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In the USA we use a period (dot) as the decimal separator. The word "point" is normally used for the decimal separator when reading such a number. For example, a number such as 3.14 would typically be read as "three point one four". A number such as 0.707 might be read as "point seven zero seven", or "zero point seven zero seven" (or use "oh" in place of "zero").

How are such numbers read in locales that use a comma as a decimal separator? Is the word "point" still used? I've found many articles on reading decimal numbers but all were with numbers using a period as the decimal separator. I've found many articles about when to use a period or comma, but none addressed the pronunciation when using a comma as the decimal separator.

South Africa seems to be the only English speaking country that uses a comma for the decimal separator. So I would like to include English speaking people in countries such as France or Germany (or any other comma using country) in determining how to read numbers such as:

3,14
0,707

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    In the USA, I've heard point much more commonly than dot. Ask anybody the normal human temperature (in Fahrenheit) and you'll get ninety-eight point six. For instance. This applies to periods (decimal points), and if a foreign orthography uses a comma, we make it an honorary period and call it "point". Again, this is strictly USA. Apr 9, 2023 at 23:01
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    @JohnLawler My use of "dot" in my opening sentence was not intended to imply that the period is pronounced as "dot", just that "dot" can be used as another word for "period". But I clearly show that in the USA we pronounce it as "point".
    – HangarRash
    Apr 9, 2023 at 23:27
  • Actually, in school we learned that "3.14" is read: "three and fourteen hundredths". I do (rarely) hear this nowadays.
    – GEdgar
    Apr 10, 2023 at 17:27
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    How to render in English say 3,14 found in a foreign text is a matter of translation, and would be off-topic as such. But the South African English 3,14 is a different matter. Apr 10, 2023 at 18:06

2 Answers 2

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My continental European colleagues sometimes read the decimal as "comma"

I work in the UK and have colleagues from or in many countries in continental Europe. We always speak English.

I believe in German, where the convention is to write "3,1416", the decimal is spoken as "komma". When they speak English they sometimes speak the number as "three comma one four one six". In the UK if a speaker known to be from continental Europe says that, we would generally interpret it as "3.1416".

I had one Spanish colleague who would say "three with one four one six".

Most do say "point", but I don't know whether that is because they are conforming to UK English habits.

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  • Not translating numbers is common with language learners.
    – tchrist
    Apr 9, 2023 at 23:45
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As I understand the question, it takes it as given that the number is already written with a comma in some English text (which is a relatively unusual scenario), and the question is then what word to use when reading the text aloud.

There is no strict rule about this. The setting and purposes of the communication will determine what is the most reasonable thing to do. If it is for some reason important to convey that the number is written with a comma, one will say 'comma'. If the important thing is to just convey what the quantity is, and the audience mostly consist of those who are used to using point, then as a courtesy to them, one may 'translate' the number into their framework and use point, as suggested by Professor Lawler in a comment. (If one thinks of using a decimal comma within English text as a mistake, one may regard this as correcting the mistake.) On the other hand, if the audience consists mostly of those who normally use comma, or its equivalent in their respective languages (e.g. if German, French, and Spanish engineers are working together on a project and using English as their lingua franca), there is no reason for their not using comma.

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