I want to make the date command with nice formatting like this:

$ date +"%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S"
2015-09-17 16:51:58

But I want to save this in variable, so I could call from script like this: echo "$(nice_date) [WARNING] etc etc"

However it does not work

$ nice_date="date +%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S"
$ echo "$($nice_date)"
date: extra operand ‘%H:%M:%S’
Try 'date --help' for more information.

$ nice_date="date +\"%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S\""
$ echo "$($nice_date)"
date: extra operand ‘%H:%M:%S"’
Try 'date --help' for more information.

$ nice_date='date +"%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S"'
$ echo "$($nice_date)"
date: extra operand ‘%H:%M:%S"’
Try 'date --help' for more information.

What is correct way to do this, so that date command to get one correct argument?

  • As a side note, your date format string can be shortened to "%F %T" if you are using GNU date.
    – jordanm
    Sep 17 '15 at 14:14
  • The problem's the space. If you use nice_date="date +%Y-%m-%d-%H:%M:%S", it works. I can't currently see how to get that space protected from the second shell.
    – MadHatter
    Sep 17 '15 at 14:20

The reason your example fails is because of the way the shell's word splitting works. When you run "$($nice_date)", the shell is executing the date command with two arguments, "+%Y-%m-%d" and "%H:%M:%S". This fails because the format string for date must be a single argument.

The best way to do this is to use a function instead of storing the command in a variable:

format_date() {
  # echo is not needed
  date "+%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S" "$@"
format_date -d "2015-09-17 16:51:58"
echo "$(format_date) [WARNING] etc etc"

If you really wanted to store the command in a variable, you can use an array:

nice_date=(date "+%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S")
# again echo not needed
"${nice_date[@]}" -d "2015-09-17 16:51:58"

For more details on the complex cases of storing a command in a variable, see BashFAQ 050.

  • 2
    I'm getting date: extra operand ‘’ errors with both approaches above Apr 24 '16 at 22:34
  • This is not working ... bash date command is the most confused thing to handle.
    – MaXi32
    Sep 5 '21 at 11:20
  • date: extra operand ‘2015-09-17 16:51:58’ Try 'date --help' for more information.
    – MaXi32
    Sep 5 '21 at 11:21
  • @MaXi32 i've only tested this solution with GNU date. It might not work with other versions such as on osx.
    – jordanm
    Sep 5 '21 at 15:59
  • 1
    @MaXi32 I was able to reproduce it on my current fedora machine. Updated the answer, the issue was a missing -d option for date.
    – jordanm
    Sep 6 '21 at 21:06

I agree a function is the best way to go. As an alternative simply store the format as a variable rather than the whole command:

$ nice_date='+%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S'
$ echo "$(date "$nice_date") [WARNING] etc etc"

One easy way is to just to 'escape' the space with a \

nice_date="date +%Y-%m-%d\ %H:%M:%S"
  • Thank you so much for the simple answer. This worked for me. Apr 1 '21 at 8:15
  • This should be the top answer - nice and simple
    – johnmcp
    Jan 21 at 9:39

Shortest answer is

#if you want to store in a variable
now=$(date '+%F" "%T');
echo $now

#or direct output (single quote may not needed)
date '+%F" "%T'

Instead of:

nice_date="date +%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S"
echo "$($nice_date)"


nice_date_format="+%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S"
echo $(date "$nice_date_format")

Also, you don't need the last command substitution:

date "$nice_date_format"

Please try out the below:

You need to add the symbol "`" the symbol that is on the tilde key in the keyboard. The symbol says the shell to execute the command first and then assign to the variable.

[root@RHEL01 ~]# My_Var=`date +"%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S"`
[root@RHEL01 ~]# echo $My_Var
2015-09-17 10:05:30
[root@RHEL01 ~]#
  • Same problem as Iain's answer.
    – MadHatter
    Sep 17 '15 at 14:09

Had the same problem; had to put a date into an awk print for processing by splunk. I used

DATE1=`date +%Y-%m-%d`

DATE2=`date +%T`


awk ' { print "['$DATE1' '$DATE2'] topic=" $1, etc

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