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I've recently noticed a wider variety in how phone numbers are presented, both in print and online, specifically with regard to spacing & punctuation.

Examples:

+1 (555) 123 4567
+1 (555) 123-4567
+1 555 123 4567
+1 555 123-4567
1.555.123.4567
555.123.4567
555-123-4567
(possibly others)

Is there a single, standardized or generally recommended format for publishing phone numbers? If so what is it?

Or is it really anything goes these days?

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closed as off topic by Thursagen, MrHen, Marthaª, Callithumpian, Kosmonaut Jun 8 '11 at 17:11

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Isn't this kind of off-topic? –  Thursagen Jun 8 '11 at 7:56
    
Different languages use different punctuations for things, especially numbers, no? My question is in the context of English and any applicable standards. –  DuckMaestro Jun 8 '11 at 8:01
    
The answers below cover the international format for a phone number. However, within individual countries, conventions (if they exist at all!) vary. –  Steve Melnikoff Jun 8 '11 at 9:49
    
Whatever you write on paper will work for you. The problem arises when you use software to store the phone number. Then the formatting standards/expectations of the software will more likely than not override the personal or regional preference, depending on how configurable the software is. Example: Microsoft Outlook and the associated Address Book and Contacts information. –  teylyn Jun 8 '11 at 11:57
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As the answers have shown, this is not language-related at all. It's country-related, but that's not the same thing. –  Marthaª Jun 8 '11 at 15:47

4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Inside the USA, in business contexts, "(310) 555-1212" is fairly standard. However, it's not very computer-friendly; also, due to area code overlays in a growing number of areas of the US, you must often dial a 1 before the area code in any case, so "1-310-555-1212" is becoming fairly common (on the business cards of people who are more practical than formal, for example.) "310.555.1212" is also common on modern business cards and letterheads.

In international (and Internet telephony) contexts, you should specify a telephone number according to the ITU E.123 standard: the above number (Information in Los Angeles, CA, USA) would be "+1 310 555 1212".

  • "+"
  • the national code (1 for the USA)
  • space
  • the area/regional code
  • space
  • the local exchange
  • space
  • the local number

Unfortunately, I don't know the local/national conventions (for business cards, letterhead, correspondence, scrawling your number on a napkin at a bar, etc.) in any country but the US.

Note: The "(310) 555-1212" format is what I was taught in typing class (does anyone still take typing class?) in high school in the 1980s; it's still widely used in the US - for example, roadside billboards almost always use this format (unless the telephone number spells a word or phrase, as in "1-800-I FLY SWA" for Southwest Airlines.) It has the advantage of being instantly recognizable (in the US, anyway) as a telephone number; most of the other formats can be a bit ambiguous if seen without context. However, as noted above, I believe this format is slowly going out of fashion.

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1  
I just got a mental image of a bathroom stall: "For a good time, call +1213 867 5309 - ask for Jenny"... –  MT_Head Jun 8 '11 at 8:20
    
The E.123 standard doesn't actually agree with what you wrote: In the international number, spacing shall occur between the country code and the trunk code and between the trunk code and the subscriber number. So by their words it should be "+1 302 123 4567" (although for North America they don't seem to follow that in their examples, but they do for other countries). Note that these days most countries don't have a concept of "local exchange" versus "local number" - there is just an area/regional code, and a local number. –  psmears Jun 8 '11 at 10:50
    
@MT_Head I work for a company that does business cards and letterheads (in the US). The standard we see most often is 000.000.0000 (there's no need for the 1 at the beginning, as any person dialing would know whether or not they should use it). Feel free to add this to your answer. –  snumpy Jun 8 '11 at 12:51
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In the US and Canada, dialing the 1 before the number signals to the phone system that you are making a long-distance call. It usually can't be used for local calls, except on cell phones, where it is ignored for local calls. On a landline, you have to know if you are calling a local or long-distance number before you hit 1. On cell phones, you can always hit 1, but if you leave it out and the number is long distance, your call won't be completed. (Another exception: 800 numbers (toll-free) always require the 1.) So for non-800 numbers most places don't put the 1 on the business card. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jun 8 '11 at 13:14
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@Mr Shiny - It used to be true that you didn't dial a 1 before local calls. However, in a growing number of service areas, a shortage of numbers in the existing area codes has led to the creation of "area code overlays"; within Southern California, for example, I must dial a 1 before every call, whether it is to the same area code or not. Perhaps I should have said "many areas" instead of "most", but I think it'll be universal soon. –  MT_Head Jun 8 '11 at 16:42

This is I think borderline on topic, though it is not really language related. In terms of standards and recommendations you can start with wikipedia article on telephone number which will lead you to

  • ITU's recommendations, which are international

It specifies the following formats

+22 607 123 4567
(0607) 123 4567

to distinguish international (first form) from national (second format), but I often see them merged as

+22 (607) 123 4567

(which assumes that person calling within the country will know that country code +22, usually dialed as 0022 needs to be stripped and 0 needs to be prepended to 607)

If you are interested in particular country try to look for official standards in the country (usually national telecom would have those).

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Just to confuse matters most UK area codes begin with a 0 but you drop the zero if dialing from outside the country so it's

+44 (0) 1223 456789

Meaning dial 456789 from the same area code, 01223 456789 from in the UK and +44 1223 456789 from abroad.

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I've never seen a UK number written this way. Either you give it in the international form (+44 1223 456789) or you give it in national form (01223 456789), but not that unholy mixture. (As an example number, that's alarming close to my work number :-) –  user1579 Jun 8 '11 at 15:13
    
That's not a standardized format and it isn't recommended by major UK telcos. –  RedGrittyBrick Jun 8 '11 at 15:16
    
@Rhodri, I've seen that format used a few times here in Ireland (+353). Most countries' area codes begin with a 0. –  TRiG Jun 8 '11 at 17:17
4  
@Rhodri: I've seen the "unholy mixture" plenty of times; here's one example from Doncaster council (look in the page title) and Google has plenty more. Not that I recommend it mind you :) –  psmears Jun 8 '11 at 17:24
    
It is really not that bad. It signifies that the 0 is not required and is much better than having to write out two versions of your UK phone number; 01223 456789 and +44 1223 456789. The UK is not the only country that does this. –  ukayer May 18 '13 at 8:07

There are many formats and many standards. Here's an old UK standard:

The recommended style of presentation of new telephone numbers is based on customer research.

Brackets are used to identify the national code - which is omitted when dialling within the same area. The use of hyphens is no longer recommended.

Metropolitan Areas (ie those with 7 digit local numbers)

These should be in the "All Figure Format" with the local number

shown as 3+4 digits eg

      Tel: (0171) 239 1482
           (0117) 927 2272

Non-Metropolitan Areas

The Local number is shown without any space;

      Tel: (01273) 568010
           (0781 39) 9587

If customers wish to include the Exchange name it should be shown before the National Dialling Code eg

      Tel: Brighton (01273) 568010
      Tel: Barlaston (0781 39) 9587
      Tel: Bristol (0117) 927 2272

Non geographic codes (Mobiles, Paging, Linkline etc)

In all cases it is necessary to dial the full national number. In these cases brackets are not used.

      eg  0800 526174,  0891 234876

Presentation of numbers for calls from overseas

The international convention is to show the country code (for the UK = 44) and number prefixed by "+". The "+" indicates that callers should dial the appropriate International access code according the country from which they are calling. International calls omit the inland prefix "0" thus the Brighton example would be shown as

International  +44 1273 586010

Together these would be shown as

           Telephone:Brighton (01273) 586010
             International: +44 1273  586010

NB For Fax lines the same conventions apply but using "fax" in place of "Tel".

From gbnet apparently retyped from an Oftel notice based on BT advice.

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Just to complete this for new-format (02) numbers: (020) 2345 6789. It's unfortunate that when BT's "Who called me" service reads these numbers out it groups them wrongly. –  St John of the Cross Mar 30 '13 at 10:55

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