I’ve looked on Google, I’ve searched on the SD web site, and I can’t find the answer.
Why is the term “niner” used in the NATO alphabet?
I can understand alpha, bravo, and charlie, but what is the word “nine” meant to rhyme with?
Help me teeming millions!

Not sure if we’re talking about the same thing, but when I was in the Marines, we were taught to say the word “niner” instead of “nine,” because (I never got it, but they said it did) “nine” sounds too much like “five.” This mostly dealt with radio communications.

Sir Rhosis

It’s not, as far as I remember. The term commonly used for “N” is “November”.

mattk is correct in that November is used for “N”. My example dealt only with numerals. gadgetgirl, are you sure that you may not be confusing numerals and alphabets?


The reason that they use ‘niner’ for 9 is because the German word for “no” is “nein” which is pronounced in the same way as the English number 9. So in order not to confuse any German pilots they use “niner” instead of “nine”.

  • in her Majesty’s Royal Danish Army, “niner” is used instead of the Danish word for nine, “ni”(insert Monty Python reference here) - because “ni” it’s way too close to the word for ten, “ti”. But I think Sir Rhosis has it right, when it comes to the official reason. It sure makes sense.

Ehm - FloChi - wouldn’t a German pilot know whether he was speaking English or German at any given time ?

S. Norman

No, I knew that november was for “N”, but I guess that I should have said the NATO numerals instead of the NATO alphabet for the “niner” thing…

According to G. Gordon Liddy, it was introduced as early as the first radios and telephones, to avoid confusing “nine” with “five”. Consonants were not always clearly audible.

I too have heard that the currently used NATO phonetic alphabet chooses “niner” for “9” due to ease of confusion with “nein” among German-speakers, like FloChi says.

However, while that may be the current justification, I’m led to suspect that the use of “niner” has been around in American radio usage since before the German issue came about. This site shows a Pilots Information File dated August 1, 1945 containing what appears to be the US Military’s phoenetic alphabet of the time. It’s quite different from the current NATO one - only a few of letter phonetics are the same, and it appears to demand that some numbers be stretched into two syllables for clarity (e.g., 5 is not one syllable, but two). It has “9” spoken as “niner”.

I have no difficulty imagining spoken “nine” and “five” to sound awfully similar over a crappy radio signal while there’s gunfire and explosions in the background. Hell, even in modern general aviation planes, radio transmission can be pretty scratchy. I strongly suspect that, whatever the current motivations may be, this was the original reason for English-speaking alphabets’ use of “niner”.

This site mentions that the current NATO phonetic alphabet was not developed until the 1950’s, “to be intelligible (and pronounceable) to all NATO allies in the heat of battle.”

For more phonetic alphabets than you can shake a stick at (some currently in use, most not), look here. One curiosity I noted: The “U.S. Navy 1940” alphabet used “affirmative” for “A” and “negative” for “N”. Gads…