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  7. Phonetic Mnemonic System


The Phonetic mnemonic system is one of the most advanced and versatile memory systems. This system is effective for memorizing almost anything including lists, passages of text, or numbers. Research shows that this technique is effective but only if you have learned it well and have some practice with it.

Using the Phonetic mnemonic system

The Phonetic mnemonic system associates the digits 0-9 with various consonant sounds. These consonant sounds (a subset of all available phonemes) can be combined with vowels to form meaningful words. Each digit is represented by only one sound or family of sounds. All consonant sounds (though not all letters) in the English language are included except for the sounds made by ‘w’, ‘h’, and ‘y’ which you can remember with the word ‘why’. It is important to remember that it is the consonant sounds that are important, not the actual letters.

The following table presents the consonant sounds that are associated with each digit. The table also includes information to help you remember each set of consonants.

Digit Consonant sound Memory Aid Acrostic
0 z, s, soft c “z” is for “zero” Zero is a cipher
1 t, th, d “t” has one down stroke Train the dog
2 n two down strokes  
3 m three down strokes  
4 r last sound for the word four (in several languages)  
5 l Roman numeral for 50 is “L”  
6 j, sh, ch, soft g reversed script “j” resembles 6 Jack should chase giants
7 k, q, hard c, hard g “K” made of two horizontal 7’s Kings and queens count gold
8 f, v script “f” resembles 8 Fun vacation
9 p, b “p” is mirror image of 9 Pretty baby

Creating words from numbers

The first step in using this memory system is to create words from numbers using the information from the above table. For example, we can see that the number 1492 is represented by the following consonant sounds taken from the table above:

1 — t, th, d

4 — r

9 — p, b

2 — n

Using these consonant sounds we can add vowels to create the following words or phrases:

  • trap now
  • drop nay
  • tire ban
  • door bean
  • head wrap new

All of these are perfectly acceptable ways to encode the number 1492, but ‘door bean’ is probably the easiest to apply the visualization techniques to ensure good memory because it is made of two concrete nouns. Note that in some of the above examples I added the letters ‘w’ ‘h’ and ‘y’. As mentioned above, these sounds can be used like vowels to help form words as they have no numerical association. Using different words for the same number combination can reduce interference if you are remembering series of numbers that have repeated digit combinations.

As mentioned above, it is important to remember that it is the sound that is important, not the letter. For example, the word ‘account’ has two ‘c’s but when spoken you hear it as one sound. This would correspond to the number 721. However, the word ‘accent’ also has two ‘c’s, but when spoken you hear it as a ‘k’ and an ‘s’. This would correspond to the number 7021.

As the above example shows, this system can be used to memorize numbers by converting the numbers to words. Another ways to memorize numbers is to use the verbal mnemonic techniques, such as an acrostic where the first sound of each word corresponds to the digit being memorized.

Memorizing more than numbers

One way this system can be used to memorize more than just numbers is by creating peg words that can be used with the peg mnemonic system. Since one of the limitations of the peg system is the limited number of peg words, using the phonetic mnemonic system to create peg words overcomes this limitation.

The book Your Memory : How It Works and How to Improve ItExternal Link has an appendix which provides excellent words and phrases for the numbers from 0 to 100.


The ways this system can be applied is unlimited. Be creative and develop your own techniques and applications. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • social security number
  • phone numbers — or even your whole phone book
  • license plates
  • locker numbers
  • lock combinations
  • PIN numbers
  • parking spots
  • multiplication tables

Related Pages

Link Mnemonic System
Story Mnemonic System
Loci System
Peg Mnemonic System
Phonetic Mnemonic System
Phonetic Mnemonic Tool