How to say the names of years in English words

I saw this on Facebook today, though not for the first time.

Today it made me think of a Chinese friend who’s not always sure how to say years as words in English. I don’t blame her… You see, if answer “A” is a year—and not, like, a quantity of watermelons in a math problem—by default it absolutely does sound like “two zero two four [year]” in Chinese, although it’s also possible to say “two thousand and twenty-four [year]”.

How do we say the names of years in English? Turns out it’s complicated.

Names of years in English words

In case you’re learning English, or interested in doing some navel-gazing about your own dear weird language, here are the nineteen-hundreds (remember those?) and the two-thousands in English words:

1900 – Nineteen hundred
1901 – Nineteen oh one
1902 – Nineteen oh two
1903 – Nineteen oh three
1904 – Nineteen oh four
1905 – Nineteen oh five
1906 – Nineteen oh six
1907 – Nineteen oh seven
1908 – Nineteen oh eight
1909 – Nineteen oh nine
1910 – Nineteen ten
1911 – Nineteen eleven

1999 – Nineteen ninety-nine
2000 – Two thousand!!!
2001 – Two thousand (and) one
2002 – Two thousand (and) two
2003 – Two thousand (and) three
2004 – Two thousand (and) four
2005 – Two thousand (and) five
2006 – Two thousand (and) six
2007 – Two thousand (and) seven
2008 – Two thousand (and) eight
2009 – Two thousand (and) nine
2010 – Two thousand (and) ten (or Twenty ten)
2011 – Two thousand (and) eleven
2012 – Two thousand (and) twelve (or Twenty twelve)
2013 – Twenty thirteen
2014 – Twenty fourteen
2015 – Twenty fifteen
2016 – Twenty sixteen
2017 – Twenty seventeen
2018 – Twenty eighteen
2019 – Twenty nineteen
2020 – Twenty twenty
2021 – Twenty twenty-one
2022 – Twenty twenty-two

Do I say “two thousand five” or “two thousand’n five”? I don’t know!

Apparently when we got to 2010, we decided “twenty” sounded better than “two thousand”. Except for 2011.

Does anybody say “twenty eleven”? The handful of year/name explanation pages I just looked at all conveniently avoided giving 2011 as an example, so here’s my analysis: It’s annoying to have two “ee” sounds in a row because it means you have to insert a super emphatic pause or be content with saying “twenee-leven”. Which, I dunno, maybe you are.

It seems we prefer “two thousand” (and we use “and”) when we say a formal spoken sentence that has the word “year” in it: “In the year two thousand and nineteen, the world did not know a global pandemic was brewing.”

Apparently some people pronounce some of the early two thousands 2003 by saying things like “twenty oh three”. (Yuck.)

Graduation Years

If we’re talking about a graduation year, then we’re supposed to use two digits. The words for the beginning of this century thus come out sounding like the words for the beginning of last century:

Class of ’99 – class of ninety-nine
Class of ’00 – class of two thousand
Class of ’01 – class of oh one
Class of ’02 – class of oh two
Class of ’03 – class of oh three
Class of ’04 – class of oh four
Class of ’05 – class of oh five
Class of ’06 – class of oh six
Class of ’07 – class of oh seven
Class of ’08 – class of oh eight
Class of ’09 – class of oh nine
Class of ’10 – class of… twenty ten?
Class of ’11 – class of… eleven?

Look, I’m not too sure about the rest of these. It’s been a long time since I graduated. “Class of seventeen” sounds super weird to me, but I can’t imagine what else we’d say.

In fact this whole page is me giving my American opinion on what sounds natural to me. This is the internet. Grain of salt, y’all.