Years (Gregorian) can be read out in English:

A – two digits at a time;
B – each digit separately;
C – full reading of the number.

For example:


  • "Twenty twelve";
  • "Two zero one two";
  • "Two thousand (and) twelve".


  • "Nineteen eighty-eight";
  • "One nine eight eight";
  • "One thousand nine hundred (and) eighty-eight" (Slightly awkward sounding?).

I have two questions:

  1. Can A, B and C work for Japanese too? I.e.


    • "じゅうきゅう はちじゅうはち ねん";
    • "いち きゅう はち はち ねん" (or "ひ ここの や や ねん" ?);
    • "いっせん きゅうひゃく はちじゅう はち ねん".

    If the above are not suitable, then what would be the proper way?

  2. What (and how strong) is the preference for the type of reading for years in Japan? In Gregorian years or in the format of Japanese-Era + Year number?

  • 6
    I have not heard of the B reading in English. Is it popular?
    – user458
    Commented Dec 29, 2011 at 9:00
  • 1
    @sawa. "B" is observed in Singapore. Chinese in Singapore reads each digit separately. It could be that particular method was adopted when speaking English. It sounds perfectly fine to me though, but that's because I'm used to it. I'll admit that I don't know if it's proper English.
    – Flaw
    Commented Dec 29, 2011 at 9:44
  • I took the liberty of slightly editing your body to make it appear "shorter" although the content is the same. :)
    – Alenanno
    Commented Dec 30, 2011 at 18:23

3 Answers 3


In Japanese, four-digit Gregorian years are read only as single numbers. Therefore, 1988年 is せんきゅうひゃくはちじゅうはちねん. Reading the number 1988 as いっせんきゅうひゃくはちじゅうはち (and therefore reading 1988年 as いっせんきゅうひゃくはちじゅうはちねん) with いっせん instead of せん is acceptable but I think that it is non-standard. Neither “じゅうきゅう はちじゅうはちねん” nor “いち きゅう はち はちねん” is correct. The latter might be understandable, but I would be surprised if a native speaker understands “じゅうきゅう はちじゅうはちねん” as the year 1988.

As in English, years are sometimes abbreviated by omitting the first two digits when they are obvious. If someone says 88年 in the contemporary context, it must mean the year 1988. In this case, 88年 is read as はちじゅうはちねん.

Q2. What(and how strong) is the preference for the type of reading for years in Japan? In Gregorian years or in the format of Japanese-Era + Year number?

It is mostly the matter of style and personal taste. Sometimes Gregorian years are used because they are more convenient for calculation, and sometimes Japanese years are used by tradition (as in many official documents issued by government).

  • 2
    I'm wondering how to read 02年. I often see these in news articles.
    – fefe
    Commented Dec 28, 2011 at 15:14
  • @fefe: I would read it as ゼロにねん and I cannot think of other readings right now, but I am not sure if everyone agrees on the reading of 02年. Commented Dec 28, 2011 at 23:35
  • If it has to be read aloud, usually you'll add the 20 before it, so it's pronounced にせんにねん if it's contemporary.
    – syockit
    Commented Dec 31, 2011 at 13:26
  • See this question about how to read years such as 02年. Commented Jan 21, 2012 at 0:48

Agree with TsuyoshiIto's answer, but would like to complement the answer to Q2.

  • The Japanese years are called 元号 or 年号.
  • There is a law that states that, in official contracts, if the date is written both in 元号 and some other system, then the 元号 description overrides the other in case of contradiction or inconsistency. For this reason, in official document, it is somewhat forced to use 元号.
  • I personally hate 元号, and think that it does not qualify as a calendar system because, besides inconvenience in calculation, there is no way you can talk about the future. How would you describe the year after 平成23年? Will it be 平成24年? Likely. What about 5 years later? 平成28年? Maybe. What about 10 years later? 平成33年? Can be. What about 50 years later? 平成73年? Less likely. What about 100 years later? 平成123年? Probably not. ... You can only tell by guess, or you would have no idea how it is called.
  • 3
    Not that I want to promote the use of 元号, but I guess that the notation like 平成123年 is the “correct” way to refer to future years with 元号 now (although it is weird for the reason you stated). For example, page 17 (or page 16 excluding the title page) of this PDF slides mentions 平成51年, 平成101年, and so on. Commented Dec 29, 2011 at 0:39
  • 1
    @TsuyoshiIto Yeah. Those are strange. It has been a big wonder to me how that kind of stuff qualify as official descriptions because the moment it turns out that there was no 平成51年, then that whole document should turn into something uninterpretable, according to my logical reasoning.
    – user458
    Commented Dec 29, 2011 at 0:47
  • 2
    So, what if there was a legal document talking about the future (for example: X needs to happen by ## year or Y will take effect)...could you just say X number of years after this date, or Heisei ##? I'm just curious... Commented Dec 29, 2011 at 2:28
  • Can you name the law which you are talking about in the second bullet? I did not know that rule, and a cursory search did not bring anything relevant. Commented Jan 2, 2012 at 21:18

Q1. 1988年 should be read, "センキュウヒャクハチジュウハチネン”, nothing else.

Q2. Generally Japanese use 平成 at the moment. It is more use than 2012 etc.

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