Nato Phonetic Alphabet

Alpha, Bravo, Charlie – who doesn’t know those famous code words? And they come handy! I remember one contestant on Wheel of Fortune who panicked and said “R for yellow”. Is yellow even a legit code word for Y?

The NATO alphabet saved me when I had to spend 30 minutes on the phone with a non-native speaker of English trying to buy airline tickets for my entire family for a 4 leg flight. Yes, I really wanted to get every name and location right. Why buys tickets over the phone those days – you may ask? Well, their online reservation system was experiencing issues and I had no time to loose. As you may expect the agent didn’t get all the names right but we used the NATO alphabet to communicate what he captured and my corrections. When our tickets arrived, I was shocked to see that every single detail was correct.

What is NATO Phonetic Alphabet?

It is a standardized spelling alphabet made of words which have sounds common to many languages. And for that reason it mostly eliminates spelling issues resulting from the differences in accents, native language and pronunciation.

Fun fact: The final choice of code words was made after hundreds of thousands of comprehension tests involving 31 nationalities.

Completed in 1956 by the United Nations agency, the International Civil Aviation Organisation it has been widely adopted and is used still today by NATO, the International Telecommunication Union, the International Maritime Organization, the American Federal Aviation Administration, and the International Amateur Radio Union.

Although often called a phonetic alphabet, the NATO spelling alphabet is completely unrelated to a true phonetic transcription system – the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) which allows to accurately represent sounds which make up a word.

NATO alphabet code words


LetterCodewordSimple PronunciationIPA Pronunciation
AAlfaAL FAHˈælfɑ
BBravoBRAH VOHˈbrɑːˈvo
CCharlieCHAR LEE or SHAR LEEˈtʃɑːli or ˈʃɑːli
DDeltaDELL TAHˈdeltɑ
EEchoECK OHˈeko
FFoxtrotFOKS TROTˈfɔkstrɔt
HHotelHOH TELLhoːˈtel
IIndiaIN DEE AHˈindiˑɑ
JJuliettJEW LEE ETTˈdʒuːliˑˈet
KKiloKEY LOHˈkiːlo
LLimaLEE MAHˈliːmɑ
NNovemberNO VEM BERnoˈvembə
OOscarOSS CAHˈɔskɑ
PPapaPAH PAHpəˈpɑ
QQuebecKEH BECKkeˈbek
RRomeoROW ME OHˈroːmiˑo
SSierraSEE AIR RAHsiˈerɑ
TTangoTANG OHˈtænɡo
UUniformYOU NEE FORM or OO NEE FORMˈjuːnifɔːm or ˈuːnifɔrm
VVictorVIK TAHˈviktɑ
WWhiskeyWISS KEYˈwiski
XX-rayECKS RAYˈeksˈrei
YYankeeYANG KEYˈjænki
ZZuluZOO LOOˈzuːluː

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