Rarely, while watching YouTube videos, I believe I’ve heard native German speakers pronounce years in the 21st century as zwotausend rather than zweitausand, as in zwotausendacht.

What’s going on here? Am I imagining things? Is this pronunciation associated with any particular local dialects? Is it considered more/less formal? Are there any social stigmas attached to this pronunciation? Am I correct in assuming it is very/somewhat rarely used? Can it be applied to any year in the 21st century or only some? Is this alternate only used for years, or can zwo be substituted for zwei more generally?

  • 3
    Related: german.stackexchange.com/questions/9154/…
    – c.p.
    Jun 3, 2016 at 6:29
  • Another strange custom concerning year still spreading (I noted it first during discussion concerning Agenda 2010) is, to separate it into two two-digit numbers, so 2010 is pronounced zwanzig-zehn. Note, that the zwa-part already has a different vocal and there is no alternative pronouncement I know of.
    – guidot
    Jun 3, 2016 at 7:33

4 Answers 4


There's also actual etymology:

Etymologie Zwei/Zwo - Juno/Julei

TL;DR: Zwo is actually the old-German feminine form of German for two, which fell out of use until it found reuse for military communication.


differenzierende Aussprache zur besseren Unterscheidung

    18" zwei / drei > zwo / drei

        > zweit > zwot

    vor 1960 Juni / Juli > Juno / Julei



    Die alte Unterscheidung

        änhd. zween Männer, zwo Frauen, zwei Kinder

    wurde bis 1800 aufgegeben zugunsten des einheitlichen zwei.

    Wahrscheinlich im Sprachgebrauch von Militär und Marine kam zwo zur besseren Unterscheidung von drei auf.

        Anknüpfung an das alte zwo, das noch nicht ganz vergessen war, wahrscheinlich schon im 18"-Jahrhundert

        1902 bereits in der schönen Literatur "zwo Herren"


    Juno / Julei sind nach demselben Muster gebildet wie zwo / zwei.

    Die Betonung ist dieselbe wie in engl. June / July [dʒu:n / dʒu'lai], wird also der engl. Aussprache nachempfunden sein.
  • 4
    zween Männer, zwo Frauen, zwei Kinder -- Niiice, TIL! Thank you. Jun 3, 2016 at 6:45

Zwo can be used for zwei. It's mostly used to make sure you mean zwei, not drei.

(For the same reason people sometimes say Juno and Julei instead of Juni und Juli.)

To me, there is no difference in formality / informality, and neither are there social stigmas.

  • 2
    Full ack, although personally, I'd be more likely to associate older than younger speakers with using zwo. Jun 3, 2016 at 6:46

Aus Wikipedia:

Mit dem Aufkommen elektronischer Sprechverbindungen (Telefon und Sprechfunk) bürgerte sich die Form zwo für zwei ein, um bei schlechter Übertragungsqualität das Wort besser vom ähnlich lautenden „drei“ unterscheiden zu können. Diese Lautung ging in Deutschland auf den allgemeinen geschäftlichen Verkehr und auf die Umgangssprache über. Mittlerweile ist die „Zwo“ weniger verbreitet, allerdings wird nach wie vor im Sprechfunk „Zwo“ verwendet, das die Verwechslungsgefahr verringert. Dies trifft für die Feuerwehr und im Alltagsbetrieb bei der Bundeswehr, dem Bundesheer und der Schweizer Armee zu.


At first sight and checking out cognates in related Germanic languages, it would appear that the ei-form be a continental German innovation:

  • English: two

  • Swedish: två

  • Danish/Norwegian: to

However, digging deeper into the predecessors of these words reveals that Proto-Germanic like old Norse and Gothic had a set of three forms that depended on the genus of the word following:

  • Reconstructed from Gothic: *twai, *twōs, *twa
  • Reconstructed from Old Norse: *twa(a)iʀ, *twa(i)aʀ, *tw(a)u

(Information as given on Wiktionary.)

In fact, the genus-sensitive nature of the word, similar to an article is still reflected in modern-day Faroese and Icelandic:

  • Icelandic: tveir, tvær, tvö
  • Faroese: tveir, tvær, tvey

And can also be found in old Swedish and old German. Possibly, these forms may be traced back to the old dual numerus which existed in Proto-Germanic (and Proto-Indoeuropean) but has since become extinct in most Germanic (or Indo-European) languages. A dual article would behave like a singular article, and ein, eine, ein is known to be inflected according to genus — although it is more obvious in the demostrative pronouns einer, eine, ein(e)s.

These forms existed as zwēne, zwā/zwō, zwei in old High German ,as twēne, twē, twē in old Dutch. and as twēġen, twā, tū/twā in old English. When losing the dual, Standard German stuck with zwei, Dutch stuck with twee and English with two. However, zwo remained around as an alternate form and similar forms survive in some dialects such as Bavarian (zwoa).

  • 2
    Some dialects still have this distinction, I think Oberfränkisch has at least "zwa Männer" and "zwu Frauen".
    – KWeiss
    Jun 3, 2016 at 11:49

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