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Backwards Date Parsing

Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Excel versions: 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. If you are using a later version (Excel 2007 or later), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for later versions of Excel, click here: Backwards Date Parsing.

Larry was unfortunate enough to suffer a blue-screen crash on his system. After repairs, Larry noticed that the way in which Excel parsed dates was backwards. For instance, if he entered 2/3, he expected Excel to parse it as February 3 but Excel was instead parsing it as March 2.

There are two possible causes for the problem, and you'll need to figure out which one it is. First, you should determine if the problem exists in all of your Excel workbooks or just in a few. If it is in a few, then it is probable that the date format has been set incorrectly for the cells in question. Follow these steps:

  1. Select the cells with dates.
  2. Right-click any of the selected cells and click on Format Cells from the resulting Context menu. Excel displays the Format Cells dialog box.
  3. Make sure the Number tab is displayed.
  4. In the Category list, choose Date.
  5. In the list of Types, select a date format you want to use.
  6. Using the Locale drop-down list, choose English (United States).
  7. Click OK.

If the problem is exhibited in all your Excel workbooks, then chances are good that it isn't an Excel problem at all but is related to your operating system. (In Larry's case this is probably the culprit, as the blue-screen crash was related to the operating system.) You can verify this because if it is the operating system, the "backward" dates will be evident even in other programs. For instance, open Windows Explorer and take a look at some of the dates displayed for various files. If the dates there appear in an order different than you would expect, then the problem is definitely with the operating system.

In this case you will need to open the Control Panel, display the Regional Settings, and make sure that the settings are proper for the United States. Understand that making the change in the Regional Settings will affect not only Excel, but all programs on the system.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (3929) applies to Microsoft Excel 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Excel (Excel 2007 and later) here: Backwards Date Parsing.

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