The Major System

In this system, each digit from 0 to 9 is matched with a group of similar consonant sounds. Vowels do not correspond to any number. This way, each word in English language can be unambiguously translated to numbers, and for any set of numbers there are many possible words that you can use to memorize them.

For example, the T sound will correspond to the number 1, and the N sound corresponds to the number 2. Thus, the words tuna, tune, toon, tiny, tan, and Tina all translate into the number 12. The words net and nut both translate into the number 21. The different vowel sounds in each word do not represent any digit, so there are many possible words the can be used to memorize the same number.

The following chart shows the consonant sounds that are matched to each digit. The fourth column gives an easy way to remember each number. Don’t feel like you have to learn them all before you read the rest of the section.

Number Consonant Sounds Examples Memory Aid
0 s, z, soft c Sue, zoo, ace zero starts with a Z
1 t, d, th toe, aid, Theo a t has 1 down stroke
2 n in, yawn, Anne an n has 2 down strokes
3 m my, home, Amy an m has 3 down strokes
4 r ray, hero, ear R is the 4th letter of four
5 l hill, owl, Will L is the roman numeral for 50
6 j, ch, sh, soft g jaw, chew, ash, huge a script j has a lower loop like a 6
7 k, q, hard c, hard g key, cow, egg K looks like two horizontal 7's
8 f, v, ph hoof, Eve, phooey a script f looks exactly like a figure 8
9 p, b ape, bee a P and a 9 both have a loop and a tail

You might notice that several letters are missing from the table: A, E, I, O, U and Y, along with H and W. The sounds that these letters make have no numerical value. (The letter X is also missing, but we’ll talk about that on the next page.)

How to Remember the Sound Groups

At first it may seem difficult to remember the groups of letters for each number. Practice saying the example words given above and pay attention to the position of your tongue and lips. For example, when you say words with the ‘P’ or ‘B’ sound, you’re likely to close and open your lips the same way. The ‘K’ and hard ‘G’ sound both come from the same place in the back of your mouth.

Right now it may seem easier to have a system based on letters instead of sounds, but after some practice this technique allows you to memorize and recall numbers very quickly, all without worrying about spelling mistakes.

Should I Make My Own List?

This memorization technique, called “the major system,” was created by Stanislaus Mink von Wennsshein sometime in the 17th century, and he matched the sounds and numbers almost exactly like above. Those who use the technique now almost always match the digits and sounds as has been shown here. So, if you're tempted to rematch the sounds and numbers, just remember that anyone else using the system, as well as any books or software that you consult, will be doing it differently than you. It is probably best to learn the system as it has been explained here.