Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

We pronounce 1923 as nineteen twenty-three; but 1900 as nineteen hundred. Why isn't year 2000 pronounced as twenty hundred instead of two thousand?

What are the rules for pronunciation of years in English? Does it change according to the first two digits of year? Could you give examples for special cases, if any?

share|improve this question
2  
♫ in the year twenty-five twenty-five, if man is still alive... ♫ –  RegDwigнt Nov 23 '10 at 13:05
    
I love that song. It reminds me my youth ;) –  Mehper C. Palavuzlar Nov 23 '10 at 13:19
1  
The particular case of 1900 vs. 2000 is not limited to talking about years. When naming numbers, "nineteen hundred" is common, and "twenty hundred" is almost never used. Edit: "Ten hundred" is actually used some, maybe its simply a number-of-syllables thing. –  res Nov 23 '10 at 14:10
3  
Ten hundred and twenty hundred are only used for military time, as far as I know. –  mmyers Nov 23 '10 at 14:44
add comment

5 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

For one thing, "Two Thousand" is shorter to say than "twenty hundred".

  • 1899: eighteen ninety-nine (shorter than one thousand eight hundred ninety-nine)
  • 1900: nineteen hundred (shorter than one thousand nine hundred)
  • 1901: nineteen oh one (shorter than nineteen hundred one, shorter than one thousand nine hundred one)
  • 1999: nineteen ninety nine (shorter than one thousand nine hundred ninety-nine)
  • 2000: two thousand (or 2 "K"?) (shorter than twenty hundred)
  • 2009: two thousand nine (shorter than twenty hundred nine)
  • 2010: twenty ten (shorter than two thousand ten)

Basically when the number has three zeros it is shorter to say "thousand" than "hundred". Once there are fewer than three zeros it's shorter to say "Y thousand X" for Y00X and "Y hundred X" for YYXX.

This usage isn't limited to years either. Any numbers in the same range will have the same kinds of contractions. There's a Simpsons episode where this is played for laughs, when they need eighty-five-hundred dollars to fix their roof, and they only have $500, and Homer whines that they still need eighty-hundred.

share|improve this answer
    
NOte that "twenty one" (parallel with "twenty ten") was not available because of the number "twenty-one". But this doesn't account for why "twenty oh one" was not popular. –  Colin Fine Nov 23 '10 at 16:59
4  
@Colin I think the “twenty oh-” names for the years 2001–2009 were not popular because of cultural impact of the film/book 2001 decades before the year arrived. –  nohat Nov 23 '10 at 18:29
    
I wouldn't consider "nineteen oh one" correct for 1901, even if it is shorter. It's a zero ('0'), not the letter 'O'. I would consider "nineteen hundred one" correct. –  Paul Reiners Nov 23 '10 at 20:00
6  
@Paul: people say "oh" for zero all the time. secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/867-5309/Jenny for example. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Nov 24 '10 at 16:15
add comment

There are no rules, only loose conventions, formed for brevity, convenience and ease of mental parsing.

The convention has been modified for the years 2000-2009 (two thousand and nine), just as it has for 1000-1009, probably for the reason Nav mentions - it just parses nicely that way to an English speaker. You can expect every year from 2010 (twenty-ten) onwards to soon revert to the conventional form in common parlance, which has the advantage of being shorter and distinguishes centuries from one another very clearly.

Worth noting is the fact that the years 1-999 are usually suffixed with "AD" to make it clear that we are talking about a year rather than an arbitrary figure. Post-1000 years do not require this verbal signposting as the use of this unusual convention makes it clear that these are years.

share|improve this answer
2  
I've only heard 2012 said as twenty-twelve, but I've heard 2011 as both two thousand eleven and as twenty-eleven. So yeah, we're moving towards the grouping-by-two-digits method again. –  Marthaª Nov 23 '10 at 14:39
2  
@Martha: I wonder if the switch to "twenty-X" is delayed from "twenty-ten" because for the past 10 years people have been saying "two-thousand-X" and they are used to saying that. I bet that 20 years from now nobody will still say "two-thousand eleven" –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Nov 23 '10 at 18:42
add comment

The logic apparently lies in grouping the digits in a way that's easy to visualize (mentally) and/or pronounce. Since there are always two zeroes in nineteen hundred, saying 'hundred' makes sense. 2000 has three zeroes, which is visually easier to recognize and split as two and 'thousand'. Reg has given an example. There don't seem to be any other logical reasons for this trend.

share|improve this answer
add comment

I think the main reason is a rhythm of pronunciation. That's why we use "two thousand ..." instead of "twenty ...". Also I have heard a two songs with "two thousand twelve". So the change will occur in 2013.

share|improve this answer
    
I tend to agree. ten, eleven and twelve are the odd ones out anyway compared to xxxxteen –  mplungjan Mar 23 '11 at 12:48
    
@mplungjan I watch WWE shows (wrestling) and they pronounce 2011 as two thousand eleven, so I'm right so far. One year is left. –  vorrtex Mar 23 '11 at 13:13
    
At least in American English :) –  mplungjan Mar 23 '11 at 13:14
add comment

In England we say "two-thousand-and-one" not "two-thousand-one" etc. Most people say twenty-eleven, twenty-twelve, but I'd say there was a 50/50 split between 'two-thousand-and-ten' and 'twenty-ten'.

share|improve this answer
add comment

protected by RegDwigнt May 19 '11 at 15:41

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.