It is common in BrE to use 'contact number' where AmE would use 'telephone number'. Does the 'contact' in 'contact number' refer to the act of making contact, or is there a more technical origin, as in the number of a specific electrical contact in the telephone system?

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    As a native, I wouldn't say that 'contact number' is colloquial. 'My mobile is … ' 'My landline is ...' 'My number is ...' 'Contact me on XYZ'. Websites in BrE often just say 'Contact :' and print the number. 'Contact number', to me, is not usual. But the 'contact' means personal contact; I doubt very much if it is anything to do with machinery 'making contact' electrically. – Nigel J Aug 23 '19 at 7:34
  • I also thought 'contact number' was strange and would never use it myself. At first I even thought it might mean something other than a phone number! But now that I'm attuned to it, I hear it often in the Midlands and in the South East. I also see it written on forms often. – ArgentoSapiens Aug 23 '19 at 7:39
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    It just means the phone number one would use to make contact, nothing to do with electrical circuits. Some forms (both paper and online) have fields for "contact name" and "contact number". – nnnnnn Aug 23 '19 at 7:48
  • Americans used "contact number" all the time. The word "contact" in it is meant to indicate the particular telephone number at which one can be best contacted. – Benjamin Harman Aug 23 '19 at 10:39

Contact number specifically refers to a telephone number which someone can use at a specific time.

Whereas asking for, "Telephone Number," may encourage someone to put their home (landline) telephone number, if this is for a business to contact them, the person is possibly going to be at work themselves when the business attempts to contact them. Therefore a more suitable number would be a mobile or office number.

  • This usage is common in the U.S. as well. (I think it has a slightly bureaucratic vibe.) – ruakh Aug 23 '19 at 8:41
  • Contact number rarely comes with a separate box asking what times it can be used. – AndyT Aug 23 '19 at 9:23
  • @AndyT, that's because it expects people to know that they're only going to be contacted during business hours. – GeoffAtkins Aug 23 '19 at 9:37
  • Yep, you're right as far as you go. I would like to retract my downvote, but SE rules mean I can't... I do still think your answer is missing a step though: you explain "why contact number not telephone number", but you don't explicitly explain what "contact" means within "contact number", which is what this question is about. – AndyT Aug 23 '19 at 9:46
  • Yes. I have three phone numbers. One is a mobile that I rarely use for voice calls and is not always with me. One is a landline that can't connect to me unless I am at home (or might get the wrong person), and the third is my contact number. – Weather Vane Aug 23 '19 at 11:27

A contact number can mean "phone number", especially on official forms. "Contact" here refers to the act of making contact. It does not have a (widely-used) specialist electrical meaning.

That said, it's worth adding that I use contact number, and hear it being used, when I am giving someone a phone number that is not my usual phone number but one I may be reached on - "contacted" - due to some temporary circumstance when my usual phone number may not work (e.g. on holiday, a business trip or staying with someone).


From Collins Dictionary:

contact number (in British)


a person's telephone number

  • Do you have a contact number for James?
  • OP already knows this. The question is why the word "contact". – AndyT Aug 23 '19 at 9:22
  • I’m @AndyT - the question is about the expression “contact number” not “contact” in BrE. – user067531 Aug 23 '19 at 9:42
  • Right, I'll try rephrasings. The OP already knows what a "contact number" is. Read the question: "It is common in BrE to use 'contact number' where AmE would use 'telephone number'." The OP is not asking what "contact number" means, which is all your answer consists of. The OP is asking what the word "contact" means within the phrase "contact number": "Does the 'contact' in 'contact number' refer to the act of making contact" – AndyT Aug 23 '19 at 9:44
  • @AndyT - in my answer it is clearly stated (in British). – user067531 Aug 23 '19 at 9:51
  • I feel like we're talking at cross purposes here. Would you like to respond to anything I said? – AndyT Aug 23 '19 at 9:56

See https://www.dictionary.com/browse/contact?s=t:

verb (used with object)

  1. to put or bring into contact.
  2. to communicate with:

    We'll contact you by mail or telephone.

Quite simply the "contact" is to do with the verb "to contact", i.e. "to communicate with".

A "contact number" is a number you can use to communicate with someone, or in other words a number they ca be contacted on.

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