61

When I started learning English in junior school I was told that I had to pronounce the year 1997 nineteen ninety-seven and the year 2007 two thousand seven.

I've always followed the rule and pronounced the current year two thousand something, while refering to the last century with nineteen-something.

However I have, on several occasions, heard people talk about future years - e.g. 2050 in this tune's intro - and pronounce it twenty something.

This made me think it was ok to say, for instance, twenty seventeen when talking about the current year and I thought about it no more. Lately, in English class, I was talking to my teacher about a trip I did in 2012 and as he asked when, I answered: "That was in twenty twelve". And well by the look on his face I imediately corrected myself - "Oops, I mean two thousand twelve!" - and he was happy. But I did not get the occasion of asking him about the rule.

When will we stop refering to the current year as two thousand something and start saying twenty something?

Two thousand seventeen is already long and laborious to say, but in ten years? Two thousand twenty-seven is even worse. By then will we be "allowed" to say twenty twenty-seven? If not, when? Why not now? And what about the year 4456, do I have to say four thousand four hundreds fifty six or fourty-four fifty-six?

To make short, what is the rule here? I have no clue.

Thanks in advance!

P.S.: I also have no clue on how to hyphenate numbers but that's another story.

  • 13
    When the century changes, nobody will consult a book. They will just pronounce it the way it sounds right to them, and the way they prefer to hear it when other people say it. They will generally use the choice with the fewest syllables. – fixer1234 Apr 11 '17 at 14:56
  • 15
    As a native English speaker in England, I find "two thousand seven" quite jarring (although it's becoming increasingly common I think it's an Americanism). I would always say "two thousand and seven". – stripybadger Apr 12 '17 at 9:08
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    @stripybadger As an American, in elementary school, it was drilled into me to only insert an "and" in numerals to indicate the end of the whole number portion and the beginning of the decimal portion. 2007 = "two thousand seven", 2007.7 = "two thousand seven and seven tenths". – Harrison Paine Apr 12 '17 at 15:46
91

I am a native speaker with a careful ear. From my experience, I can tell you that when the millennium turned from 19xx to 20xx, we said "two thousand" plus the remainder throughout the aughts (01, 02, ..., 09). To use the "twenty" construction would have required acknowledging the zero digit: "twenty oh-eight, twenty-oh-nine" or "twenty-aught-seven" etc. Those were still heard a lot, however, as we were all new to the millennium and its numbering.

When it hit 2010, we started mostly saying "twenty-ten, twenty-eleven, twenty-twelve," etc., but it was not uncommon to hear "two thousand thirteen." This somewhat ambiguous pattern will likely continue throughout the teens.

You may be reasonably sure that once we hit the twenties, the "twenty-something" construction will overwhelm the "two thousand" one because "twenty" is still easier to say than "two thousand," and by that time it will also be more felicitous to use because "twenty twenty" has already made inroads into the general ear due to its appearance in popular culture as a standard of vision, etc.

Addendum

Just to add to an appreciation of the discomfort we feel with the awkwardness of "two thousand", consider the year 2000 itself. It's almost invariably referred to using the confection "the year 2000." Compare uses of "the year 2000" vs, say, uses of "the year 2012" in the Wikipedia articles on those years: "the year 2000" is referenced five times in the three-paragraph article (four in text, once in footnotes), while "the year 2012" in its article is given only once (all other times referring to that year simply as "2012").

Note that the millennial year was sometimes referred to as "Y2K"—although that term is blurred because Y2K could refer to the year itself or (more often, I think) to the turning of the millennium as a concept.

Now, given that we had primed our ears for "two thousand" by using "the year 2000," and that for thirty-odd years we had the example of the very popular Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey, which everyone I ever heard talk about the film referred to as Two Thousand One and not Twenty-Oh-One, it seems reasonable to suppose that these uses laid a "two thousand" groove from which it was somewhat difficult to extricate our tongues.

Note that I am not saying it was impossible: people still did use "twenty-oh" while the rest of us muddled along doggedly using "two thousand" until 2010 (when, again, not all of us switched). All I am saying is that the millennium shook up the way we pronounce years, and we are slowly returning to the old pattern, the way ripples in a pond slowly die out after a rock has been tossed in.

Order will be restored. Be patient.

Addendum

Last night I was watching a news program and heard the announcer refer to events that happened in "two thousand nine and twenty ten" ... which was interesting.

  • 4
    I agree there was (is?) almost certainly a greater tendency to use the longer forms for the first decade, but your answer here seems a bit too "black and white" to me. I've no doubt the "novelty factor" encouraged me to use the longer form more often during the first few months of the new millennium. But that would have worn off soon enough anyway, and it's not directly relevant to later spoken references to earlier dates. I'm also more likely to say the year two thousand in contexts where I wouldn't have included those first two words for later years. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Apr 11 '17 at 14:45
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    I was careful to grant the ambiguity, so I don't see how my answer is "too 'black and white'" ... – Robusto Apr 11 '17 at 14:48
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    I believe that the primary difference between US and UK usage is the use of the 'and' as in two-thousand and seven. If someone said two-thousand seven, it would seem strange and wrong to me in the UK. – Rugnir Apr 11 '17 at 15:58
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    @FumbleFingers: Are you claiming that many (even most?!) people would say e.g. twenty-oh-seven for 2007? It stretches my credulity to believe that anyone habitually uses that form. In my experience, it's definitely two-thousand-one through two-thousand-nine, then twenty-ten on up. – Nick Matteo Apr 11 '17 at 21:44
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    @FumbleFingers - "I've no doubt the "novelty factor" encouraged me to use the longer form more often during the first few months of the new millennium" - No, I don't think that was it. I think it was that if the year is "2003" and you parse that as '20' and '03' and say "twenty three" then nobody knows what you mean. You'd have to say "twenty-oh-three", which is artificial and contrived. That problem goes away as soon as you hit "2010" (and above), which you can parse as '20' and '10' and say as "twenty ten" without any possibility of confusion or spurious "oh" sounds. – aroth Apr 12 '17 at 3:25
17

You can't easily establish how the year component of C21 dates is spoken by searching online, because hardly anyone would actually write, say, two thousand [and] sixteen or twenty sixteen. Note also that the [and] there is usually omitted by AmE speakers, and no-one includes it unless they explicitly articulated thousand (or nineteen hundred and sixteen for earlier centuries).

Personally I have no general preference as to whether I refer to the century component of current dates using twenty or two thousand. I use both, but I'm slightly more likely to use the longer form when I want to call attention to the fact that it's a date in the current century (i.e. - "recent, modern").


My guess (and it's no more than that) is that apart from honouring the same principle as I set out above, people are more likely to use the longer form for the first decade (two thousand and one, rather than twenty oh-one). The other relevant factor is if you often have to read dates aloud to co-workers in the office, clients on the phone, etc. In that case you'd probably tend to favour the shorter version.


But I seriously doubt any native speaker would particularly notice whether another native speaker reflected the same or a different preference to themselves. Just use whichever seems most natural to you, and don't get bogged down with thinking that just because you're not a native speaker, your opinion of what "sounds natural" doesn't count for much. It doesn't really matter anyway.

16

As a native American English speaker, both "two-thousand seventeen" and "twenty seventeen" are acceptable ways to say the year "2017". Generally, I consider "two-thousand seventeen" to be more formal and "twenty seventeen" to be more casual. As examples, you might hear "two-thousand seventeen" in a news broadcast, but use "twenty seventeen" in personal conversations.

The first decade of the 21st century rarely uses the "twenty something" form because of the ambiguity between phrases like "twenty seven" (2007) and "twenty-seven" (27). In rare occasions, the zero is pronounced as "oh" or "aught" to disambiguate ("twenty oh seven" or "twenty aught seven").

  • 10
    Yeah, I don't think anyone ever said "twenty seven" when they meant 2007. "Twenty seven" simply doesn't and cannot mean 2007. – Martha Apr 11 '17 at 19:56
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    I think your observations are right, but I don't think your reasoning in the second paragraph is right. As martha says and as you say, nobody ever said twenty seven and nobody would ever have said twenty seven - just like we don't say nineteen seven we say nineteen-oh-seven. But that isn't rare, that's exactly what you'd expect and if you had to guess you would assume it would carry on into twenty oh seven just like nineteen seventeen carried on into twenty seventeen. – Au101 Apr 12 '17 at 2:47
  • Now for sure if you did say nineteen seven there's no ambiguity there, unlike twenty seven, that's true. It's also true that two thousand and seven rolls off the tongue a lot more than one thousand nine hundred and seven, so those are both ways in which the case of 2007 isn't analogous to that of 1907, but I don't really believe we used two thousand and seven for the first decade because of an ambiguity with twenty seven, because we'd never have said twenty seven. We would have and did say twenty oh seven – Au101 Apr 12 '17 at 2:50
  • @Martha: If people were systematic, they could say “twenty hundred (and) seven” like the English used to only 400 years ago. (And the Dutch and Germans only 17 years ago.) Or “twenty and seven” to make it short. – 7vujy0f0hy Apr 12 '17 at 16:32
  • @Au101 In my experience "twenty oh seven" and "twenty aught seven" are rarely used compared to "two-thousand seven", but that could be a regional phenomenon. – asgallant Apr 12 '17 at 23:09
6

I'm not a native speaker but from grammar books I've learnt that with the years like 20xx we say two-thousand and xx and this goes up to 2100 - as twenty-one-hundred. However, nobody says that it is incorrect to say twenty xx

The and part may be dropped in AmE. So the way it works (as I know it):

  • 2008 - two-thousand (and) eight
  • 2067 - two-thousand (and) sixty-seven

but:

  • 2101 - twenty-one-oh-one (as fixer commented)
  • 2367 - twenty-three sixty-seven

With your examples:

  • 2017 - two-thousand seventeen.
  • 4456 - forty-four fifty-six
  • Nice answer. Even if I did not ask, thank you for the part about the and. I couldn't remember if I had to include it or not. – Ctouw Apr 11 '17 at 14:25
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    @Ctouw and SovereignSun - The "and" is used in British English but not in American English. To me as native Brit both "twenty seventeen" and "two thousand and seventeen" sound fine and normal; "two thousand seventeen" sounds wrong (though I'm somewhat used to it by virtue of watching plenty of American TV). – AndyT Apr 11 '17 at 15:37
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    As a native American English speaker, I would say that when saying years, it is very rare to hear the "and" but with other numbers it is heard sometimes. For example "One Hundred and One." – Robert Hickman Apr 11 '17 at 16:55
  • In 2067 (if I'm still alive then) I will not say the year as 'two-thousand sixty-seven', but as 'twenty sixty-seven' or just 'sixty-seven'. – Rob K Apr 13 '17 at 13:50
  • @RobK It's your choice. I might say the same. – SovereignSun Apr 13 '17 at 14:05
5

Wikipedia says:

There is a debate among experts and the general public on how to pronounce specific years of the 21st century in English. Regarding this, academics suggested that since former years such as 1805 and 1905 were commonly pronounced as "eighteen oh" or "nineteen oh" five, the year 2005 should naturally have been pronounced as "twenty oh-five". A less common variation would have been "twenty nought-five". Generally, the early years of the 21st century were pronounced as "two-thousand (and) five", with a change taking place in 2010, where pronunciations often shift between the early-year standard of "two-thousand and ten" and the common approach used in the late 20th century of "twenty-ten".

The Vancouver Olympics, which took place in 2010, was being officially referred to by Vancouver 2010 as "the twenty-ten Olympics". The latest timeframes for change are usually placed at 2020.

Charles Osgood, a long-time CBS news anchor (he hosted "CBS News Sunday Morning" from 1994 to 2016) pronounced all 21st century years as "twenty-something". I recall him making a statement about his preference on the program when the century changed.

  • 1
    The phrase "nineteen hundred" is four syllables, while "nineteen-oh" is three, thus making the latter shorter. On the other hand, "twenty-oh" is the same number of syllables as "two thousand", and thus doesn't have such an advantage. – supercat Apr 13 '17 at 22:52
2

Conversationally: "Twenty-Seventeen." Definitely. I teach English to foreign-born immigrants and am researching grammar, spelling, pronunciation (including regional dialects) constantly for my students.

"Two-thousand-seventeen" is used when emphasis is placed on the year SPECIFICALLY for some inherent reason. Ex: "Two-thousand-seventeen was the year..." and then some remark emphasizing THAT PARTICULAR year to make a specific point about THAT time-period.

  • The second part of your answer has an interesting point. That has already been evoked in several other answers and comments but you put it simply and clearly. – Ctouw Apr 13 '17 at 12:37
2

It will become awkward to use the two thousand approach in 2101. Because it will be eight syllables versus five syllables to say it the longer way; whereas, the difference between two thousand seventeen and twenty seventeen is only one syllable. As native speakers, it will feel ridiculous for us to speak the year using eight syllables.

As a native born American and English teacher, I still use the two thousand approach. From 2008 to 2017, I have been abroad, teaching in Asia, so I was not around native speakers to hear how people said the year. I naturally spoke two thousand ten, and so on, and didn't think much about it until I heard it spoken differently in a news video. I think twenty seventeen seems to fit well with a younger generation accustomed to efficiency and convenience. For someone like me, who likes to draw things out at length, I find two thousand seventeen has a much more pleasant sound.

Either way you say it, by 2101, you likely won't be hearing anyone say, "Wow, is it the year two thousand one hundred and one, already?"

1

I am a native (american) english speaker.

It is always correct to pronounce the year number the same way you would for other things. How would you pronounce $2017 or 2017 miles? That is always correct.

There are ways of pronouncing the year that would never be used for miles or dollars, but they are not more correct than the regular pronunciation of the number.

  • 2
    Even though it's evident what you're referring to in your last sentence, you could flesh it out with examples for the sake of completeness. – userr2684291 Apr 12 '17 at 12:50
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    I can't agree with this. World War One started one thousand nine hundred and fourteen miles away, in nineteen fourteen. I can't imagine a native speaker of English talking about "nineteen fourteen miles". – Dawood says reinstate Monica Apr 14 '17 at 3:09
-3

British English native here. We only say two thousand and seventeen with the and being a requirement. Omitting that appears to be an American thing.

Saying it like twenty twelve is very rare and usually reserved for a specific event, and only if the year sounds good in said event's title (the obvious examples being major sporting events like the olympics)

  • 8
    As a British English native I disagree; "twenty ****" sounds completely natural to me for anything from 2010 onwards. – AndyT Apr 12 '17 at 8:24
  • We only say two thousand and seventeen.... Not sure why you think that. Personally, I curse anyone who still uses the two thousand and... format when "twenty seventeen* is completely unambiguous. – adelphus Apr 12 '17 at 8:43
  • @AndyT Really? If someone asked you what year it was three years ago you'd say "Oh, it was twenty fourteen". I think that's quite uncommon. – Matt Fletcher Apr 12 '17 at 17:31
  • I'm fairly sure I would. But as a quick random test I asked a colleague (late 20s, lives in London) what year it was, and he responded "twenty seventeen". – AndyT Apr 13 '17 at 8:17
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    If your statement is correct, then British English usage has regional variations. Where I live, nobody would say "two thousand and seventeen" - "twenty seventeen" (and "twenty oh seven" for the first decade of the century) is completely "standard". The only exception is the year "two thousand". – alephzero Apr 13 '17 at 8:50

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