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Learning French Numbers: As Easy as 1, 2, 3

written by: Jenn Mercer • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 9/4/2012

Learning how to count is a basic skill in any language; it is no different in French. However, there are a few interesting tricks to learning the French numbering system. Remember when you asked your teachers when you would need to use math in your everyday life? Warm up those counting fingers.

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    Numbers in French to 100

    Learning numbers in French is a basic step toward language mastery. If you are familiar with other Romance languages, such as Spanish and Italian, you will probably notice many similarities in the numbers from 1 to 60. However, once you go beyond that point, things get really interesting. Let’s start with the basics and learn to count to ten in French:

    zéro – 0

    un – 1

    deux – 2

    trois – 3

    quatre – 4

    cinq – 5

    six – 6

    sept – 7

    huit – 8

    neuf – 9

    dix – 10

    As you can see, these numbers have more than a passing resemblance to the Numbers in Spanish .

    The teens are similar to Spanish in that there are specific words for the lower numbers and then the format changes at seventeen to a predictable format.

    onze – 11

    (note that the teens are pronounced as one syllable, ex: /onz/ instead of Spanish’s once /on-say/)

    douze – 12

    treize – 13

    quatorze – 14

    (two syllables, rather than Spanish’s three: /ka-torz/, instead of “catorce" or /ka-tor-say/)

    quinze – 15

    seize -- 16

    dix-sept – 17

    (pronounced /dee – set/, the ‘x’on the end of “dix" is not pronounced if the word is followed by a word beginning with a consonant)

    dix-huit – 18

    dix-neuf – 19

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    French Numbers Twenty to Sixty (vingt à soixante)

    The numbers from 20 to 60 follow a regular pattern.

    vingt – 20

    vingt et un – 21

    vingt-deux – 22

    vingt-trois – 23

    (continue in this pattern to thirty)

    trente – 30

    trente et un – 31

    trente-deux – 32

    trente-trois – 33

    (continue in this pattern to sixty)

    quarante – 40

    cinquante – 50

    soixante– 60

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    French Numbers Over Sixty

    As you can see, the numbers in the tens place have a strong resemblance to those in the ones place. For example, compare quatre (4) and quarante (40) or cinq (5) and cinquante (50). However, after sixty (soixante), there is a bit of a problem.There is not a single number that means seventy; instead you need to combine numbers together:

    soixante-dix– 70 (literally sixty-ten)

    soixante-onze– 71 (literally sixty-eleven)

    soixante-douze– 72 (literally sixty-twelve) etc...


    soixante-quatorze– 74

    soixante-quinze – 75

    soixante-seize – 76

    soixante-dix-sept – 77

    soixante-dix-huit – 78

    soixante-dix-neuf – 79

    This pattern changes slightly when you reach eighty, which is quatre-vingts, or four-twenties:

    quatre-vingts – 80 (four-twenties)

    quatre-vingt-un – 81 (four-twenties and one)

    quatre-vingt-deux – 82 (four-twenties and two)

    Again, there is not a specific word for ninety, but rather :

    quatre-vingt-dix – 90 (four-twenties and ten)

    until finally you reach 99:

    quatre-vingt-dix-neuf – (four-twenties and nineteen)

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    History and Variations in French Numbers

    Now you know your numbers in French; the real question is how this system developed? The answer is tied to the base-20 system used by the Gauls and common with other Celtic numbering systems. However, this system is not used universally throughout the French world. In some parts of the world, the terms for 60 through 90 resemble the rest of the tens:

    septante – seventy (Switzerland and Belgium)

    octante or huitante – eighty (used in Switzerland, but rarely)

    nonante – ninety (Switzerland and Belgium)

    However, regardless of the numbering system you use, one hundred is simple:

    cent – 100

    For most of these numbers, the best method is simple memorization. Use the French Numbers worksheet (a Word doc download) to practice your numbers in French. This worksheet includes the spelling of French numbers from 1-50 and 51-100. Try this with a friend or quiz yourself. It's the same way that you learned your numbers in English and it still works.

    The numbers between 60 and 100 can trip up even experienced French students. Practice sounding these words out whenever you encounter them. Memorize dates that you can expect to come up in class such as your birth year and the date of French Independence (1789 or mille-sept-cent-quatre-vingt-neuf). Once you have these basics down, you can use these same rules to count up to one thousand (un mille) and beyond.