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: Sorting Dates by Month.

Sorting Dates by Month

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated December 18, 2021)
This tip applies to Excel 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003


There may come a time when you have a need to sort a list of information based on the month represented in a particular column. For instance, you may have a list of people and their birthdays, and you want to sort the list by birthday month so that you know whose birthdays occur within a particular month.

The easiest way to do this is to add a new column to your table. This column will be named something descriptive, such as "Birth Month" or simply "Month." For instance, let's say that you have people's birthdays in column B, you could add the new column in column C. In this column you could then use the MONTH function, as follows:

=MONTH(B3)

This particular formula would go in cell C3, but similar formulas would go in each cell of column C. The result is that column C will contain numbers ranging between 1 and 12, representing to birth months of the people. You can now sort the list based on the contents of column C, with the result that the list is sorted by month.

This approach works fine, but you may not be able to add another column to your worksheet. If this is the case, you can follow these steps to sort by month:

  1. Select the cells in column B (assuming that column B contains the birthdates).
  2. Choose Cells from the Format menu. Excel displays the Format Cells dialog box.
  3. Make sure the Number tab is displayed. (See Figure 1.)
  4. Figure 1. The Number tab of the Format Cells dialog box.

  5. In the Category list, choose Custom.
  6. In the Type box, enter four lowercase Ms (mmmm) for the format.
  7. Click on OK. The cells in column B should now show only the birth month of the people in your list. (Don't worry; the underlying birthdates are still there.)
  8. Select your entire list.
  9. Choose Sort from the Data menu. Excel displays the Sort dialog box. (See Figure 2.)
  10. Figure 2. The Sort dialog box.

  11. Use the controls in the dialog box to specify that you want to sort by the contents of column B.
  12. Click on the Options button. Excel displays the Sort Options dialog box. (See Figure 3.)
  13. Figure 3. The Sort Options dialog box.

  14. Use the First Key Sort Order drop-down list to specify that you want to sort by months. (Choose the option that states January, February, March, etc.)
  15. Click on OK to close the Sort Options dialog box.
  16. Click on OK to close the Sort dialog box and actually sort the list.

You may be wondering why you need to reformat the display of the cells containing the birthdates (steps 1 through 6). The reason is that when you finally sort your list (steps 7 through 13), if you simply have the original full dates displayed, Excel will effectively sort the list chronologically rather than by month.

There is an additional way you can approach the problem. This involves actually converting the dates into text (instead of the internal serial numbers), as follows:

  1. Select the cells that contain the dates.
  2. Choose Cells from the Format menu. Excel displays the Format Cells dialog box.
  3. Make sure the Number tab is selected.
  4. In the list of Categories, choose Date.
  5. In the list of Types, choose March 14, 1998.
  6. Click on OK. Your cells should now be formatted to show a long date with the month first.
  7. Press Ctrl+C. This copies the cells to the Clipboard.
  8. Open Notepad.
  9. Press Ctrl+V. The information is now pasted into Notepad, and should still be the long dates.
  10. Select the information just pasted into Notepad.
  11. Press Ctrl+C. This copies the information to the Clipboard.
  12. Switch back to Excel.
  13. Choose Cells from the Format menu. Excel displays the Format Cells dialog box.
  14. Make sure the Number tab is selected.
  15. In the list of Categories, choose Text.
  16. Click on OK.
  17. Press Ctrl+V.

Your dates are now pasted into Excel as true text entries, not as dates. This allows you to easily sort the information according to the month in the date.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (3183) 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: Sorting Dates by Month.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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