# What is the general rule of parsing a long sequence of numbers?

I used to just read the digits, but some native speakers do it in a different way. They read it 2 by 2. So my house number (1234) would be "twelve thirty-four", and my apartment number (567) "five sixty-seven". When I pay my bills the cashier lady told me the amount due (\$121.05) was "one twenty-one dollars five cents". But I've yet to hear anyone read their phone number in this fashion - they just read it digit by digit. So what is the general convention of reading a long sequence of numbers in English?

• Where are you that your cashier read a dollar amount as numbers? I've only ever heard people say money as "One hundred [and] twenty-one dollars [and] five cents."
– Catija
Sep 9, 2015 at 22:17
• @Catija I'm in the US now. But if that's not the right way to say dollar amouts, maybe she's just hinting at me the correct way of reading number sequences (because when she asked me my ID I read it digit by digit).
– arax
Sep 9, 2015 at 22:21
• For further reading: ELU had a similar question a few years ago.
– J.R.
Sep 10, 2015 at 0:59
• Working next to call center operators, I overheard arguments about the "right" way to read particular numbers. There is no universal convention, or there would be no such arguments. I do read my own phone number with some grouped digits: "digit digit digit, digit pair, pair pair". The area code is not "digit pair" because the pair would be seventeen, which sounds like seventy. I commonly read \$121.05 as "one twenty-one, oh five", but also as "one hundred twenty-one dollars and five cents" when clarity is essential and twelve thousand one hundred and five dollars seems possible. Sep 10, 2015 at 14:35

There's no strict rule about any of these things. There are conventions.

There are two main ways of reading numbers:

1. Mathematically, using place value words (hundred, thousand, million, etc)
2. Broken up into smaller segments, generally tens or ones.

With long sequences of numbers, particularly those like phone numbers and social security numbers, we don't generally use the mathematical terms because they're number sequences and not whole numbers.

Let's use this one for example and I'll list a couple versions that I would expect to hear. Note, commas indicate a pause:

213.555.4455

• two-one-three, five-five-five, four-four-five-five
• two-thirteen, triple five, forty-four-fifty-five

These groupings may be mixed together in many possible configurations, often depending on the person and what the specific number is. Note, while we will go up to tens units, we rarely go up to hundreds in phone numbers.

We will occasionally use "double" or "triple" when numbers are repeated. Though this is more common in British English than American English.

An exception is when you run into phone numbers ending with zeroes, usually either two or three. These numbers are common in corporate/business phone numbers because they're easy to say and remember:

800-244-1000

• eight hundred, two-four-four, one thousand.

210-235-5500

• two-one-oh, two-three-five, fifty-five hundred

(as a note, the sections read off as individual numbers can be combined as in the earlier example)

Similarly, with other long numbers, we often say each number individually or with the tens units. So, in Social Security numbers, we'll specifically group the numbers and say them in singles or in pairs:

803-62-2827

• eight-zero-three, six-two, two-eight-two-seven
• eight-oh-three, sixty-two, twenty-eight-twenty-seven

Exact dollar amounts are generally read in a dollars and cents format using the place values and separating the dollars and cents verbally:

\$3,765.66

• three thousand seven hundred [and] sixty-five dollars and sixty-six cents.

But we also will often shorten it and ignore the place values and the dollars and cents:

• thirty-seven sixty-five sixty-six

As you can guess, this can be a bit confusing. It's arguably more common with amounts under 1000.

\$345.19

• Three-forty-five nineteen

So, the general convention for long numbers (if you're not reading them mathematically) is to read them in singles or pairs and, if there are three numbers, the first number is generally said alone with the second two paired (if you're pairing them). As a caveat, if a number ends with two or more zeroes, it will often be read as -hundred (two zeroes) or -thousand (three zeroes).

• That social security number looks almost real. Please say it is not or perhaps change it just in case it does belong to someone? :) BTW, nice answer. Sep 9, 2015 at 23:08
• @MichaelDorgan All numbers that begin with 800 and up are "invalid" and are not used.
– Catija
Sep 9, 2015 at 23:19