$ date -d "Apr 1 2016 - 1 month" +%B

gives me "March", which is great - the month that comes before April is March. If I do this however:

$ date -d "$(date -d "Apr 1 2016") - 1 month" +%B

it gives me "February". This is causing a bug in some more complex code I have. Why are these 2 commands showing different results?

  • Both gave me March
    – cuonglm
    Feb 20, 2016 at 15:04
  • 1
    As explained by Thomas, this is dependent upon your timezone. My DST changes on March 13th - yours probably does not, so you may not see this behavior on the same dates, or possibly at all if you have no DST changes.
    – Tal
    Feb 20, 2016 at 16:08

1 Answer 1


You can see the problem by turning on the shell trace:

+ date -d 'Apr 1 2016 - 1 month' +%B
++ date -d 'Apr 1 2016'
+ date -d 'Fri Apr  1 00:00:00 EDT 2016 - 1 month' +%B

When you use the output of the inner date command, it is at the very beginning of April, and when subtracting a month runs into the discontinuity due to EST/EDT changing:

+ date -d 'Fri Apr  1 00:00:00 EDT 2016 - 1 month'
Mon Feb 29 23:00:00 EST 2016

Your results, of course, will vary according to your local timezone settings. Turning on the trace will show the timezone (in my case, EDT).

The reason why the results differ is that in the latter case you have given more information to date, made its parameter more specific, i.e., the specific time of day. In the first part, that was not specified, giving date more leeway about how to determine the date/time to display.

  • I now realize that this has to do with the daylight savings time (mine are here: timeanddate.com/time/zone/canada/edmonton), but I'm still not following why the date command appears to be interpreting the same date differently in a subshell than in the main shell. If I run a script with: date -d "Apr 1 2016"; date -d "$(date -d "Apr 1 2016")", I get exactly the same result, including the same timezone tag - why is removing a month from both giving different results?
    – Tal
    Feb 20, 2016 at 15:23
  • Oh - your last edit makes it clear. Thanks
    – Tal
    Feb 20, 2016 at 15:27

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