1066 and all that: How to say years

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by Liz Walter

Being able to name a year is a pretty basic English skill, but there are a few things that can make it complicated, and there are a number of differences between British and American English.

Let’s start with the (relatively) easy ones. For years like 1345, 1682 or 1961, we say the first two and the second two digits as if they were single numbers: thirteen forty-five; sixteen eighty-two; nineteen sixty-one.

If the third digit is zero, there are two possible ways of saying the year:

1407: fourteen oh seven or fourteen hundred and seven

1901: nineteen oh one or nineteen hundred and one

However, the second way is less common and may sound slightly old-fashioned, especially in American English.

For years ending with two zeros, the convention is:

1500: fifteen hundred

And for those ending with three zeros:

1000: (the year) one thousand

(We often add ‘the year’ at the beginning to make it clear that we are naming a year, since ‘one thousand’ could be used in many other contexts.)

There is an added complication with years from 2000 onwards. We always say (the year) two thousand, but for years after that, there are two possibilities, which depend on whether you are speaking British or American English:

2003: twenty oh three (British and American) or two thousand and three (British)/two thousand three (American)

2012: twenty twelve (British and American) or two thousand and twelve (British)/two thousand twelve (American). (The 2012 Olympics, which were held in London, are always referred to as the twenty twelve Olympics.)

For years before 1000, we often say the first number separately, then the last two numbers as a single number.

465: four sixty-five

In British English, we can also say: (the year) four hundred and sixty-five

For very low number years, we often specify AD (or CE – see below). AD can be placed before or after the year, though traditionalists prefer to have it before, as it would be in Latin.

15: AD fifteen or (the year) fifteen AD

In the Christian-based method of naming years, AD stands for Anno Domini (a Latin phrase meaning ‘in the year of the Lord’). The year 1 AD is said to be the year in which Jesus was born. Years before that are labelled BC (Before Christ). There is no year 0, either AD or BC.

Although the abbreviations AD and BC have been current since around 1800, many people now prefer to use CE (Common Era) and BCE (Before the Common Era), especially in academic texts. The numbering system is the same, but it avoids reference to Christianity.

Years before 1 AD/CE always have BC/BCE after them, and the higher the number, the longer ago the year:

350 BC: three fifty BC (For these, there is no need to say ‘the year’ because BC makes it clear that it is a year, though some people do so, particularly in British English.)

And as for the title of this post – well, 1066 is the most well-known year in British history – do you know why?

30 thoughts on “1066 and all that: How to say years

  1. Maryem Salama

    it is the start of the middle English language. But I have failed to come to grips with “There is no year 0, either AD or BC”

    1. Liz Walter

      Murozel is correct – it is the Battle of Hastings. What I mean about the year 0 is simply that it doesn’t exist. We go straight from 1BC to 1AD.

      1. Maryem Salama

        Pardon me Liz, but it is also the year, which is regarded as the transition from old to middle English. For me, it is so far to relate a post about languages to the history of wars! Or is it related to the anniversary of this battle, which is taking place in this month? Thank you for helping me to understand that 0.

      2. Muhammad Bayezid Hussain

        Hello ma’m, can we say, there is no year 0 because the Roman numerals (used to establish the year counting system in Europe) just didn’t have any?
        Great article. Thanks a lot.

      3. Carlos

        Dear Liz, could you please tell me why Roman numerals are used in English to name the Kings, but not for the centuries?
        Many thanks!

      1. Liz Walter

        I think it’s impossible to be definitive about how to say dates in the future – we will have to wait and see what people actually say. I would think that for 2100, we’d be more likely to say two thousand one hundred, but twenty one twenty does sound likely.

  2. Alexandre

    I’ve really liked the post. As an English student, sometimes i forget the most basic topics… Thank you for bringing it all to light again…

  3. Roland Thiers

    Thank you very much for this post Liz ! Very useful indeed.
    I’m still uncertain about : 1066. Is it ten hundred and sixty six ?
    Could we say ten sixty six in the same way than we say twenty seventeen for 2017 ?
    Roland

  4. loubna

    I’m really greatful about this article .sometimes we forget about tiny things which they might be very important .well I learnt a lot .thank you .

  5. Alexandra

    Liz, thank you for the useful post.
    One more question, though: when we talk about decades we normally say 1960-s (nineteen sixties) adding some kind of plural ending. But what about the decade (and actually more than a decade) after the year 2000? It is very often now when people talk about the period after 2000 and all the tendencies, so how do I say “2000-s”?
    Thank you in advance

    1. Liz Walter

      Yes, that’s a tricky one. Some people say the ‘noughties’, but to be completely clear, you probably do need to say something like ‘the first decade of the 2000s/the 21st century/this century’ or ‘2000 to 2010’.

      1. Carlos Moret

        Liz, can we use Roman numbers to name/write the centuries, just like we do with the Kings? On the other hand, can we use ordinal numbers for the Kings and Queens?
        Thanks for your help!

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