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
    Commented Mar 10, 2011 at 16:54
  • Martha: Why is that so?
    – Logophile
    Commented Mar 10, 2011 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
    Commented Mar 10, 2011 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
    Commented Mar 10, 2011 at 17:11
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    Also, one-nought-one. Commented Mar 11, 2011 at 3:18

5 Answers 5


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
    Commented Mar 10, 2011 at 16:53
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    @HaL "string of digits", not "string of numbers" (mathematically pendatic, me? Why of course! ;-) Commented Mar 10, 2011 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. Commented Mar 10, 2011 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. Commented Mar 10, 2011 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.) Commented Mar 11, 2011 at 5:49

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).


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 ;-) Commented Mar 10, 2011 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" Commented Mar 10, 2011 at 22:04
  • Good point. Easier (or at least less ambiguous) to say four-hundred than four-oh-oh.
    – Neil
    Commented Mar 11, 2011 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". Commented Dec 16, 2012 at 12:05

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.


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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