Outlook uses natural language to interpret dates

In case you did not already know, Outlook has some pretty clever parsing built in to date fields on Tasks and Appointments which can interpret and understand all sorts of combinations of “natural language” snippets to figure out what date you really mean. This is pretty powerful, and certainly saves reaching for the calendar widget to set up a meeting for the last Thursday of next month, or the first Monday after Christmas.

Sorry to say, Outlook does not know when your birthday is (“You look like you are opening a present! Do you want help with that?”), nor can it deal with Easter moving around every year, but otherwise it’s pretty smart.

Examples of Outlook date translations

In the examples below, on the left you see various examples of the sort of things you might type into a date control on an Outlook appointment, and on the right is how this would be converted into a date when you click or tab to another field.

Notice that this feature is not case-sensitive and you can abbreviate names of days and months to be quite short. NB: Wednesday is always “Wed”, not “Weds”. Most other days are more flexible eg Thu, Thur, Thurs but stick to three letters generally and you will be fine.

You type:

Outlook interprets this as…

1/5/10

1st May 2010 (it uses your time display settings as a clue to the format)

5/13/11

13th May 2011 (since 13 cannot be a month)

Jun 20

the next 20th June after the previous date the Appointment was set for – it won’t move it earlier than before unless you say so

Wednesday

The next Wednesday in the future – this week if it is not Wednesday yet, next week if it is already Thursday or later

this Tuesday

Tuesday of the current week, even if that is in the past

next Friday

Friday of the week after the current one

thurs next week

Thursday of the week after the current one

3 weeks today

Same day of the week as today in three weeks (21 days)

2nd wed in oct

Date of the 2nd Wednesday in October

last fri sept 2011

Date of the last Friday in September 2011

now + 30 days

30 days from today (you can use weeks and months as well)

+ 2 weeks

2 weeks later than the Appointment was previously set for

Christmas 2012

25th December 2012

Independence Day

4th July 2012 (although typing 4/7 or 7/4 seems a whole lot easier!)

Some of these may be subject to your setting in Options > Calendar for which day of the week you start on, so if you choose Sunday as a start day, “this Sunday” will be in the past (or today), while “Sunday” will always be the one in the upcoming weekend.

Watch out for dates moving further into the future

In general if you don’t specify a year, Outlook will always interpret things to assume you are moving things forwards, not backwards. For example, if you have a meeting set up for 1st September 2012 and change this to “1/8” or “1st Aug” – it interprets what you probably mean in either case and it will end up on 1st Aug 2013. Even if 1st August 2012 is way in the future from the current date and seems to you and me like a more reasonable option, that is not what you will get since that would move the meeting backwards in time, so do watch out for it and specify the year if in any doubt at all.

About ukcrmguru
I'm an MVP for Dynamics CRM, consultant, Microsoft Certified Trainer and self-confessed geek. I also lead the UK CRM User group when I'm not too busy with all that.

One Response to Outlook uses natural language to interpret dates

  1. R says:

    nothing to get excited about – in fact its so poorly implemented that I’d rather they left it out and reduce the bloat. If you want to see a proper implementation of a natural language interface for creating appointments, take a look at… well, almost any other calendar out there. Google’s come to mind as an easy place to look.

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