunday are used as the official weekend, while there’s a long break at midday on Friday to allow everyone time to worship. This is the case in Turkey and Indonesia, for example.


5. Reading Days Aloud

If you’re a native English speaker, you might not have ever stopped to think about how we actually say the dates. And if you’ve ever taught English, you know how strange and arbitrary it can be. May 17? The first of August? September third?

Fortunately, saying dates in Arabic is super easy. Take a look at these three examples to see that as long as you know the numbers, you can say the dates too.

الأول من أبريل
al-ʾawwalu min ʾebrīl
April first

التاسع والعشرون من فبراير
al-tāsiʿ walʿišrūn min febrāyer
February twenty-ninth

الأول من فبراير
al-ʾawwalu min febrāyer
The first of October

As you can see, no matter how we write it in English, it’s the same pattern every time in Arabic! Number + “min” + month name. Simple!


6. Putting it All Together

Let’s take what we’ve learned so far and practice reading out the names of dates in Arabic.

When talking about today’s date, you’d use the phrase …اليوم هو (al-yawmu huwa) meaning “Today is…”

اليوم هو الثالث والعشرون من فبراير
al-yawmu hūwa al-ṯaliṯ walʿšrūn min febrāyer
Today is February 23.

Otherwise, you’d say …اليوم كان (al-yawmu kān) meaning “Today was…”

اليوم كان الثالث من أكتوبر
al-yawmu kāna al-ṯaliṯ min oktobar
Today was October 3.

Next, you say the day of the week (optional, naturally), the number, and the month.

اليوم كان الثلاثاء, الثامن عشر من أبريل
al-yawmu kāna al-ṯulāṯāʾ, al-ṯāmin ʿašr min ʾebrīl
Today was Tuesday, the 18th of April.

Next comes the phrase من العام (min al-ʿām) which means “in the year.” And finally, the year.

اليوم هو السبت, الثالث والعشرون من فبراير من العام ألفين وتسعة عشر
al-yawmu hūwa al-sabt, al-ṯaliṯ walʿišrūn min febrāyer min al-ʿām ʾalfayn watsiʿat ʿašar
Today is Saturday, February 23, 2019.


7. Phrases You Need to Talk about Dates in Arabic

Now, how do people actually talk about dates in real life? Let’s look at a couple of phrases to answer that very question.

First, how do we handle concepts such as “next” and “last” when talking about dates?

هل يمكننا اللقاء يوم الثلاثاء المقبل؟
hal yumkinunā al-liqāʾ yawm al-ṯulāṯāʾ al-muqbil?
Can we meet next Tuesday?

ذهبت إلى روما الشهر الماضي
ḏahabtu ʾilā romā al-šahr al-māḍī
I went to Rome last month.

And of course, no matter how often you check your phone for the date and time, you’ll always need to be able to talk to somebody else about the date.

أي يوم هو الغد؟
ʾayyu yawm hūwa al-ġad?
What day is it tomorrow?

في أي يوم يبدأ رمضان هذه السنة؟
fī ʾay yawm yabdaʾ ramaḍān haḏihi al-sanah?
What day does Ramadan start this year?

يبدأ رمضان يوم الأحد في الخامس من مايو.
yabdaʾ ramaḍān yawm al-ʾaḥad fī al-ḫāms min māyo.
Ramadan starts on Sunday, May 5.


8. Conclusion: How ArabicPod101 Can Help You Master Arabic

Woman with Glasses Reading a Book

Did you find our Arabic dates article useful? Do you feel more confident about dates in Arabic writing and speech? Why not practice by dropping us a comment below with today’s date in Arabic? We look forward to hearing from you.

Like any other challenging aspect of language learning, it really just takes practice to get past obstacles like dates in Arabic.

That means when you see dates written down in the text, make a conscious effort to read them aloud instead of skipping over them (or reading them in your head in English). Seriously, put in the work just a handful of times, and it’ll become much easier immediately.

One other good trick is to turn whatever numbers you see into dates. What about car license plates? How many of those do you see on your daily commute? Even if there are only three spaces for digits, just pretend it’s ancient history.

The better your Arabic vocabulary in general, the better your command of dates. This minimal active study combined with your other regular Arabic studies really goes a long way toward building that sort of automatic feeling in your head with Arabic. And it doesn’t matter what day it is—that feeling is a good feeling any time.

In short, with enough hard work and practice, even the toughest aspects of the Arabic language will become second-nature to you. And ArabicPod101.com is here to help you every step of your language-learning journey! If you want to learn Arabic from a native speaker, you can upgrade your account and take advantage of our MyTeacher program for an even more accelerated approach to learning.

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