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Lesson Transcript

Michael: How do numbers work in French?
Aurore: And what is the number system called?
Michael: At FrenchPod101.com, we hear these questions often. Imagine the following situation: Philippine Petit and Sadia Simon practice numbers together. Sadia dictates the numbers, and Philippine is supposed to write them down, but it isn't an easy task.
Sadia Simon: Quatre-vingt-deux.
Sadia Simon: Quatre-vingt-deux.
Philippine Petit: Je ne comprends plus.
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Sadia Simon: Quatre-vingt-deux.
Michael: "Eighty-two."
Philippine Petit: Je ne comprends plus.
Michael: "I got lost."

Lesson focus

Michael: Numbers are definitely important when it comes to communicating with other people. We use them to tell others our age, ask how much an item in a store costs, and even exchange phone numbers with someone. When it comes to numbers, or
Aurore: les nombres
Michael: French isn't as straightforward as English. At some point, French numbers require you to do some basic arithmetic. Numbers from zero to sixty-nine in French are as simple as they are in English. After that, the pattern changes. That's because the French number system is based on a mixture of decimal, which is based on the number ten, and vigesimal, which is based on the number twenty. Why don't we take a look at the French number system and see how it works? Let's start with the basics, which is zero to ten. The good news is that this set of numbers is pretty much the same in English. For "zero," we have
Aurore: zéro.
Michael: For "one," we have
Aurore: un.
Michael: For "two," we have
Aurore: deux.
Michael: For "three," we have
Aurore: trois.
Michael: For the number "four," we have
Aurore: quatre.
Michael: Next is "five," or
Aurore: cinq
Michael: then "six," or
Aurore: six,
Michael: and then we have "seven," or
Aurore: sept.
Michael: For "eight," we have
Aurore: huit
Michael: and for "nine," we have
Aurore: neuf.
Michael: Finally, we have "ten," or
Aurore: dix.
Michael: Counting from eleven to twenty in French is also not too complicated yet. In English, we use the suffix "-teen" from thirteen to nineteen. The French equivalent for that is the prefix
Aurore: dix-
Michael: The only difference with French numbers, however, is that "-teen" doesn't occur until the number seventeen. Let's take a look at the next set of numbers starting with "eleven," which is
Aurore: onze.
Michael: Of course, that is followed by "twelve," or
Aurore: douze
Michael: and "thirteen," or
Aurore: treize.
Michael: For "fourteen," we have
Aurore: quatorze
Michael: and for "fifteen"
Aurore: quinze,
Michael: for "sixteen"
Aurore: seize
Michael: and for "seventeen," we use the prefix as discussed
Aurore: dix-sept.
Michael: The same goes for "eighteen" and "nineteen"
Aurore: dix-huit, dix-neuf
Michael: and for "twenty," we have
Aurore: vingt.
[Recall 1]
Michael: Let's take a closer look at the dialogue.
Do you remember how Sadia Simon says "Eighty-two. "
(pause 4 seconds)
Aurore as Sadia Simon: Quatre-vingt-deux.
Michael: Here, Sadia's friend is quite confused, because this time, we will need to use multiplication to come up with the French translation of eighty-two. For that, we multiply four, which in French is
Aurore: quatre
Michael: by the number twenty, or
Aurore: vingt.
Michael: We then add two, or
Aurore: deux
Michael: to the product, which is eighty. And that's how we arrived at
Aurore: quatre-vingt-deux.
Michael: In this lesson, you learned that the French language uses a combination of decimal and vigesimal number systems. Though it may seem a little complicated at first, don't fret! Learning numbers is more about habits—once you've understood how it works, you're already halfway there.
Michael: This time, let's take a look at some important rules in forming French numbers. We learned earlier that the set of numbers from zero to twenty is very much the same as those in other languages. Let's observe what happens when we get past the number 20 in French. As in English, we simply add the additional number after the number 20. For instance, "twenty-five" is
Aurore: vingt-cinq.
Michael: The ones are an exception, though. When adding "one" to a number that ends in zero, you also add the word "and" or
Aurore: et.
Michael: Therefore, the number "twenty-one" in French is
Aurore: vingt-et-un.
Michael: The same goes for "thirty-one," which is
Aurore: trente-et-un.
Michael: We only stop adding "and" when we get to 80. Remember when I said French numbers require a bit of math? Well, it all comes in when the counting gets to 70. In French, "seventy" is
Aurore: soixante-dix.
Michael: You're probably getting the hang of things by now, so you'll realize that 70 in French is "60-10." Using that logic, we use the numbers 11 to 19 after 60, and not 1-9. For instance, "seventy-two" is "60-12," or
Aurore: soixante-douze.
Michael: And "seventy-seven" is
Aurore: soixante-dix-sept
Michael: or, "60-17."
We already know how things work for numbers 80 to 89 since we discussed it earlier. For that, we used 4 multiplied by 20 to get 80 and then we simply added the numbers 1-9 at the end. This time, let's move on to numbers 90 to 99. We're not going to come up with another term for "90," but we'll simply use 80 and add 10 to it. For example, "ninety" becomes
Aurore: quatre-vingt-dix
Michael: which is basically multiplying the first two numbers, 4 and 20, and then adding 10 to the equation. Let's try another number:
Aurore: quatre-vingt-dix-sept.
Michael: This is French for the number "ninety-seven." For this set of numbers, we follow the same rule as the one for 70-79 where we added the -teens instead of the ones. Here's another example:
Aurore: quatre-vingt-dix-neuf
Michael: or "ninety-nine." Things get a little less complicated from 100 onwards. The French for "hundred," by the way, is
Aurore: cent.
Michael: When counting by hundreds, we simply add the number of "hundred" before the word. "One hundred one," for example, is
Aurore: cent-un.
Michael: "One hundred fifty" is
Aurore: cent-cinquante-cinq
Michael: and "one hundred eighty-nine" is
Aurore: cent-quatre-vingt-neuf.
Michael: "Two hundred" is
Aurore: deux-cents
Michael: and for "eight hundred twenty-two," we say
Aurore: huit-cent-vingt-deux.
Michael: And, finally, things are even easier when you reach 1000. The French for "thousand" is
Aurore: mille
Michael: and you simply add it at the end of any number in the thousands. Thus, "six thousand" in French is
Aurore: six-mille
Michael: and "one hundred thousand" is
Aurore: cent mille.
Cultural Insight/Expansion
Michael: Most places that have adopted the French language as a result of colonization use the number system that we have discussed here. These include Algeria, New Caledonia, Quebec, and Senegal. Meanwhile, French-speaking territories that were not colonized by France are a bit more flexible with their number system. Belgium, Luxembourg, and Switzerland, for instance, have different words for the numbers 70-90. For "seventy," they use
Aurore: septante
Michael: instead of
Aurore: soixante-dix.
Michael: And, for "eighty," they say
Aurore: huitante
Michael: instead of
Aurore: quatre-vingts.
Michael: However, this is only in some parts of Switzerland. In Belgium, they use
Aurore: quatre-vingts.
Michael: Depending on which region the speaker comes from, it's also not unusual to hear
Aurore: octante
Michael: for "eighty." And, for "ninety," they use
Aurore: nonante.
Michael: We can see that this type of French is a bit more convenient when it comes to the number system. And there's nothing wrong with using this system at all. However, if you want to speak French like a French person would, then you should go for the number system we've discussed first. It's a more complex option, but it's the one that is most used and recognized.


Michael: Do you have any more questions? We're here to answer them!
Aurore: À bientôt !
Michael: See you soon!