Pronouncing Year Numbers Properly (3rd July 2009)
This is a subject I’ve wanted to get off my chest for about 9 years. It is only concerned with English. Proper pronounciations are, of course, often different in other languages.
Source of the Error
“The year two thousand” is, I suppose, an acceptable quirk for pronouncing 2000. “Twenty-hundred” is the proper way to say it, though. Consider the way 1900 is pronounced “nineteen-hundred”.
Proving it is an Error
Consider 1900 as another example:
- “The year one thousand, nine hundred.”
- 8 syllables from 35 characters.
- 4 syllables from 16 characters.
The proper way is far more compact than the quirky way, in this case. The quirky form is unheard of for this date, too.
Let’s take my date of birth as another example. Namely, 1985:
- “The year one thousand, nine hundred and eighty-five.”
- 12 syllables from 50 characters.
- 5 syllables from 19 characters.
Yowzer! It is small wonder why the quirky form is unheard of for common year numbers!
Years are written 1066 and 2009 rather than 1,066 and 2,009. This indicates their pronounciation should not be grouped into thousands.
Engine capacities use the same convention, when measured in cubic centimetres (cc). For example, my car has a 1.6 litre engine so it has a capacity of 1600cc. That’s pronounced “sixteen-hundred C C”.
A motorbike with a 1.098 litre engine would have a capacity of 1098cc. This is usually pronounced “ten-nine-eight C C” which is slightly quirky. The less common but more correct pronounciation is “ten-ninety-eight”.
Renaissance is Near
Happily, it seems the proper form will regain prominence after this decade is out. The 2012 Olympics are widely pronounced as “the twenty-twelve Olympics”.
The sequel of 2001: A Space Odyssey was called 2010. This is almost universally pronounced “twenty-ten”.
Whilst watching Eurosport, one of the motorsports commentators was talking about the 2009 season and mentioned the 2010 season in the same breath. He pronounced them “two thousand and nine” and “twenty ten”, respectively.
As such, this decade is merely a blip in the way year numbers have been spoken in recent times.
At first it can feel a bit weird saying “twenty-oh-nine” and so on. Just remember you are correct. Don’t worry about how people might react! With time, it flows naturally as you untrain your mouth from the quirky form.
The more naturally you say it, the more easily it will be understood. In the same way that saying “ten-sixty-six” is already natural and well understood.