From my school days, I remember French numbers with horror: the many nasal sounds and especially the numbers from 70 to 99.
But while traveling in French-speaking countries, I also realized how important it is to both understand and pronounce the numbers, such as when flight numbers are announced in French (see picture, above) and you, maybe, missed the English.
And, adding French numbers to your bag of basic words and expressions, such as bonjour, au revoir, s'il vous plaît, merci, etc., will make shopping in small stores or local markets both more pleasant and effective.
If we are traveling to a country whose language we don't speak, we now make it a habit to study at least its numbering system and memorize the basic numbers of 1 to 100.
We clearly benefitted from knowing the numbers when we arrived for a stay in Italy (See our previous post) and then again on trips to China and Japan. Of all the words we had learned to prepare ourselves - the numbers proved to be the most useful.
Most numbers that you see and write are in the form of digits. You rarely need to spell them.
But you do need to understand them when they're spoken. So to learn them, it helps to see them written out.
For most English speakers, French numbers from 1 to 9 are not that difficult to learn and remember.
Most of the French 1 to 9 numbers show some similarity to English, though the pronunciation may be quite different: “zéro” (zero), “un” (one), “deux” (two), “trois” (three), “six” (six), “sept” (seven), “huit” (eight), and “neuf” (nine).
Only “quatre” (four) and “cinq” (five) are totally different.
The French number ten (10) is “dix.”
The numbers 11 to 16 have their own pattern. They combine a form of the prime numbers with the suffix “-ze”: “onze” (eleven), “douze” (twelve), “treize” (thirteen), “quatorze” (fourteen), “quinze” (fifteen), “seize” (sixteen).
The numbers 17, 18, and 19 use the combination “dix-sept” (as in “ten-seven”), “dix-huit” (as in “ten-eight”), and “dix-neuf” (as in “ten-nine”).
To practice those French numbers, just click on the game screenshot above or on Play French Numbers 1-20
Counting by Tens: 20, 30, 40, 50, 60
The French number 20 is “vingt.”
The numbers from 30 to 60 that end in a zero add the nasal ending “-e/ ante” to a form of the numbers 3 to 6: “trente” (30), “quarante” (40), “cinquante” (50), “soixante” (60).
French Numbers 21 to 69
The numbers 21, 31, 41, 51, and 61 are like English, except that the word “et" (and) is inserted. According to the spelling reform 1990, they can be spelled without a hyphen “vingt et un” (twenty-one), “trente et un” (thirty-one), etc., or with a hyphen, “vingt-et-un” (twenty-one), “trente-et-un” (thirty-one), etc.
With those exceptions, all the numbers from 22 to 69 follow the English model: “vingt-deux” (twenty-two), all the way up to “soixante-neuf” (sixty-nine).
French Numbers 70 to 79 Get Tricky
Here the fun begins:
70 is 60+10: “soixante-dix” (as in “sixty-ten”);
71 is 60 and 11 (as in “soixante et onze” or “soixante-et-onze”);
72 is 60+12 (as in “soixante-douze”);
73 is 60+13 (as in “soixante-treize”), etc.
up to 79, which is 60+19 (as in “soixante-dix-neuf”).
French Numbers 80 to 99: A Challenge for Some
Once you've understood that the numbers from 81 to 99 all start with “quatre-vingt- xx”, all you need to do is add the appropriate number from “un” (one) to “dix-neuf” (nineteen). It's a fun way to give your math mind a little workout!
So, from “quatre-vingt-un” (81), over “quatre-vingt-dix” (90), to “quatre-vingt-dix-neuf” (99), the numbers are all consistent.
Mastering numbers well enough so that you can easily pay at a market, understand an address, or take down a telephone number can indeed be a challenge.
Click on the screenshot above or on Play French numbers 21 and beyond to practice.
In France, telephone numbers are normally given as a series of two-digit numbers.
For the number 05 32 77 42 98, you'll hear: zéro cinq, trente-deux, soixante-dix-sept, quarante-deux, quatre-vingt-dix-huit.
To avoid confusion you may need to ask for each digit separately. Or at least, read the numbers back to the other person to make sure they are right.
French Numbers from 100 to 10,000 (10.000 in french)
For the numbers from 101 to 1999, simply add the hundreds to the numbers you already know. (Seeing these numbers written out is pretty rare. But, according to the 1990 spelling reform, the numbers are all connected with a hyphen, as we've written them here. You may also see them without a hyphen.)
Thus, 101 is “cent-un,” 125 is “cent-vingt-cinq,” and 175 is “cent-soixante-quinze.”
The number 200 is “deux-cents,” with a silent “-s” for plural agreement. In writing, the “-s” is dropped when another number follows. So, 201, is “deux-cent-un,” 238 is “deux-cent-trente-huit,” and 296 is “deux-cent-quatre-vingt-seize.”
French Historical Dates
You rarely see historical dates written out, but there are conventions on how to say them.
In French, you start with “mille” (thousand) to say a specific year between 1101 and 1999.
So, 1323 (thirteen hundred twenty-three) would be “mille-trois-cent-vingt-trois” in French, and 1889 (eighteen hundred eighty-nine) would be “mille-huit-cent-quatre-vingt-neuf.”
You do the same for the current century. (Note that “mille” is invariable.)
The year 2000 is “deux-mille”; 2015 is “deux-mille-quinze.”
With this Quick French Game, you can practice some of the French numbers between 21 and 100 and beyond.
Millions, Billions, Trillions, etc.
A point of frequent confusion for English speakers may be the high numbers that are often quoted in news reports about global finances.
French and English agree on 1,000,000 - “un million” (one million).
But, for the US number “billion,” (thousand million), the French say “milliard,” and for the US number “trillion,” the French say “billion.” You can see the problem.
Swiss French (and Belgian French)
In Swiss French (“suisse romand”), a different and simpler form is used for the numbers from 70 to 99. The number 70 is “septante,” 80 is “huitante” or “octante” (depending on the canton), and 90 is “nonante.” It goes without saying, that it's a breeze to combine these round numbers with the single digits: for example, 74 is “septante-quatre,” 86 is “huitante-six,” and 98 is “nonante-huit.”
Belgians will also count with “septante” and “nonante,” but still use the French “quatre-vingts” and the combinations up to “quatre-vingt-neuf.”
Practicing the French numbers gives you a great opportunity to work on your pronunciation. As in any language, getting the mouth mechanics right is also important in French.
You can practice the French “r” by clicking on this Quick Game or on the screenshot.
Many of the French numbers have a nasal ending with silent letters, depending on whether another vowel follows. In “vingt,” the “g” is silent and the “t” is spoken; in “cent,” the “t” is silent; but in “trente,” the “t” is spoken because of the silent “-e” at the end.
Click on Vowels and accents, if you want to practice those.
During the day, when you're commuting to work, noting how many email messages are in your inbox, reading the newspaper, doing exercises, etc., you'll always see or count numbers. Pronounce them silently, or out loud if you can, in French. And you'll be surprised how fast you'll know them!
Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.