How to Read Years in English

Today one of my students asked how to pronounce 1906. Was it “nineteen six” or “nineteen oh six”? He recognized the pattern that in English we tend to read four-digit years as a pair of 2-digit numbers. “Nineteen six” didn’t sit right with him though. This is probably because when he learned to tell time in English, he learned that 2:03 is “two oh three”, not “two three”. So he asked about the years.

Of course, I answered that the latter was correct. You need to add the “o” sound when the tens’ digit is a zero. He followed up, “So 804 is eight oh four, right?”

“Well, you can say that, but ‘eight hundred and four’ is also correct.”

“Can you say ‘nineteen hundred and six’?”

As the conversation went on, I began to realize that the way we read years is a little complicated. Being a native speaker of English, it comes natural to me so I’ve never thought about it. But for foreign learners it can be confusing and ambiguous. After my conversation with him I thought about it a little to see if I could find a pattern, and here is what I came up with:

Algorithm for Reading Years

  1. If there there are no thousands’ or hundreds’ digits, read the number as-is. Examples:
    • 54 – “fifty-four”
    • 99 – “ninety-nine”
    • 0 – “zero”
    • 8 – “eight”
  2. If there is a thousands’ digit but the hundreds’ digit is zero, you can read the number as “n thousand and x”. If the last two digits are zero, you leave off the “and x” part. Examples:
    • 1054 – “one thousand and fifty-four”
    • 2007 – “two thousand and seven”
    • 1000 – “one thousand”
    • 2000 – “two thousand”
  3. If the hundreds’ digit is non-zero, you can read the number as “n hundred and x”. If the last two digits are zero, you leave off the “and x” part. Examples:
    • 433 – “four hundred and thirty-three”
    • 1492 – “fourteen hundred and ninety-two” (who sailed the ocean blue?)
    • 1200 – “twelve hundred”
    • 600 – “six hundred”
  4. The above rule produces some formal and old-fashioned names. Where it exists, it is acceptable to omit “hundred and”. If you do, and the tens’ digit is zero, you must read that zero as “oh”. Examples:
    • 432 – “four thirty-two”
    • 1492 – “fourteen ninety-two”
    • 1908 – “nineteen oh eight”
    • 1106 – “eleven oh six”
  5. Finally, though uncommon it is possible to read the years in rule #2 using the systems for rules #3 and #4. Examples:
    • 1054 – “ten hundred and fifty-four” (if this sounds wrong to you, imagine you are watching a documentary on the history channel and the stiff narrator begins: “In the year ten hundred and fifty-four, Pope Leo IX died.”)
    • 1054 – “ten fifty-four”
    • 3026 – “thirty twenty-six”
    • 2007 – “twenty oh seven” (if this sounds wrong to you, imagine you live in 1972 and you are reading a science fiction story that starts: “In the year twenty oh seven, the world was overrun by blood-thirsty robots.”)

By writing it out I don’t think I made it any less-complicated, but for what it’s worth there it is.

Does this algorithm work for you? I think I covered all the bases, but let me know in the comments if I missed something.

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56 Comment(s)

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    Osman | Oct 14, 2007 | Reply

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  3. Thank you Osman! I’ve been a subscriber to your site for a short time. Actually, a few days afer I subscribed you posted a message saying you were leaving! Glad to see that you are back posting again. Thanks for the encouragement and the link. :) I’ll add you to our blogroll as well.

    thomas | Oct 15, 2007 | Reply

  4. I love it! An algorithm for years in English!!! My brain works this way, too, though I rarely have the energy to do what it takes to put what I think into words. Here, you do the work and I get the enjoyment! What a treat.

    eclexia | Oct 15, 2007 | Reply

  5. eclexia: Thanks for the comment! It was an interesting problem to work through. I would have never thought about it if it weren’t for my student’s question. :) I’m glad you enjoyed it too!

    thomas | Oct 16, 2007 | Reply

  6. Such a great post. You are correct – it comes so naturally to native speakers. I have studies several languages and found them all infinitely more logical than English. You think that is why even Americans have some grammar issues?

    Very well thought out post, I am curious how long it took you to complete.

    Jessica

    jessica | Nov 5, 2007 | Reply

  7. Just so you know, it is correct to use “and” in numbers only when appended a fractional component. For example:

    3.14 “three and fourteen hundredths”
    2177 3/4 “two thousand, one hundred seventy-seven and three fourths”

    and so on.

    Also of interest is how years were abbreviated in the early 20th century, specifically, 1906 would be “ot six.” This is an abbreviation I still hear occasionally, but very, very rarely.

    Dessyreqt | Nov 21, 2007 | Reply

  8. @Jessica: I don’t know if I’d say English is illogical. It does have its idiosyncrasies though. :) I think a lot of the variation in how we say years is just due to time. The article didn’t actually take that long to write once I worked out the logic on paper, but it was a fun mental exercise!

    @Dessyreqt: I’ve heard the 2000s referred to as “the ots” before, but I don’t think it caught on. I wonder how people will refer to this decade 5 years from now.

    thomas | Nov 22, 2007 | Reply

  9. Don’t forget (more common in maths, and with long numbers) just listing the digits – oh oh seven for example. Also this is how we say phone numbers, whereas I believe the French split the digits into pairs and read them with their “tens” name.

    @Dessyreqt – what do you mean by “only”? I agree that 2177 3/4 sounds better as “two thousand one hundred seventy-seven and three quarters” but without the fraction, “two thousand and seventy-seven” is perfectly fine, with or without the ‘and’. As for “aught six”, I like it and it should be reclaimed for the 21st century! It;s a rare word nowadays but I’ve heard it used for ammunition – “thirty aught six” for 30.06mm. I wonder if it’s specifically an abbreviation of “point naught”?

    John | Jan 17, 2008 | Reply

  10. In British English, twenty-oh-seven for 2007 is common usage; like nineteen-oh-two for 1902, etc.. 1054 is ten-fifty-four, 1003 is ten-oh-three. They’re quicker to say.

    The main exceptions are the hundreds; 1900 is nineteen-hundred, 2000 is two thousand, although I’ve heard twenty-hundred. Another exception is 2001, I suspect because the film established the phrase two-thousand-and-one. I suspect even that’ll become twenty-oh-one soon.

    Dylan Harris | Jan 17, 2008 | Reply

  11. I was always taught that for numbers such as ’2007′ one should say two-thousand seven, NOT two thousand and seven. Ands are to be reserved for decimal places like 2007.25 two thousand seven and twenty-five hundreths, or two thousand seven and one quarter.

    Jane | Jan 18, 2008 | Reply

  12. I was also going to add a comment about the “and.” The correct way to say “1906″ would be “one thousand, nine hundred six” not “one thousand nine hundred and six.”

    Good article though.

    Tara | Jan 18, 2008 | Reply

  13. You are wrong about the use of and without a fractional part. You may not consider it wrong but that doesn’t make it correct. It is a colloquialism which descriptive linguists will likely defend as appropriate, and prescriptive linguists would abhor, but for the most part it sounds uneducated.

    quebert | Jan 18, 2008 | Reply

  14. Find an elementary English book dealing with writing out numbers. All of them I can recall reading clearly state that the and goes only between whole numbers and fractions to distinguish which is which. I think that when reading dates however it can be stuck in there if you want.
    But then in this day of relativistic thinking I guess you can get away with whatever you like and just call anyone that criticizes you narrow minded. :)
    Great article by the way.

    joel | Jan 18, 2008 | Reply

  15. very informative article. thanks for sharing the informations. enjoyed reading. good luck:)

    The SciTech Journal | Jan 18, 2008 | Reply

  16. Wow, lots of comments. I checked StumbleUpon and 40+ people gave it the thumbs up! Thanks a lot!

    @John: I sometimes read out phone numbers by their tens. But single digits is far more common.

    @DylanHarris: Thanks for the heads up on the British English. Now that I know some people in the world say it that way, I may just adopt it myself.

    @Jane and Tara: Thanks for the heads up. I’m not afraid to admit I made a mistake. This article is the result of a small bit of free time at work, not heavy research. I think when I wrote it I felt the “and” was ok based on the little rhyme I learned in grade school: “In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

    @quebert: For clarification, this algorithm is colloquialism-friendly. For a more prescriptive algorithm, please remove the word “and” where appropriate.

    @joel: The consensus seems to say that I’m wrong about the “and”, but I can live with that. I’m not going to lose sleep over it :).

    @The SciTech Journal: Thanks for the comment. I’m happy you enjoyed reading it.

    thomas | Jan 19, 2008 | Reply

  17. Is it possible to say ‘twenty three hundred’ for 2300?

    ulaş | Mar 30, 2008 | Reply

  18. @ulaş: Absolutely. In fact, I think that’s how I would say it.

    Peter | Apr 7, 2008 | Reply

  19. When we read 2004, which is more common, ” two
    thousand and four” or ” twenty oh four”?

    lucylucy | May 7, 2008 | Reply

  20. @lucylucy: I can’t speak for everyone, but I usually omit the “and” and say “two thousand four”.

    thomas | May 7, 2008 | Reply

  21. Thank You very much for such an informative article about reading years in English. I am not a native speaker of English and I am teaching English and students sometimes ask really tricky questions, so I do like Your article, because I hope it will help me during my classes! Thank You!!!

    Iryna | May 29, 2008 | Reply

  22. Is it possible say ‘ eight o nine’ for 809?

    dave | Aug 27, 2008 | Reply

  23. I’m from the Midwest (right around Chicago, IL), and this is how I say it:

    1900: nineteen hundred
    1901: nineteen oh one
    2008: either two-thousand and eight or twenty oh eight
    2051: twenty fifty one
    1988: nineteen eighty eight
    @dave: 809: eight oh nine

    For three-digit numbers, my rule is the single first digit, then the latter half by the “oh one”/”fifty one” rule.

    Izkata | Nov 21, 2008 | Reply

  24. can we say two thousand and eighty for 2080?

    busra | Nov 21, 2008 | Reply

  25. I learned many years ago that you NEVER stick “and” in the middle when reading a number, for example 804 is eight hundred four, NOT eight hundred and four, 2009 is two thousand nine, NOT two thousand and nine. I remember my teacher specifically emphasizing this point, as does my wife. When did this rule change and who changed it???? When watching the news, I hear the year read both ways, even journalists can’t be consistent.

    Bill | Jan 21, 2009 | Reply

  26. @busra: saying “two thousand and eighty” sounds like a history channel narrator to me, but I don’t see why you couldn’t say it that way if you wanted to.

    @Bill: don’t look too much into rules. Languages change. I based this algorithm on what I’ve often heard people say and what sounds natural to my ears.

    Language rules like that should describe common usage, and change as common usage changes….in my humble opinion ;)

    thomas | Jan 21, 2009 | Reply

  27. Thank you. That is all I needed. A Spanish speaker.

    Ana Maria | Feb 12, 2009 | Reply

  28. THANX!

    BHY | May 19, 2009 | Reply

  29. Wonderful !!

    Thank you very much !

    an M.A. linguistic student and hopefully

    a teacher one day in sha Allah

    Nada H.T | May 19, 2009 | Reply

  30. Hey, I really liked this post. I tried to explain this to a friend and then I realized how hard it was. So I’m glad you recognize it.

    I used to think there was no rules but those picked up by practice -I’m peruvian, by the way- but after reading this I ended up learning too ñ_ñ. Thanks a lot!

    JuanK | Aug 13, 2009 | Reply

  31. Don’t know if it has been mentioned, but it is incorrect to read 1492 as “Fourteen hundred and ninety two.” The “and” denotes numbers after a decimal.

    Correct is “Fourteen hundred ninety-two.”

    To read “14.92″ would be “Fourteen and ninety-two hundredths.”

    Most of your examples are verbal short-cuts, and not correct English. “432″ is always correctly read “Four hundred thirty-two.” If you want to read it “Four thirty two,” fine, that’s your prerogative, but don’t expect there to be rules for special situations that have only been created by incorrect English uses.

    David | Aug 28, 2009 | Reply

  32. how to read year 2100?
    -twenty one hundred? doesn’t seem right to me..:(
    -21 oh oh? sounds bit funny :)
    -two-thousand and hundred?

    thanks

    Ravshan | Sep 4, 2009 | Reply

  33. @Ravshan: First thing that comes out of my mouth is “twenty one hundred”.

    thomas | Sep 4, 2009 | Reply

  34. @Ravshan:

    Twenty-one hundred and two thousand one hundred would both be correct.

    David | Sep 4, 2009 | Reply

  35. As an American living in the Northeast and Midwest, I’ve never had anyone correct me on “four thirty two” or “ten sixty six”. There doesn’t seem to be one “correct” way other than what sounds “normal,” but I tend to lean towards descriptivism.

    I find it interesting that references toward this past decade tend to follow this pattern:

    “two thousand one”

    While references to the next decade and beyond follow a different one:

    “twenty twelve”

    Any ideas why?

    Vince | Dec 14, 2009 | Reply

  36. Also,

    @David: If you’re looking to be a BBC broadcaster, you can obsess over “correct” English, but an ESL student would probably want to focus on sounding like a native speaker.

    Vince | Dec 14, 2009 | Reply

  37. thanks for posting these important informations. today when answering various questions we (me and one of my students) came across a question about the reading of dates. I was confused. so I researched from this site. thank you

    bahar | Jan 21, 2010 | Reply

  38. If it would make sense, I would offer Turkish reading of years to English. So simple, practicle and sound. For example: 1054: thousand fifty four; 2100: two tousand hundred 503: five hundred three; 1970: thousand nine hundred seven; 1358: thousand three hundred fifty eight.

    Hasan | May 29, 2010 | Reply

  39. I’m not a native speaker and I find it very helpful…
    How can I read 2011? “twenty eleven”? It doesn’t sound right to me… and 2012?

    Hadas | Aug 10, 2010 | Reply

  40. @Hadas: “Twenty eleven” and “two thousand eleven” are both acceptable. I hear and use “twenty eleven” more frequently though. It’s the same for 2012: “twenty twelve”.

    Peter | Aug 26, 2010 | Reply

  41. Hi,

    Thank you very much for such valuable information, especially for those like me, who, having been born in Spain, have to struggle with English every day in the hope that one day I will be able to fully understand what I hear and will manage to speak fluently and accurately…
    Thank you so much!

    José Luis | Jun 4, 2011 | Reply

  42. Thanks, very useful!!!

    Virtual Sensei | Jun 30, 2011 | Reply

  43. It’s been a great explanation. I’ll provide my students with it. Thanks for sharing!

    Virginia | Aug 7, 2011 | Reply

  44. How about reading 15 500 BC?

    Vera | Oct 11, 2011 | Reply

  45. bi tek ben mi türküm ya :))

    betül | Dec 25, 2011 | Reply

  46. hello! I just wonder if it is valid for British and American English or just one of them..
    thanks

    chiara | Feb 10, 2012 | Reply

  47. Oh. Thank you. I finally understand how to say years in English. I’m sorry if I wrote something wrong here, because I’m learning English. More one time: Thank you.

    Natália | Apr 3, 2012 | Reply

  48. Hello, I am brazilian and I am very interested in the english language. One of the passions of my life is to learn this language and I do this with great pleasure.
    I was thinking about how to read years in english because I had a little doubts, mainly concerned to the reading of the use of zeros, then I went to search in the internet and found this beautiful post, thanks
    I am very like your student, very questioner (if this word exists ^^).

    Gustavo | May 15, 2012 | Reply

  49. how about if the year start with AD or end with BC? will we read it, “anno domino two hunderds” ?

    florensia | Jul 8, 2012 | Reply

  50. I think 2100 is pronounces as two thousand (and) one hundred but this is wordy. So, we’d better say twenty one hundred..
    Türkler her yerde biliyorsunn betülcüğüm..

    lovezero | Dec 27, 2012 | Reply

  51. Hi ;] great article, very informative :)
    However, even after I’ve looked through the comments I can’t find any answer to yet another question, the one that’s been bothering me for quite a long time now: how do you read dates like “1200s”, “2000s”, etc.?

    Kate | Jan 12, 2013 | Reply

  52. Hi ;] great article, very informative :)
    However, even after I’ve looked through the comments I can’t find any answer to yet another question, the one that’s been bothering me for quite a long time now: how do you read dates like “500s”, “1200s”, “2000s”, etc.?

    Kate | Jan 12, 2013 | Reply

  53. Thank you, very helpful!!!

    Juan | Jan 24, 2013 | Reply

  54. You so did make it less complicated. Thanks very much!! You have my Thumbs up!

    Damars | Apr 23, 2013 | Reply

  55. how can we read this year 2013

    muad hazaimeh | Jul 21, 2013 | Reply

  56. @muad: Either “twenty thirteen” or “two thousand thirteen” are acceptable.

    Peter | Jul 31, 2013 | Reply

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