Spelling and understanding names and dictating numbers on the phone is often difficult enough in your own language. If you are finding it hard to make yourself understood on the phone, make things easier for the caller by using these tips.
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Tip no. 1 – How to say numbers
The first thing you have to know is that there are various words for the figure ‘0’ (null)
When you talk about telephone numbers, flight numbers or bus numbers you say
- In American English zero
- In British English oh or zero
- The code for England is double oh, double four (British English)
- zero – zero – four – four (American English)
- My flight number is LH one – zero – six (AE)
- Bus number one – oh – six will take you to Town Square. (BE)
When you talk about the decimal figures, you say nought (BE) or zero (AE)
- The powder weighs nought point four grammes
When you talk about the temperature, you say zero
- In winter it was five degrees below zero for five weeks.
When you talk about hotel rooms you say oh or zero
- My room number is one – oh /zero –seven
When you talk about sports, you say nil or love, depending on the sport
- Germany beat France two – nil in the European Cup. (football)
- I won the last game of tennis forty – love.
When to use double
In British English it is common to say double when the same number is repeated.
- 5522 is double five double two.
- If the same number is repeated three times, e.g. 777, you say seven double seven, or triple seven.
How to group telephone numbers
Telephone numbers in English are usually spoken in groups of three and four.
Take this number as an example: 0616810516
In German, this would probably be dictated as ‘null sechs – eins sechs – acht eins – null fünf – eins sechs’ or as ‘null sechs – sechzehn – einundachzig – null fünf – sechzehn’.
In English, the same number would be dictated ‘oh (zero) six one – six eight one – oh (zero) five one six’. If a telephone number has double numbers – for example 00444616688122, you dictate it like this: double oh (zero) – double four – four six one – double six – double eight – one double two.
How to dictate decimals
We use a point (.) and not a comma (,) for decimals.
In English, all the numbers after a decimal point are read separately. Examples in parentheses ( ) are American English.
14.66 fourteen point six six
0.023 nought point oh two three (zero point zero two three)
0.123 nought point one two three (zero point one two three)
0.05 oh point oh five (zero point zero five)
However, if the number after the decimal point is money, it is read like a normal number:
€ 14.55 fourteen euros fifty-five cents.
£13.22 thirteen pounds twenty-two (pence)
$2.25 two dollars and twenty-five Cents.
Saying hundreds, thousands and millions
In British English people usually say a hundred and fifteen. In American English, people sometimes leave out the ‘and’ say a hundred fifteen.
The number 1999 is one thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine
The year 1999 is nineteen ninety-nine
The year 2000 is the year two thousand
The year 2007 is two thousand and seven
1,000,000 (1m) is one million
1,000,000,000 (1bn) is one billion
1,250,610 one million two hundred (and) fifty thousand six hundred (and) ten
Always dictate numbers one by one – for example if you have to say the telephone number 681055, say: six – eight – one – zero – five – five (or double five).
Tip no. 2 – How to spell
Even people who speak a foreign language fluently often have trouble saying or understanding the alphabet. Vowels (a, e, i, o, u) and letters like v, w, g and j pose particular problems for German speakers. And hearing the difference between m and n is difficult even in your own language. There are two ways of spelling out names:
- a as in Andrew, b as in Benjamin
- a for Andrew, b for Benjamin
Choose the one you prefer.
Tip no. 3 – When to use 'st', 'nd' and 'rd' for dates and numbers
When you say the date use 'st' after 1 (May the first, twenty-first, thirtyfirst), 'nd' after 2 (June the second, twenty-second), 'rd' after 3 August the third, twenty-third) and 'th' after 4 – 20 (fourth, fifth, twelfth, nineteenth, twentieth).
Tip no. 4 – Be careful when you say the time
In most of the English-speaking world, the 24-hour clock is not used very much, especially not in spoken language. So if you are arranging a meeting or making an appointment for your boss during normal business hours, you say
- I’m calling about the meeting tomorrow at 10.
- I can offer you an appointment at four-thirty.
In these cases, it should be clear that the meeting is at 10 in the morning, not at night, and that the appointment is not at four thirty in the morning! If it is not clear whether you mean morning, afternoon or night, say 'in the morning / afternoon /evening / night’'. Or say 'a.m. / p.m.'.
Note: You only say "o’clock" when you are talking about the full hour, and you can’t use it together with "noon" or "midnight". So you say 11 o’clock, but you can’t say 11.30 o’clock.
10:00 Uhr: 10 a.m. / ten o’clock in the morning
11:30 Uhr: 11:30 a.m. / eleven-thirty / half past eleven in the morning
12:00 Uhr: 12 noon
12:30 Uhr: twelve-thirty / half past noon
24:00 Uhr: midnight
0:30 Uhr: half past twelve at midnight
Secretary Today - Professionelles Business English für Sekretärinnen und Assistentinnen
In Britain, if someone says "half nine" (or "half ten" and so on), they mean thirty minutes after the full hour.
- half nine = 9:30 Uhr
- half twelve = 12:30 Uhr
Be careful not to confuse this with the German "halb neun" which is 8:30 (or 20:30). To be on the safe side, say "eight-thirty, nine-thirty" and so on, to make yourself perfectly clear.