by Susan Saurel
Numbers may just be the most confusing aspect of French language. When you start the course, you love the way the words sound and you can’t wait to learn more. When you get to the numbers, however, you’re faced with a real challenge.
We’re going to list 10 basic rules for writing numbers and numerals. We’ll make comparisons between French and English, so you’ll understand the rules better.
This rule was introduced by the French Academy in 1990. Before that, the numbers were not spelled with a hyphen. For example, what was once vingt et un is now vingt-et-un. We use the hyphen in English numerals, too.
In English, we don’t say twenty-and-one; we simplify it to twenty-one. After 100, we use the conjunction in some cases (one hundred and one or fifteen thousand and sixteen, for example). In French, the conjunction is used from 20 above when we have 1 in the number. You’ll say (and write) vingt-et-un, trente-et-un, soixante-et-un, etc.
What’s one billion in English is un-milliard in French.
What’s trillion in English, however, is un-billion in French. Confused? That’s because continental Europe uses the long-scale system, in comparison to U.S. and England, which use the short-scale system.
If we literally translate this to English, it would be four 20s. It’s strange. However, it’s simple math that you’ll get used to.
There’s addition in English language. For example, forty-five means forty+five. We have the same rule in French numbers. However, the addition is also present in the tens. In two of them, to be precise. If we translate soixante-dix, it means sixty+ten; and quatre-vingt-dix means four times twenty plus ten.
In English, we’re used to writing the currency symbol before the number. In French, that’s not the case.
In English, 13,000 reads as thirteen thousand, right? Not in French. In French, that number is equal to 13, since the
numbers after the comma are seen as decimals. Thirteen thousand (treize mille) in French is written as 13 000 or 13000.
There are few numerals that are written by a single word in French: zèro, un, deux, trois, quatre ... and all other numbers until 16 (seize). It’s similar in English, but seventeen, eighteen and nineteen are also single words.
The tens are also single words until 60: vingt, trente, quarante, cinquante, soixante. After that, there’s some math involved, remember?
First, second, third, fourth, fifth ... it’s easy after that in English. In French, it’s easier. Ème is the suffix used in most cases:
There’s only one exception: premier (m) or première (f), which means first.
In Belgium and Switzerland, septante and nonante are the words for 70 and 90, and in Switzerland they also used huitante for 80. What a relief!
There you go. Did we make French words simpler for you?
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