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I have often heard people say 101, as one-zero-one, and also as one-oh-one. Which is correct, and why? Does the difference between British English and American English have to do something with it?

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There's a bug in TomTom-brand GPS systems that makes them say roads such as 202 as "two-west-two". –  Marthaª Mar 10 '11 at 16:54
    
Martha: Why is that so? –  Logophile Mar 10 '11 at 16:58
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@Logophile: like I said, it's a bug. My sister's theory is that the pronunciation was at some point encoded using the International Phonetic Alphabet, which denotes the 'oh' sound with a Greek lowercase omega: ω. Which, as you can see, looks awfully like a W. And a 'W' in the context of road names is most likely an abbreviation for West. ... But this is all supposition. –  Marthaª Mar 10 '11 at 17:06
    
...and actually, I just did a quick search for this bug, and it may have something to do with Quebec/French. –  Marthaª Mar 10 '11 at 17:11
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Also, one-nought-one. –  Vikrant Chaudhary Mar 11 '11 at 3:18
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5 Answers

up vote 15 down vote accepted

American speakers use zero in both conversation and writing. When reciting a string of numbers only, it is acceptable and common for an American to pronounce zero as "oh". But when reciting a string that mixes characters and numbers, it becomes necessary to differentiate between "oh" and zero.

In British English, zero is normally used only in scientific writing. In conversation, British speakers usually say "nought", or to a lesser degree, "oh".

Edit: Please review the excellent discussion below for further insight.

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+1. I wouldn’t quite say ‘zero’ is limited to scientific use in BrE — it’s still fairly frequent in conversational use, though certainly less so than it is in the US. Otherwise, this answer completely agrees with my experience… although I’d love to see some usage data to back them up! –  PLL Mar 10 '11 at 16:53
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@HaL "string of digits", not "string of numbers" (mathematically pendatic, me? Why of course! ;-) –  Jürgen A. Erhard Mar 10 '11 at 21:33
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You'll also (I think) find that "oh" will only be used within a string of digits. For example, the usual test of acceleration for a car in the "miles-per-hour" world is "nought to sixty" or "zero to sixty". "oh to sixty" could be confusing. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Mar 10 '11 at 21:35
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In the US, in zip (postal) codes, almost everybody says "oh" for 0. (eg "Beverly Hills nine-oh-two-one-oh"). At least where I live, the same applies to telephone area codes. –  Ken Aspeslagh Mar 10 '11 at 21:39
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AFAIK, in British English, "nought" is much more common than "oh". (At least in Indian English, it's always "nought" or "zero", never "oh" except occasionally with American influence.) –  ShreevatsaR Mar 11 '11 at 5:49
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Both are correct. But, zero is more formal than oh. Native speakers, both Americans and Brits, tend to use either of the forms. Limit the use of oh colloquially.

The Oxford English Dictionary says:
O n. (also oh) zero (in a sequence of numerals, especially when spoken).

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Zero is a little bit longer to pronounce, hence the "oh". As an American speaker, I've always heard it pronounced one 'oh' one, though that doesn't make it anymore correct than one zero one or one-hundred and one even.

It also tends to be a little more trendy and/or less formal to use 'oh' (Hawaii Five-Oh for example).

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"Hawaii Five-Oh" and trendy in the same sentence... the world's going crazy ;-) –  Jürgen A. Erhard Mar 10 '11 at 21:36
    
On that note, Hwy 401 in Ontario, is always "Four-Oh-One", never "four-hundred and one" or "four-zero-one". But Hwy 400 is always "four-hundred" –  Chris Cudmore Mar 10 '11 at 22:04
    
Good point. Easier (or at least less ambiguous) to say four-hundred than four-oh-oh. –  Neil Mar 11 '11 at 9:43
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The freeway in California is definitely "one oh one" (or "the one oh one" near its southern end). But the book is always "one hundred and one Dalmatians". –  Peter Shor Dec 16 '12 at 12:05
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I also use 'zero' as if I use 'oh' in a string for numbers (i.e. nine-oh-three) it can be mistaken from an eight (nine-eight-three), as there is the tendency to soften or drop the 't' from eight if it is followed by another word, especially if the following word starts with a t sound (or th, d or to a lesser case d or p)

This may be simply due to my Australian accent, but I don't feel this is the case.

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From my experience, I say 'oh' only if it's a combination of 3 or more numbers (1-oh-9) or money (a dollar oh five). But if it's 1000, I say 'a thousand'.

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protected by tchrist Dec 16 '12 at 2:53

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