The Ultimate Guide to French Numbers and How to Count in French
If your goal is to become conversationally fluent in French, you have to learn French numbers.
Think of all the times you hear or read numbers daily in English. They’re everywhere—on the news, in stores, on your phone, truly everywhere!
It’s easy to start learning your french numbers, just begin with un, deux, trois!
In this blog post, you’ll learn how to count in French like a native, plus some creative ways to practice.
- Counting from 1 to 19 in French
- Counting from 20 to 69 in French
- Counting from 70 to 79 in French
- Counting from 80 to 99 in French
- Counting Beyond 100 in French
- Ordinal Numbers in French
- French Gender and Number Agreement
- How to Practice Counting in French
- And one more thing...
Counting from 1 to 19 in French
After zéro (0), you could probably already name some of the first 19 numbers:
See, that’s not so bad. Now let’s continue:
The number 17 in French is literally “ten-seven”, 18 is “ten-eight” and so on.
Counting from 20 to 69 in French
The numbers between 20 and 69 follow the same pattern as the first 19 numbers, but we need to memorize each multiple of 10 first.
The nine numbers following each of those use a similar pattern. So for numbers 20 to 30, we have:
This is true for all numbers up to 69.
35 — trente-cinq
French accepts both hyphens and no hyphens in numbers, so some people would write 21 as vingt et un.
To be consistent, I’m following the Rectifications orthographiques du français en 1990, which recommends putting a hyphen between each digit of a number.
The only exception: million is never hyphenated.
Special cases: 21, 31, 41, 51, 61
Did you notice anything strange in the numbers above? Most—though not all—numbers above 20 that end in “one” include et (and) between the two digits.
21 — vingt-et-un (literally: twenty-and-one)
41 — quarante-et-un (literally: forty-and-one)
Counting from 70 to 79 in French
70 in French is literally “sixty-ten,” soixante-dix . The numbers from 70 to 79 follow this pattern, meaning 71 is “sixty-eleven,” 72 is “sixty-twelve,” and so forth.
Take a look:
Note: the numbers up to 69 are the same everywhere, but in Belgium and Switzerland, 70 is called septante . For example:
75 — septante-cinq
Counting from 80 to 99 in French
If that wasn’t crazy enough, we say quatre-vingts , or “four twenties” for 80.
For numbers 80-89, Belgium follows the French method quatre-vingts, but Switzerland uses either octante or huitante , depending on the region.
So in Switzerland, 85 would be…
octante-cinq or huitante-cinq
In the next set of numbers, we continue with our same base of 80, rather than a new word for “ninety.” This means the number 90 will literally be “eighty-ten,” 91, “eighty-eleven,” etc.—just like with the 70s.
Note that although 71 is written soixante-et-onze (with et), 81 and 91 are not:
Lastly, for 90-99, both Belgium and Switzerland use nonante . So nonante-cinq means 95.
These counting methods are also used locally in parts of France near Belgium or Switzerland.
Counting Beyond 100 in French
|(one) hundred thousand||cent-mille|
|(one) million||(un) million|
|(one) billion||(un) milliard|
|(one) trillion||(un) billion|
|(one) quadrillion||(un) billiard|
I think cent and mille are the most interesting.
Think of all the words in English that stem from these:
With this knowledge, we can say complex numbers.
For example, the number 2,376,974 is deux millions trois-cent-soixante-seize-mille-neuf-cent-soixante-quatorze , always reading left to right.
Here it’s broken down into smaller parts, so you can see how I group together the millions, thousands and hundreds when saying the number:
2 376 974 — deux millions (two million)
2 376 974 — trois-cent-soixante-seize-mille (three hundred seventy-six thousand)
2 376 974 — neuf-cent-soixante-quatorze (nine hundred seventy-four)
Decimals and commas
For large numbers in French, groups of three numerals are usually separated by spaces. The English number 50,000 would thus be written as 50 000.
In France, the decimal is replaced with a comma. For example, 3.5 (three and a half) would be written as 3,5 in French and called trois virgule cinq .
Ordinal Numbers in French
Ordinal numbers in English are “first,” “second,” “third,” etc. These are pretty straightforward in French.
Apart from premier / première (first), you tack on –ième to a number to turn it into an ordinal number.
2nd — deuxième
3rd — troisième
24th — vingt-quatrième
Apart from premier, these are gender-neutral.
French Gender and Number Agreement
A number ending in one can agree in gender with whatever it’s modifying.
So the story “1,001 Nights” is translated as “ Mille-et-une Nuits “ since nuit is feminine.
If un (one) is the last word in a phrase, it doesn’t agree in gender with the preceding noun. For example:
la page un — page one
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How to Practice Counting in French
- Anytime you deal with numbers, think of them in French. I do this instinctively. If I check the time, I say to myself, “ Il est huit heures. “ (It’s 8 a.m.) If I have to count something, I do it in French. So a recipe doesn’t call for 10 eggs, it calls for une dizaine d’œufs !
- Watch French documentaries. Documentaries abound in numbers, usually complicated ones featuring growth or decline over time and lots of different years. Try to watch documentaries like this and write out any numbers they mention.
- Learn math in French. If you like math, YouTube and the Internet in general have great resources geared for French math students that would not only make you work with numbers but also teach you the vocab used in French mathematics.
- Take online quizzes. Quizzes are an oldie but goodie, and there are many options online. For instance, Sporcle, an entertainment trivia website, offers a timed quiz on French numbers 1-20 and each subsequent tens set (30, 40, 50, etc.) up to 100. Quizlet is another popular option, offering quizzes plus flashcards and games.
- Practice French numbers in context. Grab a partner and delegate one person to play the role of the shopkeeper and the other to act as the customer. If you don’t have a partner, don’t sweat it—play both parts (or find one using a French language exchange app).
- Apply your numbers knowledge to money. Dealing with money is something you already do every day in English, and you’ll do it while abroad in a French-speaking country. Familiarize yourself with the euro and learn how to form sentences with French numbers and currency. YouLearnFrench has a great video that simulates an exchange between a shopper and an employee at the grocery store.
French numbers can be puzzling even to advanced students, yet learning them is a rewarding experience that will put another piece of the French puzzle into place.
So get counting!
And one more thing...
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