Knowing numbers really well is crucial. I can't stress that enough. Imagine yourself in a shop at the register embarrassing yourself. You can't just hand over your wallet and say, "take what you need," can you? How about when you are on the phone and you need to jolt down someone's address, a phone number, or a post code to input in your satnav/GPS? It's crucial to get it right, right?


Now, what do you do at the airport when the guy in customs asks your address and where you are going to stay? Are you going to say it calmly or frantically search in your bag until you fish a piece of paper? How about in a flea market? Prices are not usually written down there; you need to ask and you need to understand what they say if you want to haggle the price of a knick-knack. Resorting to using your fingers should be your last attempt, not your go-to technique.


I've been told many times that numbers in French are "bonkers" or "scary," but of course I disagree. I think French numbers are actually easier than English ones. You see, every time I start counting in English, "one, two, three..." at some point (probably around 14) I will switch to French, and that's a fact. I think it's only the sheer exposure to one system that renders it "more sensical." Any system would become second nature by the time you leave school. But I will agree with one point: French numbers can be a bit long!


But let's not panic yet. Let's start right from the beginning looking at numbers between 0 and 19, then move on to multiples of 10 up to 100. After, let's have a go at telling the time and reading a phone number. I'll throw in some pronunciation tips and light grammar rules as well. We'll finish with the hardest bit: reading really big numbers. At the end of this, you should be able to read a date, such as 31 décembre 1999. Who's up for it?


Numbers in French i1

Basic Digits


Let's start with the simple stuff: les chiffres (digits).




Pronunciation Tip






[un] - shorten the N sound as much as you can



[duh] - make it short



[trwa] - the S is silent



[katr] - the letter Q in French is like a K



[sank] - make sure you pronounce the final K sound



[seece] - or [see] depending on the context or taste



[set] - no P sound please!



[uwit] - no H and a French super pouty U. You can't overdo it, so muscle up those lips!





By the way…


Un is an interesting beast. It's both a number (one) and an article (a/an).


In its feminine form, un becomes une because this unique number needs to match the gender of the word it accompanies.


For example, when telling the time, if you want to say "one hour," you need to say une heure because heure is a feminine word.


The Weird Teens


Just like teenagers, numbers between 10 and 20 are difficult and a bit random. Indulge them a bit.




[deece] or [dee] depending on the context (like six)






[doozzzz] - Make it long, to avoid confusion with two






[ka torz]









[dee set]



[dee zu eet]



[dee znuf]




When learners say 2 ans, it often sounds just like 12 ans (or vice versa). To avoid that, stretch in the right places and leave gaps.


2 = deux ans = [duh ZAN]

12 = douze ans = [DOOZ an]


If all fails, sheepishly hold up the right amount of fingers.


Numbers in French i2

Reading the Time


To say the time, use the verb être, in the third person singular (impersonal il), like this:


  • Quelle heure est-il? (What time is it?)
  • Il est ________ heures _________ minutes. (The word "minutes" is optional)


Definitely say the hour first and the minutes afterwards. You will look like an alien if you say, "ten past eight" when you mean it's 8:10 A.M.


If you round the time, you need to learn a few fractions:




Pronunciation Tip

+ 1/4

et quart


+ 1/2

et demi

[duh me]

- 1/4

moins quart

[mwooin kar]

So 2:15 is read, il est deux heures et quart (don't forget the word heure and the word et)!


3:30 is read, il est trois heures et demi.


If it's 3:45, we say "4 o'clock minus a quarter" (I know! I know, it's weird). So, say il est quatre heures moins quart.


By the way...


Douze is not that useful for telling the time, actually. If it's 12 o'clock, we say one of the following:


  • Il est midi (it's 12 noon)
  • Il est minuit (it's midnight)


The hours between 12:59 A.M. and wake-up time, though technically night-time, are classified as "of the morning."


  • 1 AM is une heure du matin


Afternoon hours can be read as 1 P.M. or 13:00, like this: une heure de l'après-midi or treize heure.


Round Numbers


Next thing you should learn is round numbers. Get a handle on the general idea before learning all the numbers... Spot the patterns!




Pronunciation Tip



[deece] or [dee] depending on the context



[vin] no long N! This syllable is tiny BUT [vint] if




[trant] say that T!



[karant] say that T!



[sinkant] say that T!



[swa sant] say that T!



[swa sant dees] say that T!



[katr vin]



[katr vin deece]



[san] but no long N! This syllable is tiny




1 000 0000


[mil lee on] but no long N!


As you can see, there's something unorthodox about the numbers 70, 80 and 90. I have a slightly dodgy theory to explain this. I think French numbers used to run out at 60. That was all that was needed to tell the time: 60 min, 60 sec. Why more? Well, when they discovered more numbers would actually be really useful, they made some up very quickly. Using logic!

You don't believe me?


  • Read soixante-dix (70) out loud. It says 60 + 10 (which equals 70! Genius)!
  • Read quatre-vingt (80). It says 4 x 20 (which indeed equals 80)!
  • Read quatre-vingt-dix (90). It says 4 x 20 + 10 (...a bit long, but it does equals 90)!


It's all mathematically sound.


By the way...


If you don't have any digits before cent (100) or (1 000), don't say un cent or un mille like you would in English!


It's just cent or mille.


So $150 is cent cinquante dollars and 1 234 is mille deux cent trente quatre.


This rule applies to 100 and 1 000 only! For example, we do say un million (1 000 000).


Notice the quirks:


21, 31, 41, 51, 61, 71 are:


Vingt-et-un, trente-et-un, quarante-et-un, cinquante-et-un, soixante-et-un, soixante-et-onze


That's "...and one" ("...and eleven" in the case of 71). I don't know why; it just is.


The pronunciation of vingt (20) changes as you count.


If you say 20 exactly, say [vin] - no T. But when you say composed numbers like 21 [vintay un], 22 [vint-duh], 23 [vint-trwa], and so on, say the T.


If you haven't worked it out, we count up to 60. Then we add up numbers (60 + 1, 60 + 2, 60 + 3, etc.) and at 70, we just carry on as we were doing: 60 + 10, 60 + 11, 60 + 12, 60 + 13 and so on. So in effect, 70 is not special, it's the continuation of 60.


At 80, there's a dramatic change: it's 4 x 20 and then we add numbers (4 x 20 + 1, 4 x 20 + 2, 4 x 20 + 3, etc). At 90, we carry on adding up 4 x 20 + 11, 4 x 20 + 12, 4 x 20 + 13, etc.


Numbers in French i3

Saying a Phone Number Out Loud


Phone numbers are not read the same way all around the world.


In France, numbers are chopped up in pairs.


  • 06 65 14 40 12 reads: zéro six soixante-cinq quartorze quarante douze


In Canada, where I'm from, we chop them up into parcels like this:


  • (418) 543-1919 The regional code is read with each digit separately, then the next 3 digits are also read separately. A bit of freedom is allowed for the last part. You can read it 19-19 or all separately 1-9-1-9. Up to you: quatre un huit cinq quatre trois dix-neuf dix-neuf
  • If it's a toll free number (like 1-800-543-1919) you'd say, un huit cents and then follow the rules above.


In England, numbers are split down the middle but all read separately.


  • 07503 183623 would be read: zéro sept cinq trois un huit, trois six deux trois


By the way...


If you are stating a phone number that has repetitive digits (say "2-2-5-5-5") you can't say "double 2, triple 5" in French. Sorry! You can read them one at a time or you group them the old way, i.e. "double 2" becomes "twenty two," (vingt-deux). Now stop looking disappointed, saying "triple 5" is not actually faster than saying "5-5-5!"

Numbers in French i4

Reading Really Big Numbers


It's not half as scary as it looks. You just need to chop up numbers in manageable chunks. I've used different colours to show this.


Numbers in French i5


You do the same in English. Think about it! 1 234 567 is read:

one million two hundred thirty-four thousand five hundred and sixty-seven.


In French, they become:


Numbers in French i6


Let's try it with 1 234 567 again, in French this time!


Numbers in French i7


Well, you are now equipped (with those 31 numbers we've just brushed up, from zéro to million) to count up to a million! No kidding! Try.

Numbers in French i8

Saying the Date


How about something really really daunting? Dates!


In French, we read the date by starting with the day, then the month, and finally the year. So if today is January 24th, 2015, I'd say: vingt-quatre janvier deux mille quinze. Notice how I wrote "24," not "24th," and how I did NOT capitalize the month's name.


When you talk about your youth, you are likely to have to say dreadful things like, "in 1999." Just take your time. En mille neuf cent quatre-vingt-dix-neuf. That wasn't so bad, was it?

You could also say "in '99" just like this: en quatre-vingt-dix-neuf.


When you want to talk about a decade (ex: the 80s), the formula is a bit different in French. We say les années and then we add the decade. For example, les années quatre-vingt.


One thing I noticed when I talk about the past (say more than 200 years ago), is that I don't read years the same way. I read it how it used to be said back then.


For example, 1492 could be read mille quatre cent quatre-vingt-douze, but I say: quatorze cent quatre vingt douze (14 hundred 92). It's not something you have to do, I'm just saying in case you hear it and wonder, "What was that?"




Some people get puzzled by the words chiffre, nombre and numéro. It's actually simple.


  • chiffre - a digit (from 0 to 9)
  • nombre - a value (technically from 0 to infinity).You can count it.
  • numéro - a combination of digits that have no value as such. It's not an "amount."




  • un numéro de téléphone
  • le numéro gagnant à la loto
  • les joueurs portent des numéros sur leur maillot


Odd numbers = nombres impairs

Even numbers = nombres pairs




In case you wondered why some numbers are hyphenated, here's the rule: when you read a number, read each word in relation to the next one and ask, Is it below one hundred? If so, put a hyphen.


Let's try reading 1 234 567 with this in mind: un million deux cent trente quatre mille cinq cent soixante sept.


  • un million - definitely over 100, no hyphen
  • million deux - definitely over 100, no hyphen
  • deux cent - over 100, no hyphen
  • cent trente - over 100, no hyphen
  • trente quatre - UNDER 100! so write: trente-quatre
  • quatre mille - definitely over 100, no hyphen
  • mille cinq - definitely over 100, no hyphen
  • cinq cent - over 100, no hyphen
  • cent soixante - over 100, no hyphen
  • soixante sept - UNDER 100! so write: soixante-sept


Tedious task, granted, but it's not exactly hard, is it?


Ordinal Numbers


Just before concluding, let's talk about ordinal numbers. Numbers like "1st," "2nd," and "3rd" that is.


In French, we say premier (1st), deuxième (2nd), troisième (3rd), etc. We shorten them to:


1er, 2e, 3 e


But you might also see:


1ier, 2ième, 3 ième


So, you might have guessed it, the trick is to read numbers as usual and then add ième at the end. Like this:


4th = 4 ième = quatrième


By the way...


Premier becomes première if it's feminine. Le premier or la première (the first). The other ordinal numbers don't change genders.




Practice! Practice! One fun way is to try this website. Another good way would be to count in French when you go up and downs stairs. Or, for those of you who do physical training, you can try counting your repetitions in French.


The trick is to play it cool. Don't sweat it. If you persevere, it will all come together in time.


Before you go, please don't forget to "like" this article! Look out for the thumbs up button.


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