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10 Rules for Writing Numbers and Numerals: English vs. French

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.

1. The Numbers Are Composed with a Hyphen in Both English and French

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.

2. French Numerals Are Composed with a Conjunction (More Often than In English)

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.

3. The English Billion is a French Milliard

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.

4. There’s Some Multiplication in French Numerals. 20 Is the Base

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.

5. There’s Some Addition, Too

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.

6. In French, the currency symbol comes after the number

In English, we’re used to writing the currency symbol before the number. In French, that’s not the case.

7. A Comma Indicates a Decimal in French Numbers

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.

8. The Numerals with Single Words Are Similar

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?

9. Ème Is the Suffix for Ordinal Numbers

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.

10. If You’re in Belgium or Switzerland, You Won’t Have to Use Math to Count

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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About writing

Susan Saurel is a teacher from Houston. She loves her job because of knowledge kids can get thanks to her. Currently works as a part-time writer for Xpert Writers and raises a daughter.

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