Remember Numbers

Numbers usually don’t give us a strong mental image. So we use a code, where consonants stand for numbers. Now we can use words to “spell” numbers!

Each number can be spelled with a consonant. Here is the basic code:

Basic Code for Numbers

Number Consonant Sounds Why This Makes Sense (Maybe)
1 t or d Both letters have one vertical stroke
2 n Two vertical strokes
3 m Three vertical strokes
4 r Last letter of “four”
5 l Your fingers and thumb make an L together.
6 j, soft g or ch or sh Well. A loopy J kind of looks like a 6?
7 hard c, k, q or hard g The angle in the k is a bit like a 7.
8 f or v Hmm. The “8” looks like a cursive “f”?
9 b or p p is almost a backwards 9
0 s or z z is for zero.

These letters are free: a, e, i, o, u, and also h, w, and y*. Since “x” combines sounds for two numbers (7 and 0), I avoid it.

Free letters don’t point to any number. You just use them to make the words.

Some numbers have more than one consonant: that means that either can mean the number. For instance, the word /pub/ translates to 99.

It’s pretty easy to memorize this code. Notice how the pairs of consonants have similar sounds. The letters t and d are a pair, as opposed to, say, t and s. When you notice this pairing, memorizing the code is much simpler.

Longer Numbers? Start Combining!

These are a great start, but how do you memorize any number above 9?

You could put them one after the other or combine them. For instance, for 91, you’d have “bee” and “tie”. You could imagine a bee wearing a tie.

But if you work a lot with numbers, you might want to invest in learning mnemonics for all the two-digit numbers from 00 to 99.

For instance, here are example mnemonics for 90 to 99:

| Num | Mnemonic | |——|———-| | 90 | BuS | | 91 | BaT | | 92 | BoNe | | 93 | BuM | | 94 | BeaR | | 95 | BeLL | | 96 | BuS | | 97 | BuG | | 98 | BeeF | | 99 | BaBy |

You can see how each word is “spelled” by the number consonants, and filled out with the vowels and other free letters.

If you have mnemonics for all the two-digit numbers, you can do some pretty amazing memory feats. You can combine your two-digit mnemonics to memorize four-digit and even six-digit numbers.

For instance, just using the mnemonics above, you could memorize:

  • 9,098 (A bus running over a huge slab of beef)
  • 9,991 (A baby flying around on a huge bat)
  • 295 (Noah ringing a huge bell)
  • 9,890 (A huge slab of beef crashing into a bus)
  • and many, many more.

Memorize 110 visual mnemonics, and you can leverage them to easily remember 10,000 separate numbers.

Some of these number mnemonics can be found in The Memory Book, by Harry Lorayne and Jerry Lucas. But they found some of their mnemonics in even older books (or at least I did).

Order Matters

Did you notice how 9,098 and 9,890 reverse each other? When combining, make sure you’re clear which number comes first. Since I read left to right and top to bottom, that’s how I order my mnemonics. The first number is on top and/or to the left, the second is on the bottom and/or to the right.

So a bus running over a slab of beef is totally different from that same slab of beef creaming the bus from above.

Spelling and Sound

Did you notice how “bell” actually has two L’s? If we were going strictly by spelling, this wouldn’t mean “95”, it would mean “955”.

Most people who use this “Major” system (apparently it’s named after some Major) focus on the sounds rather than the spelling. Since “bell” has only two sounds, it only represents two numbers.

Officially, the Major system seems to focus entirely on sound, such that a word like “dough”, with its silent “g”, would only mean “1”, not “17” or “16”.

Myself, I see word spellings very clearly (I’m a writer, go figure), so it confuses me if the spelling of my mnemonic contradicts the sound too much. I can handle “bell”, because it’s just an extra L, but “dough” would make me anxious.

So as you choose your mnemonics, try to choose words that come most naturally and make sense to you. I suggest leaning towards the sound, rather than the spelling, since that seems to work for others, but if the spelling distracts you, consider another choice.

Choose Your Own Mnemonics

I could copy-paste a full list of mnemonics for 00 to 99 here, but I’m not going to. Here’s why:

  • You might not be into numbers, and even if you are, you’ll probably glaze over the list and keep reading for now anyway.

  • The Internet has tons of these lists. The Wikipedia article for “mnemonic major system” currently has three mnemonics for each two-digit number!

  • You’ll need to review your list and choose better mnemonics for the ones that don’t make sense or don’t interest you. That’s really important.

Use these mnemonics to build more

Once you’re comfortable with these mnemonics, you can use them to remember 3-digit numbers, and even years.