Counting in French
French (français) is an Indo-European language belonging to the romance group. Official language in 29 countries, including France, Belgium (with Dutch and German), Switzerland (with German, Italian and Romansh) and Canada (with English), it is spoken by about 80 million native speakers.
The French language used in France is also known as international French to distinguish it from its local varieties. Canadian French, Belgian French or Swiss French to name a few have different pronunciation, some vernacular vocabulary, and they may also differ in some gramatical rules.
Their numbering rules are the same nonetheless, even if some numbers are different. For example, septante (for soixante-dix) is used in both Belgium and Switzerland, but not in France, nor in any other French-speaking country.
French numbers list
- 1 – un
- 2 – deux
- 3 – trois
- 4 – quatre
- 5 – cinq
- 6 – six
- 7 – sept
- 8 – huit
- 9 – neuf
- 10 – dix
- 11 – onze
- 12 – douze
- 13 – treize
- 14 – quatorze
- 15 – quinze
- 16 – seize
- 17 – dix-sept
- 18 – dix-huit
- 19 – dix-neuf
- 20 – vingt
- 30 – trente
- 40 – quarante
- 50 – cinquante
- 60 – soixante
- 70 – soixante-dix
- 80 – quatre-vingts
- 90 – quatre-vingt-dix
- 100 – cent
- 1,000 – mille
- one million – un million
- one billion – un milliard
- one trillion – un billion
French from Belgium
Belgium alone counts around 4 million speakers.
Belgian French numbers are quite similar to international French numbers. In fact, two numbers only are different: septante  and nonante .
French from Switzerland
Switzerland counts around 1.5 million French speakers in Romandy.
Swiss French numbers are quite similar to international French numbers. In fact, three numbers only are different: septante , huitante  (mainly in the cantons of Vaud, Valais and Fribourg), and nonante . Apart from these differences that make the Swiss numbers a fully decimal system, the Swiss French numbering rules are exactly the same.
French numbering rules
Now that you’ve had a gist of the most useful numbers, let’s move to the writing rules for the tens, the compound numbers, and why not the hundreds, the thousands and beyond (if possible).
- Digits and numbers from zero to sixteen are specific words, namely zéro , un (une in its feminine form) , deux , trois , quatre , cinq , six , sept , huit , neuf , dix , onze , douze , treize , quatorze , quinze , seize . Seventeen to nineteen are regular numbers, i.e. named after the word for ten followed by a hyphen and the unit (dix-sept [10+7], dix-huit [10+8], dix-neuf [10+9].
- The tens are specific words too from ten to sixty, namely dix , vingt , trente , quarante , cinquante  and soixante .
- From sixty-one to ninety-nine, the base 20 is used (this vigesimal system seems to be an inheritance from Celtic languages), hence soixante-dix [60+10], soixante-dix-neuf [60+10+9], quatre-vingts [4*20], quatre-vingt-dix [4*20+10].
- Tens and units are joined with a hyphen (e.g.: quarante-six ), unless the unit is a one (with the exception of quatre-vingt-un ). In that case, the word et (and) is inserted between tens and units (e.g.: quarante et un ).
- Vingt (twenty) and cent (hundred) are set to the plural form when multiplied by a number greater than one while ending the number (e.g.: mille deux cents [1,200], but deux cent quarante-six , quatre-vingt mille [80,000]), or when they are directly set before something else than a cardinal number, such as a big scale name like million, milliard (billion, 109)… as they are grammatically nouns (e.g.: six cents millions [600,000,000]).
- French language uses the long scale for big numbers where the naming pattern of the scale words alternates between the -illion and -illiard suffixes: million (106, million), milliard (109, billion), billion (1012, trillion), billiard (1015, quadrillion), trillion (1018, quintillion), trilliard (1021, sextillion)…
Write a number in full in French
Let’s move now to the practice of the numbering rules in French. Will you guess how to write a number in full? Enter a number and try to write it down in your head, or maybe on a piece of paper, before displaying the result.
Schaum’s Outline of French Grammar, 5ed
by Mary Crocker, editors McGraw-Hill (2008)
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A Comprehensive French Grammar
by Glanville Price, editors Wiley-Blackwell (2007)
French Grammar: A Complete Reference Guide
by Daniel Calvez, editors McGraw-Hill (2004)
Le petit Grevisse
by Maurice Grevisse, editors Duculot Louvain (2009)
Nouvelle grammaire française
by Maurice Grevisse, André Goosse, editors Duculot Louvain (1994)
Gramática Essencial de Francês
by Michelle Cahuzac, Christine Stefaner-Contis, editors Editorial Presença (2008)
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