About 6 days ago, I asked this question in the English Language and Usage section but have yet to receive any answer. In hindsight, the lack of answers is entirely understandable since that was not the correct place for me to ask my question.

Since I presume this section to be correct place to ask, here is my question:

Written numbers can be read aloud in different ways. For example:

  1. Nominal numbers can be read by pronouncing each digit individually: "My phone number is 123456" read as "one, two, three, four, five, six"
  2. Nominal numbers can also be read by chunking digits together where each chunk is read as a separate whole number: "123456" read as "twelve, thirty-four, fifty-six"
  3. Nominal numbers can also be "phrased": "123456" read as "One, two, three" (short pause) Four, five, six."
  4. Cardinal numbers can be read as whole numbers: "I'm 40 years old" read as "Forty"
  5. Ordinal number where digits are read as a single number but in a way that is different from cardinal numbers: "February 25, 1991" read as "Twenty-fifth"

Does a category exist in linguistics or phonetics that categorizes all the different ways a number can be read? If it does, what is it called? If it doesn't, what are the closest categories to it?

I'd like to stress that I'm not looking for a category based on how numbers are used (e,g nominal, vs cardinal use). Instead, I'm looking for a category based on how numbers are pronounced.

If what I'm asking for is nonsensical - which is not unlikely at this point - please close this question as off-topic.

3 Answers 3


The rhythmic grouping of numbers is usually called "phrasing", e.g. "4-3 2-1-7 9-1-5-6". Within a "phrase", at least in English, there are still options regarding reading the numbers as individual digits vs. number-expressions (one-nine-eight versus one-ninety eight). I've never heard that sub-pattern be given a separate name.

  • Phrasing completely escaped me when I was collecting examples. Thank you for mentioning it! Jan 4, 2021 at 13:06

I am not aware of any linguistic terminology for this particular kind of conventions. However, there is some applicable terminology from software engineering, particularly from the field of localisation: It some kind of locale. While locales typically apply to the visual formatting of dates, numbers etc. in terminal output, stretching it to spoken formatting for audio output is not a big step.

  • 2
    Yeah, the SSML standard for speech synthesis (TTS) just calls it say-as and then you can specify attributes like telephone. Jan 2, 2021 at 12:43
  • 1
    Classic example where academia would have squeezed a hundred papers out of it and meanwhile builders don't even have a name for it... Jan 2, 2021 at 12:44

The syllables of an utterance are normally split into intonational phrases, or IPs, for short. You can think of each IP as consisting of a miniature tune, or musical phrase.

In a situation where the numbers are read as a series of individual digits, each with its own tonic syllable and musical contour, each digit has its own intonational phrase. In cases where the digits are bunched together, and each clump of digits has one tonic syllable and its own musical contour, each clump of digits is one intonational phrase. A vertical bar is often used in transcriptions to indicate the boundaries between intonational phrases:

  • one| two| three| ...
  • one two three| four five six| seven eight nine ten

The term for how utterances are broken up into intonational phrases is ᴛᴏɴᴀʟɪᴛʏ.

[As mentioned elsewhere, there are choices as to whether to present numbers as a series of individual digits or as complex number expressions. I don't know of any specific term relating to this.]

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