The number in the sententce:

Is this empire 5-4093?

I have heard someone read the number as five to four thousand and ninety-three,can it be read as five four zero nine three or five four o nine three

  • 1
    Anecdotal: I've never heard a US phone number read the first way; during the era where named exchanges were common, it was always "EMPIRE FIVE FOUR ZERO NINE THREE" or "EMPIRE FIVE FOUR OH NINE THREE". Named exchanges have mostly disappeared, so EMPIRE is likely to have been replaced by THREE SIX. Oct 17, 2023 at 11:37
  • certainly not "five to four...." since "to" would be heard as "two". and 9 is "nine" not "night".
    – James K
    Oct 17, 2023 at 19:43
  • Corrected my typo.
    – showkey
    Oct 18, 2023 at 1:47

1 Answer 1


This is an example of a system in the US called 2L-5N, in which phone numbers were specified by two letters and five numbers. The letters identified an exchange, which might have served a small town or one part of a larger city.

Yes, it can be read in either of the two ways you suggest. In contrast, the way you report having heard it read is not at all idiomatic: the only situation in which the digits would be read as a single number is if the last two or three are zeros.

As an illustration of these phone numbers’ being pronounced, consider Glenn Miller’s 1940 hit song called Pennsylvania 6-5000. In the name and throughout the song, this phone number is pronounced “Pennsylvania six five thousand,” though one time near the end it’s sung (with the swinging rhythm) “Pennsylvania SIX five OH oh OH.”

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