Episode 33: US Postal Addresses

Welcome to Slow American English, the podcast for learners of American English. I’m your host, Karren Tolliver.

This is episode number 33: US Postal Addresses

This podcast is about how to read and write a US postal address.

But, before we get started, remember that the old episode numbers and the podcast feed have changed. For details, please visit www.slowamericanenglish.net. There you can subscribe to the podcast and get free transcripts.

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Now for the podcast:



Even in this age of email, cell phones and text messages, understanding the format of postal addresses in the US is still important. To send a letter via the postal service or to find a place on a map or GPS, you will need the address. Other names for a postal address in American English are “street address”, “physical address” or, in slang, “snail mail address”.

Mail in the United States is handled by the United States Postal Service, also called USPS, the US Mail or, simply, the Post Office. It is a government agency responsible for mail delivery, issuing postage stamps and so on.

Postal codes in the USA are called ZIP (Zone Improvement Plan) codes. Implemented in 1963, ZIP codes divide the country into sections. Each section has a five-digit code to make it easier for the USPS and other delivery companies to sort and deliver mail. Numerically, ZIP codes in the Northeast start with 0, and the numbers increase toward the west. Therefore, California ZIP codes start with 9.

Note that, in 1983, an additional four-digit extension was added to ZIP codes to further define delivery locations. This system is called ZIP+4. Although every street address technically has this nine-digit code, in reality, you usually need only the first five digits of a ZIP code to send a letter.

Some people and businesses rent a mailbox at the US Post Office or similar facility. In that case, instead of writing a building number and street, you would write “PO Box” plus the box number.

US postal addresses consist of three lines. Follow this pattern:

Line 1: Recipient’s name (and optional title for business correspondence)

Line 2: Building or house number + street name, or “PO Box” + number, then apartment or suite number

Line 3: City, state abbreviation ZIP code

Mr. Michael B. Hancock, Mayor of Denver
1437 N. Bannock St., Rm. 350
Denver, CO 80202

And remember the following formatting tips:

  • You can use abbreviations in a postal address for words like “Street” (St.) and “Road” (Rd.). Click on the Extra Materials link on the SlowAmericanEnglish.net website for a list of such abbreviations.
  • Use the official, two-letter, USPS abbreviations for state names. Click on the Extra Materials link on the SlowAmericanEnglish.net website for a list of those.
  • For a business address, write the name of the company on a separate line above or below the recipient’s name.
  • For international mail, add the country name after the ZIP code or on a separate line below it.

The following points are also useful:

  • The general format of a street address is smaller to larger. By that I mean that the first lines will be relatively small locations, such as a person or company.
  • Later lines will be larger locations, such as towns and states.
  • Addresses in the US territories follow the same format as domestic addresses.
  • Use the same format for the return address and the recipient address on an envelope.
  • Write the return address in the upper left corner of the envelope. Write the recipient address in the middle of the envelope.
  • It is best to omit the ZIP code if you don’t know it, rather than guess at it.


That’s the podcast for this time. Slow American English is written and produced by Karren Tolliver. Copyright 2017. All rights reserved.

For a free transcript and to subscribe to the podcast, visit www.SlowAmericanEnglish.net. You can also subscribe via iTunes, Google Play Music, and any other podcast feed reader.

Theme music for this podcast is written and performed by SW Campbell and used by permission. Find more music by this artist at www.Soundclick.com/swcampbell.

This has been Slow American English. I’m Karren Tolliver. Thank you for listening.

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