NATO Phonetic Alphabet

NATO Phonetic Alphabet


Alfa Bravo Charlie

We hear snippets of it all the time … but not everyone knows of its derivation. So think of this post as a community service.

The International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet, commonly known as the NATO Phonetic Alphabet, is the world’s most widely used radiotelephone alphabet.

Contrary to what its name suggests, the NATO Phonetic Alphabet is not technically a phonetic alphabet. Phonetic alphabets are used to indicate, through symbols or codes, what a speech sound or letter sounds like. The NATO Phonetic Alphabet is instead a spelling alphabet

The 26 code words are as follows:

A: Alfa
B: Bravo
C: Charlie
D: Delta
E: Echo
F: Foxtrot
G: Golf
H: Hotel
I: India
J: Juliett
K: Kilo
L: Lima
M: Mike
N: November
O: Oscar
P: Papa
Q: Quebec
R: Romeo
S: Sierra
T: Tango
U: Uniform
V: Victor
W: Whiskey
X: X-Ray
Y: Yankee
Z: Zulu

To create the code, a series of international agencies over many years and multiple iterations assigned 26 code words to the letters of the English alphabet, so that the names for letters and numbers would be distinct enough to be easily understood by those who exchanged voice messages by radio or telephone, regardless of language differences or the quality of the connection.

In the official version of the alphabet, the non-English spellings Alfa and Juliett are used. Alfa is spelled with an f as it is in most European languages because the English and French spelling alpha would not be pronounced properly by native speakers of some other languages – who may not know that ph should be pronounced as f. Juliett is spelled with a tt for French speakers, because they may otherwise treat a single final t as silent.

The final version of the alphabet was implemented by the International Civil Aviation Organization (“ICAO”) on 1 March 1956, and the International Telecommunication Union (“ITU”) adopted it in 1959 when they mandated its usage via their official publication, Radio Regulations. Because the ITU governs all international radio communications, it was also adopted by most radio operators, whether military, civilian, or amateur. It was finally adopted by the International Maritime Organization (“IMO”) in 1965.

So that’s for letters. What about numbers?

NATO has specified pronunciations for the digits 0 to 9 as follows:

1: WUN
2: TOO
6: SIX
8: AIT

And then in 1947, in a move to further internationalise, the ITU adopted these compound Latinate prefix-number words, adopted by the IMO in 1965:

0: Nadazero - from Spanish or Portuguese nada
1: Unaone - from Latin ūna
2: Bissotwo - from Latin bis
3: Terrathree - from Italian terzo
4: Kartefour - from French quatre
5: Pantafive - from French penta
6: Soxisix - from French soix
7: Setteseven - from Italian sette
8: Oktoeight - from Latin octō
9: Novenine - from Italian nove


Wikipedia Reference: NATO phonetic alphabet (Text) CC BY-SA


1. Pilot Code Metal Sign
3. NATO Phonetic Alphabet. Image Credit: NATO Alphabet, The Military Alphabet Letters – SymbolsAndMeanings.Net, May 2021
4. Typographic Murals by Jeff Canham. Image Credit: ReneeWrites at Wikimedia Commons
5. Alpha Bravo Charlie is also a coming-of-age story featuring Faraz, Kashif and Gulsher – three friends who join the Pakistan Army.


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