501 can be pronounced 'five hundred one' or 'five zero one'. How do I tell someone how it was pronounced without saying the number. The best I've come up with is 'normal style' vs 'zip code style'. How about some proper terms?

What about the distinction between 'five zero one' style and 'five oh one' style? I know this bit is a long shot but what the heck.

  • 1
    Yeah, but there's no special term for it. The special phone number for emergencies in the US is 911. This is pronounced nine-one-one. The date 9/11, on the other hand, is pronounced nine-eleven. Except that they get mixed up between print and speech pretty often. Oh, and native speakers alternate between zero and oh in saying "0", without noticing. Most speakers have numbers (phone, social security, license, etc) memorized and their pronunciation will become ritualized in their speech. But we don't have a term for it. Commented Apr 1, 2021 at 17:22
  • This question is related but not identical, and uses the phrase "digit by digit" english.stackexchange.com/questions/293915/…
    – Stuart F
    Commented Apr 1, 2021 at 22:06
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented Apr 7, 2021 at 10:29

2 Answers 2


You are asking about "some proper terms".

In a comment, John Lawler said...

Most speakers have numbers (phone, social security, license, etc) memorized and their pronunciation will become ritualized in their speech. But we don't have a term for it.

But I disagree.

One of the terms might be the psychological concept ...


  1. the process by which the mind divides large pieces of information into smaller units (chunks) that are easier to retain in short-term memory. As a result of this recoding, one item in memory (e.g., a keyword or key idea) can stand for multiple other items (e.g., a short list of associated points). The capacity of short-term memory is believed to be constant for the number of individual units it can store (see seven plus or minus two), but the units themselves can range from simple chunks (e.g., individual letters or numbers) to complex chunks (e.g., words or phrases). The exact number of chunks remembered depends on the size of each chunk or the subunits contained within each chunk.

APA Dictionary of Pschology

The chunking theory, developed by Chase and Simon (1973) was an important attempt to formalize the mechanisms linked to chunking. It postulated that attention is serial and short-term memory is limited to about seven items (Miller's magical number).

Springer Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning

This extends to long-term memorization and repetition of numbers in groups of three or more. The magic number seems to be 7.

There are different approaches to this process when repeating numbers such as telephone numbers, zip codes, social security numbers, etc depending on memorization and repetition. Quite often they are cultural.

That means that "double 00", or "oh-oh" can be considered as chunked, but the actual usage depends on the culture of the speaker.


It depends to an extent on the country in which you live. For example, in Greece (and, I believe, France) they recite in two-digit numbers, but with the word 'zero' ('Oh' or, in Greek, 'midhen' - as in 'me then') so for 1872 438962

eighteen, seventy two, forty three, eighty nine, sixty two

If there is an odd number of digits, different people do different things: some offer a single digit on its own and the rest in pairs, others pick a suitable three-digit number. This method works quite well in my experience.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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