Sometimes, you might be more confused by things that you think you understand than things you know that you do not. For example, you might see the word “dated” in a sentence and assume that it is a verb. But when you see the sentence, “that dress looks dated,” you may wonder if it is a verb or an adjective — is it correct to say “dated”?
Dated is correct in a couple of different contexts. First, it can work as the past tense of “date,” showing what someone did in the past. As a verb, it can also pair with the helping verb “have/has” to be part of the present perfect tense. The word “dated” can also work as an adjective and describe a noun as being “dated,” as in “old-fashioned.”
How Do You Use the Word “Dated”?
Again, the verb “dated” is the past tense of “date.” Since it is in the past tense, you can use the verb “dated” to describe something that happened in the past. You can use it to describe an action as a verb or a noun as an adjective.
In What Context Can You Use “Dated”?
As a verb, you might say something like the following:
- The check was dated for this past Monday.
- The guitars really dated that song.
- I dated my wife all through college.
Notice that the word “dated” means slightly different things in all of the above examples. In the first, it means to “mark with a date.” In the second, it means something like “to make it sound like it belongs to the past.” In the final sentence, it means “to see someone romantically.”
What Does Saying “Dated” Mean?
To “date” has a wide range of meanings, all relating to a time in some way (source). In one sense, “date” means determining what period something belongs to. For example:
- The archeologist dated the Pantheon to 29 BC.
To “date” can also mean to record the time something happens. So, for example:
- He read the newspaper dated January 12th.
This sentence means that the newspaper is marked with the date “January 12th,” telling us when it went for sale. Many different things might receive a date, so we might say they are “dated.” Here are some examples:
- The check was dated with Monday’s date.
- The letter was dated April 1st, 1994.
It can also mean to mark with time in another way, such as if a character in a movie wears particular clothing or says slang that belongs to a certain decade. You would then say that the clothing or phrase “dated” the film, meaning it made clear when they made the film.
Often, the word “dated” can have a romantic connotation. We can use “dating” to describe one-off or ongoing courting. For example:
- Tom and Alicia dated in high school.
This sentence means that the two people, Tom and Alicia, were formerly paired romantically.
“Dated” as an Adjective
In addition to using “dated” as a verb, it can also function as an adjective. An adjective modifies a noun by giving more information.
When you use “dated” as an adjective, you describe that noun as being tied to a particular time in the past so as to no longer look current. For instance, if you want to say that someone’s suit looks like it is old, you could say, “His suit is dated.”
Here are more examples of “dated” as an adjective:
- The house’s carpet looks dated.
- Some of the slang in this song sounds dated.
Is “Dated” the Same Thing as “Outdated”?
At first glance, “dated” appears similar to the word “outdated.” However, there is an important difference. “Outdated” has the connotation of something no longer being useful.
For instance, if you say, “that dress looks dated,” you mean that the dress looks like it belongs to a time in the past. The dress might no longer be in fashion, but it is still functional. In contrast, if you said, “that computer is outdated,” you mean that it is no longer useful.
Is It Grammatically Correct to Say “Dated”?
To answer the question of whether it is grammatically correct to say “dated,” the short answer is “yes.” The long answer is, “it depends on the context.” For example, when using “dated” as a verb, it is mostly correct to use “dated” when describing something that happened in the past.
When you add -ed at the end of a verb to describe something that happened in the past, you are using the simple past tense. The simple past tense describes something as a completed action happening at a prior time (source).
For example, if you wanted to describe how someone wrote the day on a letter, you would say, “they dated the letter February 27th, 1887.”
It is also correct to use “dated” to describe a noun, which means it functions as an “adjective.” So you might say, for example:
- The soundtrack for this show is dated.
In the above sentence, “dated” describes the noun “soundtrack.” In this case, the adjective “dated” describes the soundtrack as seeming to belong to a previous time period. That is to say that it sounds old.
When Can You Use “Dated”?
Since the word “dated” can operate both as a simple past tense verb and an adjective, we will look at how each works grammatically.
Simple Past Tense
Again, the verb “dated” is in the simple past tense, which means it presents the action as completed in a time before the present. You will know the past tense for many verbs (though not all) because of their -ed ending. Other examples of the simple past tense include:
- We walked to the store.
- She fixed the bicycle.
- He built a house.
Of these examples, the final example is one where the past tense does not end in -ed. Each of these sentences shows an action completed at a prior time.
In addition to functioning as the simple past tense, “dated” can also pair with “have/has” to form the perfect tense. This tense presents an action as something that happened in the past but still has effects felt in the present. For instance:
- Scientists have dated this dinosaur to the Jurassic Period.
In the above sentence, the “dating” occurred in the past, and we still experience the effects — the dinosaur remains dated to the Jurassic Period. Here is another example:
- I have dated this check for July 1st, 2021.
In this sentence, the speaker wrote the date on the check, and the writer wants to emphasize that the date remains written on it.
Participles as Adjectives
When “dated” operates as an adjective, it is in the form of something grammarians call a “participle.” A participle is a verbal that can operate as an adjective or, in some cases, as a noun. For more on participles, check out our article “Eaten or Ate: Past Tense vs. Past Participle.”
A participle is a word formed from a verb but functions as an adjective (source). Participles can take two forms: present and past. The present participle ends with -ing, while we conjugate past participles similar to past tense verbs. For example, “dated” is also a past participle (source).
Other examples of past participles include the participle “faded,” which is a past participle of “fade,” meaning “to lose brilliance of color.” If you wanted to talk about a couch that is no longer as colorful as it once was, you could describe it as a “faded couch.”
- The mortgage has a fixed interest rate. (Past participle of “fix,” describing “rate.”)
- The spoken word is powerful.” (Past participle of “speak,” describing “word.”)
- The car has heated seats. (Past participle of “heat,” describing “seats.”)
When Not to Use Dated
There are a few contexts where you would not want to use “dated.” First, when using the verb, you do not want to use “dated” to describe something currently happening. For instance, if you want to describe a relationship that is still ongoing, you would say:
- Rob and I are dating.
If you were to use “dated” in this sentence (“Rob and I dated”), the sentence would imply that the relationship has ended.
Can We Say “On” With “Dated”?
In certain circumstances, it is appropriate to use “on” with the word “dated.” When you do so, you describe the action of “dating.” For example, consider this sentence:
- The letter was dated on May 12th, 2006.
In this example, the date “May 12th, 2006” may or may not be the actual date written on the letter because the sentence describes the actual act of writing the date, not the date itself. Compare that sentence to this one:
- The letter was dated May 12th, 2006.
In this example, the sentence tells us that the letter bears the date of May 12th, 2006. It does not tell us when they wrote the date, though we might assume they are the same. A few more examples:
- The magazine was dated on Monday. (The date was printed on Monday.)
- The milk was dated on Friday the 12th. (The date was printed on Friday the 12th.)
The above examples tell us when someone printed the date on the object — the magazine and the milk carton. In both cases, the date printed on the magazine or the milk might not match the day the printing occurred.
How Do You Use “Dated” in a Letter?
It is customary to write dates in letters, which is important since dates can have legal or professional significance. In addition, because letters can take a few days to arrive, dates give a sense of when the communication occurred.
The expression “dated” refers to the date printed on the letter. For example, if you are replying to someone’s previous letter, you might refer to it by saying:
- In your letter dated May 27th, 2021, you mentioned your new position in the company.
This allows you to refer to a letter with a specific date in case you have exchanged more than one letter. Other examples include:
- The first letter was dated November 1984.
- They exchanged several letters, all dated between April 1884 and January 1886.
Is It Correct to Say, “Date Back”?
The phrase “date back” is a phrasal verb used to mean “having existed for a length of time or since a particular time” (source). For instance, you might say, “The tradition of standing during the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ dates back to the 18th Century.”
“Date back” is a verbal phrase because the two elements together, “date” and “back,” take on a specific meaning together. This is because they form an idiom. With idioms, we understand the meaning to be more than the constituent parts might suggest.
A phrasal verb consists of a verb and a particle or two particles (source). These phrasal verbs are often idiomatic. Here are other examples:
- Call off: “The game is called off.”
- Look into: “Can you look into that?”
- Bring up: “Don’t bring up past arguments.”
In each of these, the phrases are idioms where the meaning is more than just the sum of their parts. For example, “Call” means “to speak or announce,” and “off” shows separation, but together, they form a phrase that means “to cancel.”
Because verbal phrases function as a unit, you will typically want to keep the two elements of the phrase together.
With some verbal phrases, the elements can separate while still maintaining the same meaning. For example:
- How far can you date this back?
In the above example, the pronoun “this” comes between the two elements of the verbal phrase. The pronoun refers to the thing to be “dated back.” This is typical for verbal phrases; the noun or pronoun the action refers to may interrupt the phrase.
Here are other examples of how the elements of a verbal phrase might separate:
- Can you look the phone number up? (“look up”)
- Can you call the event off? (“call off”)
In both examples, the word coming between the two elements of the verbal phrase receives the action of the verbal phrase. Even though the words are separate, the reader understands the words idiomatically instead of literally.
Using “Dated About” In a Full Sentence
Concerning the phrase “dated about,” we need to note a couple of things. First, in this context, the word “dated” tends to refer to the process of determining something’s date of origin. Its use is similar to the phrase “dated 1975,” which means it came about in 1975.
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Second, adding the preposition “about” adds a degree of uncertainty. For instance, if we added “about” to the example in the previous paragraph, it would read, “dated about 1975.” In that sentence, the speaker did not know for sure that 1975 was the year of origin.
Here are some other examples:
- This artifact is dated about 400 BCE.
- The first performance of Julius Caesar is dated about mid-1599.
It can be confusing when words have different meanings and can function as different parts of speech like participle adjectives. For example, to know whether “dated” is acting as a verb or an adjective, you have to pay attention to what it is doing in the sentence.
If it tells you what action the subject takes, it is a verb. If it gives you more information about a noun, it is an adjective. Still, if you use the guidelines we’ve outlined in this article, you should be able to correctly use “dated” as a verb or as an adjective.