Answers to common questions


Isn’t the world pretty well addressed?

Actually no. Around 75% of the world suffers from inconsistent, complicated, poor or no addressing systems. In total 4 billion people around the world don’t have an address.

But even in the countries in the world where addressing works ok, it’s far from perfect.

For example, there are eight different Lonsdale Roads around London; a lot of houses don’t have numbers; an address can’t tell you the correct entrance to a large building; when abroad the addressing can be difficult to understand.

Often you want to talk about somewhere that doesn’t actually have a street address.

How big is it? 57 trillion is a lot of addresses!

The entire what3words system is 5MB. This is small enough to fit within an app so that users can use what3words when online or offline i.e. you don’t need a data connection to find your current 3 word address or search for a 3 word address you have been given.

How do I use it?

If you want to get a 3 word address for your current location or elsewhere, you can tap on the locate me button to get close or search for a street address, then you can zoom to see the 3mx3m grid and move the map & pin to find the exact spot. Switching to satellite view helps when you are zoomed in.

How much does it cost?

Our core 3 word system will always be free for individuals to use. You can read more in our pricing policy.

Will the words ever change?

No: because the what3words system is fixed, and it’s impossible to change it, there is 100% certainty that all instances of the system running everywhere in the world will provide the same 3 word address for the same location. You don’t have to worry about anything changing. It is fixed already and will stay that way.

If you want to get a 3 word address for somewhere other than your current location, you can use a street address to get close, but then you should zoom and move the map (feel free to use satellite view) to find the exact spot.

What about swear words, and words that sound the same?

We have taken out offensive words and homophones (e.g. sale & sail), and have shuffled all of our similar sounding (e.g. plurals) 3 word locations as far away from each other as possible so it’s obvious if you have made a mistake. It’s better to be 400 miles out than 1 mile out so you know instantly that you’re wrong and don’t set off to the wrong place!

What if I spell wrong or say a word incorrectly?

Human beings make errors – lots of errors. Our system is optimized to recognise and autocorrect both sharer and receiver mistakes. The what3words autocorrect system picks up errors in spelling, typing, speaking, and mishearing 3 word locations.

We have shuffled all of our similar sounding 3 word locations as far away from each other as possible, so we can use your location to intelligently guess where you meant (see following question). A lot of the time with street addresses, the similar sounding addresses are near enough to each other it can be very confusing and often results in huge delays whilst the user works out what has gone wrong and what the right address actually is.

Why is table.chair.lamp so far away from table.chair.lamps?

what3words is intentionally non-sequential and non-hierarchical. By shuffling similar-sounding 3 word addresses far away from each other when we designed our algorithm, it enables us to offer a robust autosuggest tool, both in our app and API.

When searching for a 3 word location, before you press enter, the app will make some clever suggestions about what it thinks you meant, even if your search contains typos or other mistakes. You can select to display locations near you or anywhere in the world.

AutoSuggest works by looking at what you have typed and matching it to the nearest valid what3words location.

How many languages are you in?

We have rolled out our 3 word address system into 9 languages: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Swahili, Russian, German, Turkish & Swedish.

We are adding to those every month and are currently working on Italian, Greek, Arabic and more.

Is a 3 word address in French (or any other language) a translation of the same 3 words in English?

No: the 3 word address in one language is not a translation of the 3 words used in a different language version.

What language should I use?

You can use any of them.

If you are Russian and want to use what3words to tell other Russians about addresses in Mexico, you can use верба.осенний.редька – a spot just outside Mexico City. But equally you might see the address in English, or Spanish in a guidebook. You can use any of them.

You can choose the 3 word language that we display 3 word addresses to you in, but you never have to tell us what language you are inputting the 3 word addresses in: we will recognise the language automatically.

Do you do height or indoors?

Most postal or address systems only work in 2D (e.g. ZIP codes or postal codes in the UK). These always need additional information to specify height: e.g. Flat 6, 5th floor, 12 Lonsdale Road. With what3words, we recommend a similar approach, e.g. Flat 6, 5th floor, jelly.translated.sadly

In terms of indoor addressing, what3words covers all locations in 2D, but the supporting technology (indoor positioning, indoor mapping, indoor navigation) is not yet widespread enough for there to be any great benefit of specifying a point with height included.

However, if and when height becomes helpful to specify, we have various options for including this information with the 3 word address.

What about latitude & longitude (GPS co-ordinates)?

We love latitude & longitude and have based what3words on it. We take those long strings of numbers & letters and convert them to three simple words.

You need 16 digits, 2 characters (+/-/N/S/E/W), 2 decimal points, and a space/comma/new line to specify a location to an accuracy of 3 metres using GPS co-ordinates. That’s great for computers and devices when humans don’t get involved, but humans actually do get involved. what3words is a human interface for latitude & longitude.

Where can I use what3words?

The applications for what3words are varied. Companies for whom specifying and communicating a precise location is very important are integrating our technology via our API and SDK.

Around the world what3words is being integrated into navigation systems, car-share apps and property sites as well as being used by couriers, taxis and travel solutions. Explore our Tools section to find out more.

Technical & App

Do I need to have the app?

You can use a browser on your computer, tablet or smartphone to discover, input & share a 3 word address. The what3words app has many nice features, but it’s not essential as you can always use the what3words website.

Can I type it in to Google maps?

Not yet. We do have a variety of partner apps and services where you can input a 3 word address straight into their interface. Soon we hope to have what3words supported in all of the world’s major mapping and navigation apps.

Can I use it with navigation apps like Google & Waze?

You can specify a 3 word address in a growing number of apps including the number 1 free in car navigation app navmii. You can also open 3 word addresses in most other navigation apps installed on your device through the what3words app or what3words website by choosing the Navigate option, including Google Maps, Apple Maps, Waze and CityMapper.

What about dropping a pin on my mobile phone?

Dropping a pin on your phone tells you where you are pretty well and sharing that location with someone who is also on the same app is pretty easy.

However that only deals with where you are now, it doesn’t help you refer to a fixed place, or if someone is not using the same app, or if that someone doesn’t have a data connection, of it they want to remember it, or if they want to use that location in a different app.

When I search for a place or street address why does it sometimes show the wrong location?

The process of converting a street address into a single point (lat,long) on a map, is called geocoding. Unfortunately this process if often inaccurate and highlights the current problem with traditional addressing.< For our maps we currently use Google Maps API Web Services and their Geocoding API. This means that any search on what3words for a traditional address will ask Google where it thinks the place is on the map.
We recommend double checking the  location after you do a search for a traditional street address to ensure you get the correct 3 word address: in most cases you will probably want to move the map around to position the pin in exactly the right place.

How can I share or send a 3 word address?

Clicking on the share button in our app or site allows you to send 3 words via SMS, email, social media and any messaging apps you have installed. You can also copy it or of course tell people in conversation or write it down.

Can you work without a data connection?

Yes: the entire what3words’ system is tiny, and so it can work offline when a user doesn’t have a data connection. The what3words app and our partner apps and services typically launch using the online version of our system, but offline support is now being included in more and more apps that use what3words (including our own).

Why did you use 3 words rather than 2 words or 4 words?

Dividing the world into 3m x 3m squares (which is small enough to be useful for almost all practical purposes) gives you 57 trillion squares so…

– With 1 word you can uniquely name 40,000 3m x 3m squares, so that’s every 3m x 3m square in a small village. But the world is bigger than this so it would be useless system.

– With a sequence of 2 words you can uniquely name 1,600,000,000 3m x 3m squares, so that’s every 3m x 3m square in an area the size of Hawaii. But the world is bigger than this so it would be a useless system.

– With a sequence of 3 words you can uniquely name 64,000,000,000,000 3m x 3m squares, so that’s every 3m x 3m square in the world (actually we have a few combinations spare).

– With a sequence of 4 words, we could uniquely identify every 3m x 3m square in an area in 40,000 times the size of the world, but there would be no point. If mankind inhabits the sun anytime soon, we’ll be all over it, literally, with a minor branding adjustment.

N.B. Both the land and sea are covered in English, requiring 40,000 words. However due to a limit on the number of useable words in other languages, the sea is not covered and thus they therefore require 25,000 words.

Do others need to have the app if I send them a 3 word address?

You can send a 3 word address to anyone, with the reassurance that if the receiving user hasn’t yet got the app, they can still access your location via their computer, tablet or smartphone browser.