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I was saying my license plate number to someone the other day, and when the clerk repeated it back to me, she used Sino-Korean numbers for everything (as I would expect) except she said 하나 (native Korean) for the last number. For example, if my license plate number was something like "34라1891", she would have said it as "삼 사 라 일 팔 구 하나". Note how the first one is pronounced as , but the last one is 하나.

I asked a Korean, and was told that this was common for final 1 digits in colloquial Korean, but it left me with a few questions. Does this only apply to 1 or other numbers too? Where did this twist come from? Is there any rule for when or how to use this?

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From what I've heard, it comes from the field artillery's way of saying numbers in the military. The number system that goes 하나, 둘, 삼, 넷, 오, 여섯, 칠, 팔, 아홉, 공(0), is commonly called 포병 숫자 (although lots of other army units use this system too), because they do that in the army to make the numbers heard extra clear in a noisy war environment. It's akin to the "phonetic alphabet" that radio operators use, Alpha for A, Bravo for B, Charlie for C, etc. Since almost every Korean men join the military in one point of their lives, it's not surprising.

For example, a phone number 223-0571 might be read as 둘둘삼에 공오칠하나 on the phone. Or 070-4171 might be read 공칠공에 사하나칠하나.

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  • Interesting, and wow, yet another number system in Korean! So, is it usually just the last number like your second example or is the first example with all the digits common too? Also, is it more common for 1, or do people commonly use it for any of the numbers that are different in this special system? – ryanbrainard Apr 22 '17 at 13:39
  • @ryanbrainard The second example uses 하나 for both 1's. I'd say 공 for zero is the most common, then 하나 for one. Usually 하나 is said on the last number because it's more difficult to distinguish 일 and 이 in the end of a sentence. 둘 is used when it's two 2's in a row, such as 22(이이), because it's hard to hear if it's two 2s or just one. Other numbers are occasionally used too. – MujjinGun Apr 22 '17 at 13:42
  • Ah, so you did! I misread it. – ryanbrainard Apr 22 '17 at 13:48

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