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How To Write Telephone Numbers
Thread poster: Nikita Kobrin

Nikita Kobrin  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:22
English to Russian
+ ...
Sep 8, 2002

Yes I know, it sounds somewhat stupid but up to this day I didn\'t know how to do it properly avoiding any possible ambiguity. And WE should know it as most of us work in international environment. For those as ignorant as I was until recently the following notes may be of some use.


How To Write Telephone Numbers

The way that telephone numbers (\"phone numbers\") are commonly written is ambiguous and introduces confusion. Consider the following Adelaide phone number. This number would typically be written as:


While perfectly reasonable, this number is useable only to someone in South Australia. To make it less ambiguous, we could add the area code \"8\":

8 82326262

The above is now a number that is unambiguous within Australia. However, if someone actually dialed the number, they would not get through because in order to dial a non-local number in Australia, you have to prefix the number with \"0\"! So, usually, when a number such as the above is expressed, it is written as:

08 82326262


(08) 82326262

This is now unambiguous and dialable within Australia, but if someone not in Australia tries to dial the number after accessing the Australian phone network from another country, the leading \"0\" will cause the access to fail.

To make the number less internationally ambiguous, one can prefix the phone number and area code with a country code:

61 8 82326262

Confusingly, some people feel that they should still drop a hint to their compatriots that a zero is required if they are dialing the number from Australia, so they write:

61 (0)8 82326262

One sees the parenthesized \"0\" in UK phone numbers quite often.

One problem with the above is that it\'s not directly dialable because, in any country, you need to prefix the number with your international access prefix. In Australia, the prefix is \"0011\" so some people write their number like this:

0011 61 8 82326262

However, this form won\'t work when dialed from other countries where the international access prefix is not \"0011\". Furthermore, prefixing the number with the local international access prefix can confuse those in other countries by forcing them to play a guessing game about where the international access prefix ends and the country code begins, particularly, if the number is run together like this:


Enough! Here\'s How To Do It Properly!

To avoid all of the above confusion, it\'s best to write your phone number in a standard form that seems to be recognised internationally. The form is as follows:


So an example is:

+61 8 82326262

The \"+\" represents the international access prefix (which will vary from country to country). For example, in Australia the \"+\" means \"0011\". A space is placed between the country code and the area code, and between the area code and the local number, so that readers can determine how to dial the number if they are in the same country or area.

I like to separate the two groups of four digits in the local number by a hyphen because it makes the local number easier to read. I don\'t know how \"standard\" this is.

+61 8 8232-6262

Sometimes people use a space to separate two parts of the local number, but I think that this introduces ambiguity.

US Phone Numbers

Americans almost always write their phone number in the following form:

(555) 123-4567

This assumes that the person telephoning knows that the number is in the US and that the country code for the US is 1. To avoid ambiguity, US numbers should be written in the standard form like this:

+1 555 123-4567

A Note On Technology Origin And Address Incompleteness

It is interesting to note that countries that invent a communications technology tend to end up being the only country not to specify themselves in the communication address. Here are three examples:

Stamps: The English invented the postage stamp, and, until very recently were apparently the only country not to put the country name on their stamps.

Telephone: The USA invented the telephone, and nearly all US citizens do not prefix their telephone numbers with their country code, even in email signatures.

Internet domain names: The USA invented the internet and initially used .com and .org and .net rather than and and for the USA. This initial effect was rapidly overtaken by the rate of growth of the internet and these countryless top-level domains now mean \"international\".

Ross Williams (

Adelaide, Australia

4 February 2002

[ This Message was edited by: on 2002-09-08 19:43 ]

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Nathalie M. Girard, ALHC  Identity Verified
English to French
+ ...
The simple things are not so simple indeed... Sep 8, 2002

Thank you very much Nikita for this reminder... I do not think that there is anything *simple* when it relates to our profession!

Kind regards,


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Mats Wiman  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:22
Member (2000)
German to Swedish
+ ...

Brilliant and interesting exposition! Sep 8, 2002

The ITU (ITU, International Telecommunication Union) have no strategy how to standardize and how to educate. Still, it is the second oldest world organisation founded 1865.

One great problem is that few countries indicate how big number series are built.

The systematic exception is as often, Germany.

Their system is this: The number starts with 1,2,3,4 or 5 digits and is the followed by a 0 or a 1 constituting the switchboard.

Dial through numbers are then written

+49-5361-9-(0)-12345 Herr X (Volkswagen AG)


+49-5361-9-(0)/ +49-5361-90

and Herr X -12345

So if I want to talk with Herr Y, I\'m told that his number is 12355

I have suggested to ITU that they introduce the terminology \'breaking point\' for the number preceding \'12345\'.

In Sweden the caller i often mislead because the \'braking point\' is not evident, not even to the operators of the switchboard in question. E.g. the Swedish Government gives its number: +46-(0)8-405 10 00. The caller gets no info about the breaking point and is confused when informed that Mr X has 12345 as opposed to Mr Y with 12355.

In Switzerland one gets even more confused. The switchboard can be 1231111 whereas Mr X has 123276.

In the UK, as often, one sees no system as far as I can remember.

[ This Message was edited by: on 2002-09-08 16:45 ]

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Ralf Lemster  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:22
English to German
+ ...
New DIN 5008 for Germany Sep 8, 2002

Good point!

This issue was addressed recently by the amended German Industry Norm (DIN) 5008, which abolished brackets altogether, and only allows for a hyphen in the case of a general number plus extension. Breaks are only provided for between country code, area code and the phone number. They do, however, still allow for the \"domestic\" format to be used:

- Domestic:

069 123456789 (without extension)

069 78953-123 (with extension)

- International:

+49 69 123456789

+49 69 78953-123

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Arthur Borges
Local time: 18:22
+ ...
DIN 5008 seems best... Sep 9, 2002

Especially since, when phoning to some countries, the initial domestic zero must be dialled for the call to be completed.

Personally I have left the domestic format in the French original and left the international format for the English version. Sometimes I have had to put that troublesome zero between parentheses and added a note explaining its use, because North Americans would tend to dial it.

Hozever some French clients resist changeover from the standard domestic format of double digits separated by periods (e.g. to the more common formatting of grouping larger strings of figures that are separated by a hyphen (e.g. 66363-0011).

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Lexi-tech  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:22
Italian to English
+ ...
Thank you for this thread Sep 9, 2002

I like the DIN. Very simple and economical, just a space, no parenthesis.

Any Iso procedures floating out there on this?



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