how to count in french

Do You Know How to Count in French? Learn Now with This Beginner’s Guide!

They’re all over the news.

You can’t go shopping without them.

And they’re even in your phone.

What are they?

Numbers!

Even though it can feel strange to learn something that’s so simple in English, you’ve gotta learn your French numbers. Because let’s face it—they’re everywhere!

Plus, knowing how to count will prevent you from awkward situations—like ordering 12 drinks when you just wanted two the next time you meet up with a friend.

With this guide, not only will you learn how to count in French, but we’ll also show you fun ways to practice counting, colloquial terms, how to say fractions and percents, ordinal numbers and even some basic math.
 


 

The Complete Guide: How to Count in French

When I was learning French, I would read a passage at a steady pace, but when I got to a number, I’d pause and pronounce it with difficulty. Since numbers are literally everywhere, I had to get better with them. And the only way to get better is to practice. But if you crack open a French textbook, you’ll notice that surprisingly little space is given to the nitty-gritty of counting in French.

So apart from textbooks, how can you improve your ability to quickly and instinctively pronounce numbers in French?

Learn a foreign language with videos

How to Practice Counting in French

Mastering counting poses unique challenges because not many French practice methods focus on it, but it’s easy to learn by daily practice.

  • Anytime you deal with numbers, think of them in French. I do this instinctively. If I check the time, I say to myself something like, “Il est huit heures.” (It’s 8 a.m.) Telling time however is another subject entirely! If I have to count something, I do it an 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 tons of 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 teach you the vocab used in French mathematics.

The above resources assume that you already know how to count somewhat, but if you’re at square one, meaning you’ve never tried counting in French before, you’ve come to the right place!

Counting in French: Numbers 1 to 69

The first 69 numbers are very learner-friendly. Once you memorize the base numbers, all others are just combinations of the former.

Counting from 1 to 19 in French

After zéro (0), you could probably already name some of the first 19 numbers:

1 — un
2 — deux
3 — trois
4 — quatre
5 — cinq
6 — six
7 — sept
8 — huit
9 — neuf
10 — dix

See, that’s not so bad. Now let’s continue:

11 — onze
12 — douze
13 — treize
14 — quatorze
15quinze
16seize

These numbers are similar to numbers one to six, but with ze tacked on.

Now we get to the first major departure from what we’re used to. Whereas the numbers 11-16 had their pronunciations changed to unique words, for 17-19, we simply say:

17 — dix-sept
18 — dix-huit
19 — dix-neuf

So the number seventeen is literally “ten-seven” in French, eighteen is “ten-eight,” and so forth. It’s anyone’s guess why these pronunciations weren’t changed like 11-16—but it makes it easy!

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.

20 — vingt
30 — trente
40 — quarante
50 — cinquante
60 — soixante

The nine numbers following each of those use a similar pattern. So for numbers 20 to 30, we have:

20 — vingt
21 — vingt-et-un
22 — vingt-deux
23 — vingt-trois
24 — vingt-quatre
25 — vingt-cinq 
26 — vingt-six
27 — vingt-sept
28 — vingt-huit
29 — vingt-neuf

This is true for all numbers up to 69. So 35, for example, would be “thirty-five,” or trente-cinq, just like in English. Note that French accepts both hyphens and no hyphens in numbers, so some people would write “vingt et un” for 21. To be consistent, I’m following the Rectifications orthographiques du français en 1990, which recommends putting a hyphen between each digit of a number. Exception: “million” is never hyphenated.

Special cases: 21, 31, 41, 51, 61

Did you notice anything strange in the numbers above? Most—but not all—numbers above 20 that end in “one” include et (and) between the two digits.

For example, 21 is vingt-et-un (literally: twenty-and-one) and 41 is quarante-et-un (literally: forty-and-one).

Counting in French: Numbers 70 to 99

Most students can get from one to 69 without problems… and then they get to 70-99. These numbers follow an entirely different logic!

Counting from 70 to 79 in French

So let’s go back to the last few numbers we were counting: Sixty-eight is soixante-huit and 69 is soixante-neuf. Well, 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:

70 — soixante-dix
71 — soixante-et-onze
72 — soixante-douze
73 — soixante-treize
74 — soixante-quatorze
75 — soixante-quinze
76 — soixante-seize
77 — soixante-dix-sept
78 — soixante-dix-huit
79 — soixante-dix-neuf

Counting from 80 to 99 in French

If that wasn’t crazy enough, then we say quatre-vingts, or “four twenties” for 80.

80 — quatre-vingts
81 — quatre-vingt-un
82 — quatre-vingt-deux
83 — quatre-vingt-trois
84 — quatre-vingt-quatre
85 — quatre-vingt-cinq
86 — quatre-vingt-six
87 — quatre-vingt-sept
88 — quatre-vingt-huit
89 — quatre-vingt-neuf

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.

90 — quatre-vingt-dix
91 — quatre-vingt-onze
92 — quatre-vingt-douze
93 — quatre-vingt-treize
94 — quatre-vingt-quatorze
95 — quatre-vingt-quinze
96 — quatre-vingt-seize
97 — quatre-vingt-dix-sept
98 — quatre-vingt-dix-huit
99 — quatre-vingt-dix-neuf

Note that although 71 is written soixante-et-onze (with et), 81 and 91 are not: quatre-vingt-un, quatre-vingt-onze.

Ok, so why are these numbers so different?

The reason why French suddenly departs from its base 10 pattern to use a base 20 pattern for numbers 69-99 remains somewhat a mystery. Some experts think that French counting was originally base 20 like the ancient celts, but in the middle ages, new words like vingt, based on the Latin base 10, appeared. But this is just a theory.

Counting in Belgium and Switzerland

The numbers up to 69 are the same everywhere, but in Belgium and Switzerland, 70 is called septante. So for example, 75 would be septante-cinq. 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. 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 in French: Numbers 100 and Above

Once you memorize the numbers above 100, you’ll be all set to say any number.

Powers of 10 in French: 100 | 1,000 | 10,000 | etc.

These are basically the last numbers we have to memorize.

(one) hundred — cent
(one) thousand — mille
ten thousand — dix-mille
(one) hundred thousand — cent-mille
(one) million — (un) million
(one) billion — (un) milliard
(one) trillion — (un) billion
(one) quadrillion — (un) billiard

Higher numbers can be found online. I think cent and mille are the most interesting. Think of all the words in English that stem from these: percent, centennial, century, millenium, millipede and many others. 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 is broken down into smaller parts, so you can see how I group together the millions, thousands and hundreds when saying the number:

376 974 — deux millions (two million)

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

We’re taught that you write large numbers with commas (50,000) and decimals with periods (50.25). 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. So the English 3.5 (three and a half) would be written as 3,5 in French, and called trois virgule cinq.

Special Cases When Counting in French

Some complex rules just require brute force memorization.

Plural numbers

Basically, if a number ends in an even cent (100) or quatre-vingt (80), it should be plural. Anything else is singular.

200 is deux-cents

380 is trois-cent-quatre-vingts

Contrast this with the following:

250 is deux-cent-cinquante

385 is trois-cent-quatre-vingt-cinq

Note how cent and quatre-vingt lost their –s since they no longer end the written number.

Mille (1 000) is never plural, but multiples of million are, even if they don’t end the written number.

So 2 500 000 is deux millioncinq-cent-mille. Cent isn’t plural in that case because it’s grouped with mille, which is never plural. Note how million is not hyphenated.

We could also have 200 000 000, which is deux-centmillions. The million is plural, but so is the word cent because nothing else hyphenated follows it.

If a number is used to describe specific things, the plural rules don’t apply. So we’d say “la page deux-cent” (page 200) or “trois-cent portes” (three hundred doors) with the singular cent.

When numbers have genders

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. So we say, “la page un” and not “la page une” for “page 1.”

Colloquial terms for numbers

In common parlance, certain numbers are often said differently. Think of how we say “a dozen” for 12. These are called noms numéraux (literally “numeral nouns,” or numerical nouns).

10 — une dizaine — une dizaine d’étudiants = dix étudiants (10 students)

12 — une douzaine — deux douzaines d’heures = vingt-quatre heures (24 hours)

20 — une vingtaine

30 — une trentaine

40 — une quarantaine

50 — une cinquantaine

60 — une soixantaine

100 — une centaine

1 000un millier — cinq milliers de visiteurs = (about) cinq mille visiteurs (around 5,000 visitors)

Notice the noms numéraux take an -s when plural. These can be used either to describe exact numbers or rough estimations. So if you have 21 apples, it’s okay to call them une vingtaine de pommes (about twenty apples).

Fractions and percentages in French

Like we wouldn’t say “one over two” for “a half,” neither would the French. Here are some common French fractions:

1/2 — un demi

une demi-tasse — half a cup

trois ans et demi — three and a half years

1/3 — un tiers

1/4 — un quart

1/5 — un cinquième

1/10 — un dixième

1/100 — un centième

You get the idea. If the numerator is greater than one and the denominator is three or four, special rules apply:

3/4 — trois-quarts (note the plural)

2/3 — deux-tiers

Otherwise, fractions are formed like this: [numerator]-[denominator + ième]

4/5quatre-cinquième

Percentages, or pourcentages, are easy to say. For example, 23% is said, “vingt-trois pour cent.

Ordinal numbers

Ordinal numbers in English look like “first,” “second,” “third,” etc. This is easy in French. Apart from premier/première (first), you just tack on ième to a number to turn it into an ordinal number. For example:

second — deuxième
third — troisième
twenty-fourth — vingt-quatrième

Apart from premier, these are gender neutral.

Simple Math in French

You had to guess where I was headed with fractions and percentages. Obviously we’re not in math class, but it’ll help you to know how math is taught to French kids, or at least to recognize the vocab.

Basic math vocab:

Concentrating on arithmetic, the following words crop up a lot:

To add — additionner/ajouter

To subtract — retrancher/soustraire

To multiply — multiplier

To divide — diviser

Sum — somme (f)/montant (m)

Difference — différence (f)

Product — produit (m)

Quotient — quotient

To equal — égaler

Integer — entier (m)

Prime number — nombre premier (m)

Given (in math parlance) — soit

In class, you use the same format as we do when reading addition problems aloud:

5 + 2 = cinq plus deux (five plus two)

In subtraction, where we say “minus,” the French say moins:

5 – 2 = cinq moins deux

Multiplication is the most interesting, because it’s literally the same as English:

5 x 7 = cinq fois sept (five times seven)

For division, like 5÷7 (five divided by seven), the French say, “cinq divisé par sept.” French math is done differently in many other ways, and you’d almost have to grow up there to appreciate that.

How the French do simple math

Many math problems start out with a statement like, “Soit x, une variable,…” (Given x, a variable,…), then the problem statement. In my experience, the French introduce theory and advanced terminology to younger students than in the US.

Money and Pricing in France

One of the first applications of counting you’ll do as a tourist is to pay for something. In the interest of knowing what you’re paying, you need to know how things are priced in France.

Current and historical currencies in France and francophone countries

Today, France (and Belgium) use the euro. Until 2002, however, France used the franc or nouveau franc (F). Switzerland, having never adopted the euro, uses the Swiss franc. Some countries in Africa also use currencies called franc.

Denominations of francs and euros

The euro, like the franc, is counted in centimes, like our cents. Coins and bills are minted for:

1 centime

5 centimes

10 centimes

20 centimes

50 centimes

1 euro

euros

euros

10 euros

20 euros

50 euros

100 euros

200 euros

500 euros

Euro bills are very cool looking. Each one illustrates a place or scene significant to all Europeans. Check them out here.

Sometimes people referred to one franc as a balle, just like how we sometimes say “buck” for a dollar. Similarly, sou was a colloquial term for a centime. These words can still be used to refer to euros, although people who grew up with francs sometimes get confused when balles is used to refer to something other than francs.

How are prices displayed and pronounced?

In francs or euros, a price is labeled the number followed by the currency symbol. So a toy that costs 5 euros and 50 cents would be labeled 5,50 € and pronounced cinq euros cinquante. Notice how the € symbol comes after the price.

How to ask for the price of something?

If ever you can’t find a price tag, just say, “Combien coûte… ?” as in “Combien coûte le chapeau ?” (How much does the hat cost?) or for plural, “Combien coûtent les bananes ?” (How much do the bananas cost?)

If you’re holding something or pointing (say you don’t know the word), say: “Combien ça coûte?” (How much does it/this cost?)

 

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!

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