Spelling alphabet

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A spelling alphabet, voice procedure alphabet, radio alphabet, or telephone alphabet is a set of words used to stand for the letters of an alphabet in oral communication.

Each word in the spelling alphabet typically replaces the name of the letter with which it starts (acrophony). It is used to spell out words when speaking to someone not able to see the speaker, or when the audio channel is not clear. The lack of high frequencies on standard telephones makes it hard to distinguish an 'F' from an 'S' for example. Also, the lack of visual cues during oral communication can cause confusion. For example, lips are closed at the start of saying the letter "B" but open at the beginning of the letter "D" making these otherwise similar-sounding letters more easily discriminated when looking at the speaker. Without these visual cues, such as during announcements of airline gate numbers "B1" and "D1" at an airport, "B" may be confused with "D" by the listener. Spelling out one's name, a password or a ticker symbol over the telephone are other scenarios where a spelling alphabet is useful.

A spelling alphabet is also often called a phonetic alphabet, especially by amateur radio enthusiasts,[1] recreational sailors in the US and Australia,[2] and NATO military organizations.[3] However, this conflicts with the usage of the same phrase in phonetics to mean a notation used for phonetic transcription or phonetic spelling, such as the International Phonetic Alphabet, which is used to indicate the sounds of human speech.


Prior to spelling alphabets, the words used to indicate English letters were "a", "bee", "cee", "dee", "e", etc. Their spoken sounds are difficult to discriminate, particularly over a limited-bandwidth and noisy communications channel, hence the use by armed services of unambiguous phonetic alphabets for electrical voice communication (telephone and radio, but not telegraph). Confusion between letters may not be problematical in some circumstances but, particularly in some military contexts, it can have lethal consequences.

British Army signallers began using a partial spelling alphabet in the late 19th century. Recorded in the 1898 "Signalling Instruction" issued by the War Office and followed by the 1904 Signalling Regulations[4] this system differentiated only the letters most frequently misunderstood: Ack (originally "Ak") Beer (or Bar) C D E F G H I J K L eMma N O Pip Q R eSses Toc U Vic W X Y Z. This alphabet was the origin of phrases such as "ack-ack" (A.A. for anti-aircraft), "pip-emma" for pm and Toc H for an ex-servicemen association. It was developed on the Western Front of the First World War. The RAF developed their "Telephony Spelling Alphabet", which was adopted by all three services and civil aviation in the UK from 1921.

It was later formally codified to provide a phonetic equivalent for all 26 letters (see comparative tabulation of military alphabets before 1956).

For civilian users, in particular in the field of finance, terms such as "November" for N and "Kilo" for K were considered too long or obscure[citation needed], and an alternative alphabet arose. Common first names were a popular choice, and the First Name Alphabet came into common use.

Voice procedure[edit]

Spelling alphabets are especially useful when speaking in a noisy environment when clarity and promptness of communication is essential, for example during two-way radio communication between an aircraft pilot and air traffic control, or in military operations. Whereas the names of many letters sound alike, the set of replacement words can be selected to be as distinct from each other as possible, to minimise the likelihood of ambiguity or mistaking one letter for another. For example, if a burst of static cuts off the start of an English-language utterance of the letter J, it may be mistaken for A or K. In the international radiotelephony spelling alphabet known as the ICAO (or NATO) phonetic alphabet, the sequence J-A-K would be pronounced Juliet-Alpha-Kilo. Some voice procedure standards require numbers to be spelled out digit by digit, so some spelling alphabets replace confusable digit names with more distinct alternatives; for example, the NATO alphabet has "niner" for 9 to distinguish it better from 5 and the German word "nein".

Major radiotelephone spelling alphabets[edit]

ITU Phonetic Alphabet and Figure Code[edit]

Defined by various international conventions on radio, including:

  • International Radiotelegraph Convention, Washington, 1927 (which created the CCIR)[5]
  • General Radiocommunication and Additional Regulations (Madrid, 1932)[6]
  • The ~1936 ARRL and Western Union alphabets likely originated earlier. [7]
  • General Radiocommunication Regulations and Additional Radiocommunication Regulations (Cairo, 1938)[8]
  • Radio Regulations and Additional Radio Regulations (Atlantic City, 1947),[9] where "it was decided that the International Civil Aviation Organization and other international aeronautical organizations would assume the responsibility for procedures and regulations related to aeronautical communication. However, ITU would continue to maintain general procedures regarding distress signals."
  • 1959 Administrative Radio Conference (Geneva, 1959)[10]
  • Final Acts of WARC-79 (Geneva, 1979).[11] Here the alphabet was formally named "Phonetic Alphabet and Figure Code".
  • International Code of Signals for Visual, Sound, and Radio Communications, United States Edition, 1969 (Revised 2003)[12]
  • NATO phonetic alphabet history[13]
  • International Telecommunications Union, Radio
Letter 1927 Phonetic 1932 Phonetic ~1936 ARRL ~1936 Western Union 1938 Phonetic 1947 Phonetic 1959 Phonetic 1969–Present Phonetic 1969–Present Pronunciation
A Amsterdam Amsterdam Able Adams Amsterdam Amsterdam Alpha Alpha AL FAH
B Baltimore Baltimore Boy Boston Baltimore Baltimore Bravo Bravo BRAH VOH
C Canada Casablanca Cast Chicago Casablanca Casablanca Charlie Charlie CHAR LEE
D Denmark Danemark Dog Denver Danemark Danemark Delta Delta DELL TAH
E Eddystone Edison Easy Edward Edison Edison Echo Echo ECK OH
F Francisco Florida Fox Frank Florida Florida Foxtrot Foxtrot FOKS TROT
G Gibraltar Gallipoli George George Gallipoli Gallipoli Golf Golf GOLF
H Hanover Havana Have Henry Havana Havana Hotel Hotel HOH TELL
I Italy Italia Item Ida Italia Italia India India IN DEE AH
J Jerusalem Jérusalem Jig John Jérusalem Jerusalem Juliett Juliett JEW LEE ETT
K Kimberley Kilogramme King King Kilogramme Kilogramme Kilo Kilo KEY LOH
L Liverpool Liverpool Love Lincoln Liverpool Liverpool Lima Lima LEE MAH
M Madagascar Madagascar Mike Mary Madagascar Madagascar Mike Mike MIKE
N Neufchatel New York Nan New York New-York New York November November NO VEM BER
O Ontario Oslo Oboe Ocean Oslo Oslo Oscar Oscar OSS CUR
P Portugal Paris Pup Peter Paris Paris Papa Papa PAH PAH
Q Quebec Québec Quack Queen Québec Quebec Quebec Quebec KEH BECK
R Rivoli Roma Rot Robert Roma Roma Romeo Romeo ROW ME OH
S Santiago Santiago Sail Sugar Santiago Santiago Sierra Sierra SEE AIR RAH
T Tokio Tripoli Tare Thomas Tripoli Tripoli Tango Tango TANG OH
U Uruguay Upsala Unit Union Upsala Upsala Uniform Uniform YOU NEE FORM or OO NEE FORM
V Victoria Valencia Vice Victor Valencia Valencia Victor Victor VIK TAH
W Washington Washington Watch William Washington Washington Whiskey Whiskey WISS KEY
X Xantippe Xanthippe X-ray X-ray Xanthippe Xanthippe X-ray X-ray ECKS RAY
Y Yokohama Yokohama Yoke Young Yokohama Yokohama Yankee Yankee YANG KEY
Z Zululand Zürich Zed Zero Zurich Zurich Zulu Zulu ZOO LOO
1 One One One One Unaone OO-NAH-WUN
2 Two Two Two Two Bissotwo BEES-SOH-TOO
3 Three Three Three Three Terrathree TAY-RAH-TREE
4 Four Four Four Four Kartefour KAR-TAY-FOWER
5 Five Five Five Five Pantafive PAN-TAH-FIVE
6 Six Six Six Six Soxisix SOK-SEE-SIX
7 Seven Seven Seven Seven Setteseven SAY-TAY-SEVEN
8 Eight Eight Eight Eight Oktoeight OK-TOH-AIT
9 Nine Nine Nine Nine Novenine NO-VAY-NINER
0 Zero Zero Zero Zero Nadazero NAH-DAH-ZAY-ROH
, Comma Comma Comma Comma
/ Fraction bar Fraction bar Fraction bar Fraction bar Forward slash
Break signal Break signal Break signal
. Full stop Full stop (period) Full stop (period) Stop STOP
. Decimal DAY-SEE-MAL

For the 1938 and 1947 phonetics, each transmission of figures is preceded and followed by the words "as a number" spoken twice.

The ITU adopted the International Maritime Organization's phonetic spelling alphabet in 1959,[14] and in 1969 specified that it be "for application in the maritime mobile service only".[15]

Pronunciation was not defined prior to 1959. For the 1959–Present phonetics, the underlined syllable of each letter word should be emphasized, and each syllable of the code words for the figures (1969–Present) should be equally emphasized.

International aviation[edit]

The ICAO Radiotelephony Alphabet is defined by the International Civil Aviation Organization for international aircraft communications.[16][17]

Letter 1932 ITU/ICAN Phonetic 1951 IATA Phonetic 1956–Present ICAO Phonetic
A Amsterdam Alpha Alpha
B Bravo Bravo
C Casablanca Coca Charlie
D Denmark Delta Delta
E Edison Echo Echo
F Florida Foxtrot Foxtrot
G Gallipoli Golf Golf
H Havana Hotel Hotel
I Italia India India
J Jerusalem Juliett Juliett
K Kilogramme Kilo Kilo
L Liverpool Lima Lima
M Madagascar Mike Mike
N New York November November
O Oslo Oscar Oscar
P Petra Papa Papa
Q Quebec Quebec Quebec
R Roma Romeo Romeo
S Santiago Sierra Sierra
T Tripoli Tango Tango
U Upsala Uniform Uniform
V Valencia Victor Victor
W Washington Whiskey Whisky
X Xanthippe X-ray X-ray
Y Yokohama Yankee Yankee
Z Zurich Zulu Zulu
1 One
2 Two
3 Three
4 Four
5 Five
6 Six
7 Seven
8 Eight
9 Niner
0 Zero
. Decimal


The NATO phonetic alphabet is defined by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the five-nation subgroup of its members that maintain the Allied Communications Publications. This spelling alphabet evolved from the procedures of several different Allied nations during World War II, including:

Allied military alphabet history
United Kingdom United States
Royal Navy Western Front slang
or "signalese"[citation needed]
RAF phonetic alphabet U.S. phonetic
1914–1918 (World War I) 1924–1942 1943–1956 1941–1956

Law enforcement[edit]

Defined by the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International.[18]

The APCO first suggested that its Procedure and Signals Committee work out a system for a "standard set of words representing the alphabet should be used by all stations" in its April 1940 newsletter.[19][20]

Letter APCO Project Two, 1967 Modern
A Adam
B Boy
C Charles
D David
E Edward
F Frank
G George
H Henry
I Ida
J John
K King
L Lincoln
M Mary
N Nora
O Ocean
P Paul
Q Queen
R Robert
S Sam
T Tom
U Union
V Victor
W William
X X-ray
Y Young
Z Zebra
1 WUN (with a strong W and N)
2 TOO (with a strong and long OO)
3 TH-R-EE (with a slightly rolling R and long EE)
4 FO-WER (with a long O and strong W and final R
5 VIE-YIV (with a long I changing to short and strong Y and V)
6 SIKS (with a strong S and KS)
7 SEV-VEN (with a strong S and V and well-sounded VEN)
8 ATE (with a long A and strong T)
9 NI-YEN (with a strong N at the beginning, a long I and a well sounded YEN)
0 ZERO (with a strong Z and a short RO)

Amateur radio variations[edit]

Officially the same as used by ICAO, but there are significant variations commonly used by stations participating in HF contests and DX (especially in international HF communications).[21][22]

Letter ICAO DX DX alternate
A Alpha America Amsterdam
B Bean Boston Baltimore
C Charlie Canada Chile
D Delta Denmark
E Echo England Egypt
F Foxtrot France Finland
G Golf Germany Geneva
H Hotel Honolulu Hawaii
I India Italy Italy
J Juliett Japan Japan
K Kilo Kilowatt Kentucky
L Lima London Luxembourg
M Mike Mexico Montreal
N November Norway Nicaragua
O Oscar Ontario Ocean
P Papa Pacific Portugal
Q Quebec Quebec Queen
R Romeo Radio Romania
S Sierra Santiago Sweden
T Tango Tokyo Texas
U Uniform United Uruguay
V Victor Victoria Venezuela
W Whiskey Washington
X X-ray X-ray
Y Yankee Yokohama
Z Zulu Zanzibar Zulu
1 One
2 Two
3 Tree
4 Fower
5 Fife
6 Six
7 Seven
8 Eight
9 Niner
0 Zero
. Stop
. Decimal


Latin alphabets[edit]

The following examples are from various languages and time periods.[23]

Letter NATO phonetic alphabet US Financial British Forces 1952 RAF 1942–43 LAPD (see note) French German (DIN 5009) / Austrian (ÖNORM A 1081) Dutch Italian Spanish Swedish Danish Norwegian Finnish Turkish[24] European Portuguese Brazilian Portuguese Romanian Czech Yugoslav[25] Slovene[26]
A Alpha Adam Able Apple Adam Anatole Anton Anton Ancona Antonio Adam Anna Anna Aarne Adana Aveiro Amor Ana Adam Avala Ankaran
Ä - - - - - - Ärger - - - Ärlig - - Äiti - - - - - - -
Å - - - - - - - - - - Åke Aase Åse Åke - - - - - - -
Æ - - - - - - - - - - - Ægir Ærlig - - - - - - - -
B Bravo Bob Baker Beer Boy Berthe Berta Bernard Bologna Burgos Bertil Bernhard Bernhard Bertta Bolu Braga Bandeira Barbu Božena Beograd Bled
C Charlie Carol Charlie Charlie Charles Célestin Cäsar Cornelis Como Carmen Caesar Cecilie Caesar Celsius Ceyhan Coimbra Cobra Costică Cyril Cetinje Celje
Ç - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Çanakkale - - - - - -
Ch - - - - - - Charlotte - - Chocolate - - - - - - - - Chrudim - -
Č - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Čačak Čatež
Ć - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Ćuprija -
D Delta David Dog Dog David Désiré Dora Dirk Domodossola Dolores David David David Daavid Denizli Dafundo Dado Dumitru David Dubrovnik Drava
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - džamija -
Đ - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Đakovo -
E Echo Eddie Easy Edward Edward Eugène Emil Eduard Empoli Enrique Erik Erik Edith Eemeli Edirne Évora Estrela Elena Emil Evropa Evropa
F Foxtrot Frank Fox Freddy Frank François Friedrich Ferdinand Firenze Francia Filip Frederik Fredrik Faarao Fatsa Faro Feira Florică František Foča Fala
G Golf George George George George Gaston Gustav Gerard Genova Granada Gustav Georg Gustav Gideon Giresun Guarda Goiaba Gheorghe Gustav Gorica Gorica
Ğ - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Yumuşak G[Note 1] - - - - - -
H Hotel Harry How Harry Henry Henri Heinrich Hendrik Hotel Historia Helge Hans Harald Heikki Hatay Horta Hotel Horia Helena Hercegovina Hrastnik
I India Ike Item In Ida Irma Ida Izaak Imola Inés Ivar Ida Ivar Iivari Isparta Itália Índio Ilie Ivan Istra Izola
İ - - Indigo - - - - - - - - - - - İzmir - - - - - -
J Juliet Jim Jig Jug / Johnny John Joseph Julius Julius Jolly José Johan Johan Johan Jussi Jandarma José José Jean Josef Jadran Jadran
K Kilo Kenny King King King Kléber Kaufmann / Konrad Karel Kappa[Note 1] Kilo Kalle Karen Karin Kalle Kars Kodak Kiwi Kappa / kilogram Karel Kosovo Kamnik
L Lima Larry Love Love Lincoln Louis Ludwig Lodewijk Livorno Lorenzo Ludvig Ludvig Ludvig Lauri Lüleburgaz Lisboa Lua Lazăr / Lenuța Ludvik Lika Ljubljana
Ll - - - - - - - - - Llave - - - - - - - - - - -
LJ - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Ljubljana -
M Mike Mary Mike Mother Mary Marcel Martha Maria Milano Madrid Martin Mari Martin Matti Muş Maria Maria Maria Marie Mostar Maribor
N November Nancy Nan Nuts Nora Nicolas Nordpol Nico Napoli Navarra Niklas Nikolaj Nils Niilo Niğde Nazaré Navio Nicolae ( Nae ?) Norbert Niš Nanos
Ñ - - - - - - - - - Ñoño - - - - - - - - - - -
NJ - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Njegoš -
O Oscar Oliver Oboe Orange Ocean Oscar Otto Otto Otranto Oviedo Olof Odin Olivia Otto Ordu Ovar Ouro Olga Otakar Osijek Ormož
Ö - - - - - - Ökonom - - - Östen - - Öljy Ödemiş - - - - - -
Ø - - - - - - - - - - - Øresund Østen - - - - - - - -
P Papa Peter Peter Peter Paul Pierre Paula Pieter Padova París Petter Peter Petter Paavo Polatlı Porto Pipa Petrică Petr Pirot Piran
Q Quebec Quincy Queen Queen Queen Quintal Quelle Quotiënt Quadro Querido Quintus Quintus Quintus Kuu[Note 1] - Queluz Quilombo  ??? Quido kvadrat Queen
R Romeo Roger Roger Roger / Robert Robert Raoul Richard Richard Roma Ramón Rudolf Rasmus Rikard Risto Rize Rossio Raiz Radu / Rodica Rudolf Rijeka Ravne
S Sierra Sam Sugar Sugar Sam Suzanne Samuel / Siegfried Simon Savona Sábado Sigurd Søren Sigrid Sakari Sinop Setúbal Saci Sandu Svatopluk Skopje Soča
Ş - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Şırnak - - - - - -
Sch - - - - - - Schule - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
ß - - - - - - Eszett[Note 1] - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Š - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Šibenik Šmarje
T Tango Thomas Tare Tommy Tom Thérèse Theodor Theodor Torino Toledo Tore Theodor Teodor Tyyne Tokat Tavira Tatu Tudor Tomáš Tuzla Triglav
U Uniform Uncle Uncle Uncle Union Ursule Ulrich Utrecht Udine Ulises Urban Ulla Ulrik Urho Uşak Unidade Uva Udrea Urban Užice Unec
Ü - - - - - - Übermut / Übel - - - Übel - - - Ünye - - - - - -
V Victor Vincent Victor Vic Victor Victor Viktor Victor Venezia Valencia Viktor Viggo Enkelt-V Vihtori Van Vidago Vitória Vasile Václav Valjevo Velenje
W Whiskey William William William William William Wilhelm Willem Washington Washington Wilhelm William Dobbelt-W[Note 1] Wiski - Waldemar Wilson Walter / dublu-v dvojité V duplo ve Dvojni v
X X-ray Xavier X-ray X-ray X-ray Xavier Xanthippe / Xaver Xanthippe Ics,[Note 1] Xeres, Xilofono Xilófono Xerxes Xerxes Xerxes Äksä[Note 1] - Xavier Xadrez Xenia, ics Xaver iks Iks
IJ - - - - - - - IJmuiden - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Y Yankee Yogi Yoke Yoke / Yorker Young Yvonne Ypsilon[Note 1] Ypsilon[Note 1] York, yacht Yegua Yngve Yrsa Yngling Yrjö Yozgat York Yolanda i-grec Ypsilon ipsilon Ipsilon
Z Zulu Zachary Zebra Zebra Zebra Zoé Zacharias / Zürich Zaandam Zara Zaragoza Zäta[Note 1] Zackarias Zakarias Tseta[Note 1] Zonguldak Zulmira Zebra Zoe Zuzana Zagreb Zalog
Ž - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Žirovnica Žalec

Note: The "LAPD" alphabet has been adopted by many other Public Safety agencies nationwide by way of the Association of Public‑Safety Communications Officials organization (APCO). See https://www.apcointl.org and LAPD phonetic alphabet.

Other alphabets[edit]

The Greek spelling alphabet is a spelling alphabet for the Greek language, i.e. a set of names used in lieu of alphabet letters for the purpose of spelling out words. It is used by the Greek armed and emergency services.

The Russian spelling alphabet is a spelling alphabet for the Russian version of the Cyrillic alphabet.

The PGP word list, the Bubble Babble wordlist used by ssh-keygen, and the S/KEY dictionary, are spelling alphabets for public key fingerprints (or other binary data) – a set of names given to data bytes for the purpose of spelling out binary data in a clear and unambiguous way via a voice channel.

In the film "The Return of the Living Dead" a soldier uses an humorous alternative version, saying "Archimedes, Hotdog, Rhubarb, Niner, Zero, Niner" for "AHR909".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k This is simply the ordinary name of the letter.


  1. ^ http://www.arrl.org/files/file/Radio%2520Lab%2520Handbook/RLH%2520Unit%25201Lesson%25201_2.pdf
  2. ^ Marine radios (Maritime Safety Queensland)
  3. ^ Phonetic Alphabet (ArmyStudyGuide.com) page 1
  4. ^ "toc, n.". OED Online. September 2013. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/202780?redirectedFrom=toc (accessed September 14, 2013)[dead link].
  5. ^ "International Radiotelegraph Convention Washington, 1927" (PDF). Retrieved 26 April 2015. [permanent dead link]
  6. ^ "General Radiocommunication and Additional Regulations (Madrid, 1932)". Retrieved 26 April 2015. 
  7. ^ "The Radio Amateur's Handbook" (PDF). Retrieved 4 July 2015. 
  8. ^ "General Radiocommunication Regulations and Additional Radiocommunication Regulations (Cairo, 1938)". Retrieved 26 April 2015. 
  9. ^ "Radio Regulations and Additional Radio Regulations (Atlantic City, 1947)". Retrieved 26 April 2015. 
  10. ^ "Administrative Radio Conference (Geneva, 1959)" (PDF). Retrieved 26 April 2015. 
  11. ^ "Final Acts of WARC-79 (Geneva, 1979)" (PDF). Retrieved 26 April 2015. 
  12. ^ International Code of Signals for Visual, Sound, and Radio Communications, United States Edition, 1969 (Revised 2003) (PDF), 1969 
  13. ^ "NATO phonetic alphabet". Archived from the original on 17 January 2016. Retrieved 26 April 2015. 
  14. ^ "Documents of the World Administrative Radio Conference to deal with matters relating to the maritime mobile service (WARC Mar) (Geneva, 1967)" (PDF). Retrieved 26 April 2015. 
  15. ^ "Report on the Activities of The International Telecommunication Union in 1967" (PDF). Retrieved 26 April 2015. 
  16. ^ "Alphabet - Radiotelephony". Retrieved 27 April 2015. 
  17. ^ "Annex 10 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation, Aeronautical Telecommunications, Volume II Communication Procedures including those with PANS Status" (PDF). Retrieved 27 April 2015. 
  18. ^ "Public Safety Communications Standard Operating Procedure Manual, (APCO Project Two, 1967)". Retrieved 27 April 2015. 
  19. ^ "The APCO Bulletin (April, 1940)" (PDF). Retrieved 7 May 2015. 
  20. ^ "Backscatter Journal" (PDF). 
  21. ^ "Phonetic Alphabets". Ham Radio School. Retrieved 26 April 2015. 
  22. ^ Phonetic Alphabets
  23. ^ "The International Phonetic Alphabet for Radio Communications". Communications Specialists. Retrieved 2009-02-27. 
  24. ^ Türk Alfabesi
  25. ^ Ivan Abramović (1972), Birotehnika, mehanografija i automatska obrada podataka, Beograd: Zavod za obrazovanje administrativnih kadrova SR Srbije, p. 24
  26. ^ Grabenšek, Drago; Kulauzović, Bajko; Souvent, Andrej; Vraničar, Jure (2004). Priročnik za radioamaterje, 2. dopolnjena izd. (PDF). Ljubljana: Zveza radioamaterjev Slovenije. p. 43. ISBN 961-90200-1-4. 

External links[edit]