A strange topic for a blog? Or is it?

ZeroTo most of my Business English clients, how to say zero in English is very important to avoid misunderstandings, especially on the telephone or in video conferences. As a non-native speaker, you might say the figure zero as a plain zero which is absolutely fine, but often an English native speaker will use a number of ways to say zero depending on where they are from. So understanding what they mean is important.

Consequently, I often find myself dedicating part of a Business English lesson on the different ways the English Language has of saying this apparently simple figure.

In this blog post, I’m going to consider the British English (BrE) and American (AE) versions. I’d be very interested to know if there are any other versions in other parts of the English-speaking world.

0 is zero and in British English, it’s sometimes known as nought.

In telephone numbers, room numbers, bus numbers and dates (years), we say oh.

Here are some examples:

  • The meeting is in Room 502 (five oh two)
  • You need to take Bus 205 (two oh five)
  • She was born in 1907 (nineteen oh seven)
  • My telephone number is 07781 020 560 (oh double seven eight one oh two oh five six oh OR zero seven seven eight one zero two zero five six zero)

For football scores we say nil: ‘The score was three nil (3-0) to Barcelona’.

films_thumb_30_loveAmerican English uses various words for sports scores: The Yankees are winning three nothing/ three zero/ three zip.
For tennis scores we say love: ‘The score was thirty love. (30-0)

For temperatures we say zero: ‘It’s zero degrees celsius today (0°)

The decimal point (Notice that in English we say decimal point, and not a dot as in internet addresses). In British English, zero and nought are used before and after a decimal point. American English does not use nought.

can be used after the decimal point.
Here are some examples:

  • 0.05       zero point zero five OR nought point nought five
  • 0.5%      zero point five percent OR nought point five percent.
  • 0.501     zero point five zero one OR nought point five nought one OR           nought/zero point five oh one

The world of numbersConfused? Don’t be. Like everything in this world, practice makes perfect. The more you use figures in English in your job, the more comfortable you’ll be saying them.

Over to you now.  Try saying the following:

  1. Can I have my bill please? I’m in Room 204.
  2. The exact figure is 0.002.
  3. Can you get back to me on 0208 775 3001.
  4. Look, it’s less than 0.0001! Let’s not worry about it.
  5. 0.75% won’t make a lot of difference.

What do you find the hardest when saying zero in English?

I hope you found this blog post useful. Please share it if you think your friends and colleagues would find it beneficial, too.

Ciao for now.


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Source: Financial English, Ian MacKenzie (2012) Heinle Cengage Learning