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What are French cardinal and ordinal numbers?

By: Agnés Finot Thu Mar 21 2024
French
Numbers

In French, as in English, cardinal numbers are the numbers we use for counting such as un (one), dix(ten), or cent(one hundred), while ordinal numbers are to order or rank people or things, for example, premier(first) or quarantième(fortieth).

The numerals used to write numbers look exactly the same in French and in English, so you might think you wouldn’t have any problem with French numbers, right? But can you read them out loud and write them in letters? Would you be able to give your phone number the French way? Do you know why, in French, 70 is “sixty-ten,” 80 is “four-twenties,” and 90 is “four-twenty-ten”? Find the answers to these questions and many more in this post!

Tip

To spell out the numbers in this post with letters, I follow the latest recommendation of the Académie française from 1990 (mille-neuf-cent-quatre-vingt-dix), with every word linked by a hyphen.

What is the difference between cardinal and ordinal numbers in French?

Cardinal numbers express an exact quantity such as un(one), treize(thirteen), or cent-cinquante-deux (one hundred and fifty-two). They are the numbers we use the most in our daily lives for counting, telling the time, reading prices, giving a house number, dialing a phone number, measuring weights, j’en passe et des meilleurs(and so on and so forth). On the other hand, ordinal numbers are for ordering, giving the position of one thing in a list relative to another: premier(first), sixième(sixth), and they are often used preceded by a definite article: le deuxième(the second one).

Let's start focusing on the formation and uses of the cardinal numbers.

What are the cardinal numbers in French?

In this section, I’m going to give you some tips about using cardinal numbers in French. We’ll cover how to form cardinal numbers, including how to pronounce them and spell them, and then we’ll cover how to use cardinal numbers in French.

How to form cardinal numbers in French?

To form cardinal numbers in French, you’ll have to learn the words for some basic numbers, and then you’ll create other numbers out of those words by combining them according to certain rules. Let’s start with numbers under 100.

How to say the French numbers 0 to 99?

Let’s begin with the basic numbers in French, those from 0 to 16. Keep an eye out for the tricky /pronunciations/ and the special pronunciation rules for 5, 6, 8, and 10!

0 zéro

1 un

2 deux[/deuh/]

3 trois[trwa]

4 quatre

5 cinq[/su(n)k/]

6 six[sees]

7 sept[seht]

8 huit[weet]

9 neuf

10 dix[dees]

11 onze

12 douze

13 treize

14 quatorze

15 quinze

16 seize

To form 17-19, just combine, dix (ten) and the number in the ones place:

  • 17 dix-sept[dee-seht]

  • 18 dix-huit[deez-weet]

  • 19 dix-neuf[deez-neuhf]

If I tell you that twenty is vingt[vu(n)], can you work out twenty-one?

Did you say vingt-un? You’re not far off! You just need to add the conjunction et(and)vingt-et-un[vu(n)t-ay-u(n)].

Important

Et(and) is only used in the et-un (and one) for the numbers 21, 31, 41, 51, 61, and the number 71 uses et-onze(and eleven). The conjunction et is not present in any other numbers.

J’ai téléchargé trente-et-un films.

I downloaded thirty-one movies.

Tip

The only cardinal number which agrees in gender with the noun it counts is un(one). Its feminine form is une.

feminine noun

J’ai vingt-et-un boutons et vingt-et-une aiguilles.

I have twenty-one buttons (m.) and twenty-one needles (f.)

This change occurs for every number ending in un when it is used in front of a feminine noun.

Now let’s get back to numbers 0 to 99 in French. Because they do not involve et-un, the numbers 22 to 29 are pretty straightforward! Twenty-two is vingt-deux, 23 is vingt-trois, etc. Check out the list of all French numbers from 0 to 100 for your reference.

Now, we follow the same pattern to count from thirty to sixty, knowing that:

  • thirty is (trente)

  • forty is quarante

  • fifty is cinquante

  • sixty is soixante

And don’t forget to use the et before one in 31, 41, 51, and 61! Here are a few examples:

  • 34 trente-quatre

  • 42 quarante-deux

  • 51 cinquante-et-un

  • 66 soixante-six

Now, accrochez-vous(brace yourselves) ! From seventy it gets really curious! Indeed, seventy in French is literally “sixty ten,” eighty is literally “four twenty,” and ninety is literally “four twenty ten”!

I know! Where did that come from!? Actually, it makes a lot of sense!

Cultural Note:

Many believe that the French number system comes from the time of the Celtic language, le gaulois, spoken for about a thousand years, which used multiples of twenty!

  • 70 soixante-dix

  • 71 soixante-et-onze

  • 72 soixante-douze

  • 73 soixante-treize

  • 74 soixante-quatorze

  • 75 soixante-quinze

  • 76 soixante-seize

  • 77 soixante-dix-sept

  • 78 soixante-dix-huit

  • 79 soixante-dix-neuf

  • 80 quatre-vingts

  • 81 quatre-vingt-un

  • 82 quatre-vingt-deux

  • 83 quatre-vingt-trois

  • 84 quatre-vingt-quatre

  • 85 quatre-vingt-cinq

  • 86 quatre-vingt-six

  • 87 quatre-vingt-sept

  • 88 quatre-vingt-huit

  • 89 quatre-vingt-neuf

  • 90 quatre-vingt-dix

  • 91 quatre-vingt-onze

  • 92 quatre-vingt-douze

  • 93 quatre-vingt-treize

  • 94 quatre-vingt-quatorze

  • 95 quatre-vingt-quinze

  • 96 quatre-vingt-seize

  • 97 quatre-vingt-dix-sept

  • 98 quatre-vingt-dix-huit

  • 99 quatre-vingt-dix-neuf

Important

Notice that numbers higher than 80 do not use et (and) before the word un(one) or onze(eleven)! So the only French numbers that use et are 21, 31, 41, 51, 61, and 71.

Cultural note:

In Belgium and Switzerland, these numbers are different.

Number
Belgique (Belgium)
Suisse(Switzerland)(cantons of Vaud, Valais & Fribourg only)

70

septante

septante

80

Used to be octante but now quatre-vingts is preferred

huitante

90

nonante

nonante

For example, in Belgium, Maxence’s weekly shopping cost him septante-huit euros(seventy-eight euros) this week and in Switzerland, Emma paid huitante-neuf Francs suisses(eighty-nine Swiss francs) for a pair of shoes.

Let’s move on to bigger numbers!

How to say the French numbers 100 to 999?

“Hundred” is cent in French, and with that, you can work out all numbers to 999! But, beware! One hundred is not un cent, just cent!

For numbers higher than one hundred, it's the same pattern as English: two hundred is deux-cents, three hundred is trois-cents, and so on. To those basic units you’ll add the numbers in the tens, without “and”:

two hundred and twelve → deux-cent-douze

Here are a few examples:

  • 100 cent

  • 101 cent-un

  • 125 cent-vingt-cinq

  • 160 cent-soixante

  • 200 deux-cents

  • 201 deux-cent-un

  • 352 trois-cent-cinquante-deux

  • 671 six-cent-soixante-et-onze

  • 897 huit-cent-quatre-vingt-dix-sept

  • 906 neuf-cent-six

Tip

For other numbers, like 101 (cent-un) or 201 (deux-cent-un), et(and) is omitted. But wherever the numbers 21, 31, 41, 51, 61, or 71 are used as part of a larger number, the et(and) is preserved. For example, 731 is sept-cent-trente-et-un and 471 is quatre-cent-soixante-et-onze.

And by the way, If you are wondering why 200 is written deux-cents with an “s” at cent, head to the section on the plural of vingt, cent, mille…

How to say the French numbers from 1000 and beyond?

From mille(thousand), you can follow the same logic. Note that mille is invariable, which means that it never changes and therefore will never take an “s” in the plural form.

Note that English and French have a slight difference in how they write the numerals for numbers in the thousands and above! Check these out:

English
French

1,001

1 001

mille-un

1 620

1 620

mille-six-cent-vingt

1,865

1 865

mille-huit-cent-soixante-cinq

2,000

2 000

deux-mille

2,957

2 957

deux-mille-neuf-cent-cinquante-sept

3,000

3 000

trois-mille

English
French

10,000

10 000

dix-mille

35 925

35 925

trente-cinq-mille-neuf-cent-vingt-cinq

90,560

90 560

quatre-vingt-dix-mille-cinq-cent-soixante

100,000

100 000

cent-mille

647,364

647 364

six-cent-quarante-sept-mille-trois-cent-soixante-quatre

Confused about why the thousands are separated by a space in French and not a comma? Head to the French number spelling rules!

Ready to go higher? Although one thousand is mille (not un mille), one million is un million[meelyo(n)]. One billion is un milliard[meelyar]. One trillion is un billion[beelyo(n)]. And finally one quadrillion is un billiard[beelyar]

Million, milliard, billion, and billiard are followed by de(of) + noun, which doesn’t happen in English.

Il y a plus de 8 milliards d’humains sur Terre !

There are more than 8 billion humans on Earth.

Here is a fun fact: 111 111 111 x 111 111 111 = 12 345 678 987 654 321 which is spelled…

12345678987654321

douze-billiards-trois-cent-quarante-cinq-billions-six-cent-soixante-dix-huit-milliards-neuf-cent-quatre-vingt-sept-millions-six-cent-cinquante-quatre-mille-trois-cent-vingt-et-un!

That's a mouthful! 😅

These numbers are all very precise. But how can you say a dozen eggs? Time to find out about approximate numbers.

How to use approximate numbers in French?

According to my experience, French people use more approximate numbers than English speakers. So you should find this section useful. Especially the use of huitaine and quinzaine for “one week” and “two weeks,” respectively.

Approximate numbers in French are always feminine singular and are followed by de(of) + noun. The noun must take the plural form with “s.”

To form French approximate numbers, you usually remove the final "e" of the cardinal number and add -aine: quinzequinzaine.

French approximate number
French Example

une huitaine

eight; a week

Le procès a été renvoyé sous huitaine.

The trial was adjourned for a week.

une dizaine

ten; about ten

Une dizaine de maisons ont été évacuées.

About ten houses were evacuated.

une douzaine

twelve; about twelve

Il a acheté une douzaine d’œufs.

He bought a dozen eggs.

une quinzaine

about fifteen; two weeks

Nous partons au Pérou pour une quinzaine de jours.

We are going to Peru for a fortnight.

une vingtaine

about twenty

Ils ont découvert une vingtaine de statues.

They discovered about twenty statues.

une trentaine

about thirty

Il a une trentaine d'années.

He is about thirty.

une quarantaine

about forty

↳ also means a “quarantine.”

Il y avait une quarantaine de spectateurs.

There were about forty spectators.

une cinquantaine

about fifty

Ici, on peut découvrir les œuvres d’une cinquantaine d’artistes.

Here you can discover the works of about fifty artists.

une soixantaine

about sixty

ls sont propriétaires d’une soixantaine de chevaux.

They own about sixty horses.

une centaine

about a hundred

Une centaine d’emplois seront créés.

Around 100 jobs will be created.

un millier

about a thousand

↳ Notice that milliertakes a different ending than -aine.

Il y avait des milliers de manifestants.

There were thousands of demonstrators.

Tip

In French we tend to use dizaine(tenish) the way English speakers use “dozen.”

Il a rencontré des dizaines de célébrités.

He met dozens of famous people.

You should now be able to tackle all numbers from small to large. Head to our fun French number exercises for some practice, or keep reading for pronunciation tips and important spelling rules.

How to pronounce French numbers?

As we have already seen, some of the French numbers have some trickier pronunciations than others. However, if you know your French pronunciation rules, it will make pronouncing the numbers a lot easier!

  • Cinq, six, huit, and dix

    The last consonant of the French words for “five,” “six,” “eight,” and “ten” are pronounced when they are final in a number word: cinq[su(n)k] , six[sees] , huit[weet] , dix [dees]:

    J’en prend cinq !

    j’a(n) pra(n) su(n)k

    I’m taking five of them!

    In front of a vowel or silent h, for 6 and 10, the liaison has a (z) sound:

    Il est dix heures.

    eel ay deez euhr

    It is 10am.

    However, the final consonant of these digits is not pronounced in front of a word starting with a consonant:

    Number
    Example

    5

    cinq

    su(n)k

    Tu as cinq minutes ?

    tu a su(n) minut

    Do you have five minutes?

    → the “q” becomes silent

    6

    six

    sees

    J’ai plus de six-cents followers !

    j’ay plu deuh see sa(n) followeuhrs

    I have more than 600 followers!

    → the “s” is silent

    8

    huit

    weet

    Prends-moi huit paires de chaussettes.

    pra(n) mwa wee payr deuh shoseht

    Get me eight pairs of socks.

    🤫 shh!... no more “t”

    10

    dix

    dis

    J’ai dix cousins.

    j’ay dee koozu(n)

    I have ten cousins.

    → the “x” is not pronounced
  • Vingt

    Vingt(twenty) is an odd one. I come from the east of France and I say the final “t” /vu(n)t/ when I use the number on its own. This is typical of the north and east of France. Other French speakers choose to not pronounce the final “t” when using vingt on its own.

    However, one thing all French people agree on is that you should pronounce the “t” in vingt when the next word starts with a vowel but not when the next word starts with a consonant.

    Elle a vingt ans.

    …vu(n)t...

    She’s twenty.

    Ils ont envoyé ving(t) conteneurs de marchandises de jouets vers l’Europe.

    They sent twenty containers of toys to Europe.

    Exception!

    In front of currencies starting with a vowel, the “t” of vingt remains silent.

    Ving(t) euros, s’il vous plaît.

    Twenty euros, please.

    Ving(t) yens !

    Twenty yen!

  • How to say phone numbers, page numbers, and years in French?

    • 📱 Phone numbers are written and read in pairs: 04 38 64 49 24 would be zéro quatre trente-huit ... soixante-quatre... quarante-neuf... vingt-quatre.

    • 📖 Page numbers are read in full. Whereas page 155 might be read “one fifty-five” in English, my history teacher would say page cent-cinquante-cinq.

    • 📆 Years don’t get shortcuts in French either: 2020 can’t be vingt-vingt, you have to say the full number deux-mille-vingt. (See more about how to express the date in French in our other post!)

    Enough with the pronunciation, what about spelling?

What are the spelling rules for French numbers ?

There are a few rules to follow to write all your numbers in letters correctly, such as the use of a hyphen, punctuation rules, and pluralization. Let’s take a look.

How to use hyphens with French numbers?

In 1990, the Académie française reformed the spelling of numbers and the rule is to add a hyphen between all the written digits that form the number. However, as this wasn’t always the case and, as some people still follow the old rule to only put a hyphen for numbers below one hundred, you can see different spellings. For instance, 199 might be:

cent quatre-vingt-dix-neuf (pre 1990 rule)

cent-quatre-vingt-dix-neuf (pre 1990 rule)

As you can see, it isn’t a huge difference and it doesn’t affect pronunciation!

Cultural note:

The Académie française is a French institution which regulates the French language. For example, it is the Académie française who decided that the word Covid-19 should be feminine.

How to write large numbers in French?

Large numbers are split in groups of three digits with spaces between them. So where we use a comma in the US, there will be a space in French:

L’année dernière, ils ont vendu 250 000 000 de barres de chocolat.

Last year, they sold 250,000,000 chocolate bars.

How to write decimal numbers in French?

To show decimals, French uses a comma instead of a decimal point:

Le taux d’inflation est de 3,6 %.

The inflation rate is 3.6%.

What are the spelling rules for the plurals of ‘vingt’ / ‘cent’ / ‘mille’ / ‘million’ / ‘milliard’?

The plural forms of numbers in French are not always the same. Some numbers take an s and some are invariable. Pay attention here — this is very different from the English spelling!

  • Vingt and cent(hundred) take an “s” if they are multiplied or if they are the last words of the number, but not if they are followed by another number.

    Il y a deux-cents invités.

    There are two hundred guests.

    Il y a quatre-cent-cinquante places.

    There are four hundred and fifty seats.

  • Mille(thousand) never takes an “s”

    Tu as gagné dix-mille euros ?

    You won ten thousand euros ?

  • Million(million), milliard(billion), and the bigger numbers like billion(trillion), and billiard(quadrillion) all take “s” whenever they are used in the plural.

    Les plus vieilles empreintes de pas ont six-millions d’années.

    The oldest footprints are six million years old.

    Confused about writing 7 000 000 or sept-millions? I’ve got you covered below!

When to write French numbers in letters and when to use digits?

In French, we typically use digits to write the date, to do math, to give percentages, to give a house number or a postcode, and for phone numbers. It is also common to use digits in front million, milliard, etc. as this is easier to read than a long list of digits.

Measures such as time, weight, and distance use either digits or letters. If you write the unit of measurement in full, for instance kilomètre(kilometer), then you should write the number in letters. However, if you use an abbreviation like ml(milliliter), use digits.

On a parcouru vingt-sept kilomètres à vélo.

We cycled twenty-seven kilometers.

Aujourd'hui, il a fait 27°C.

Today, it was 80°F.

Numbers from one to 16 or 20 (different people follow different rules) are usually written in words.

Elle a trois chats.

She owns three cats.

But if you also have a number higher than 20 in the same sentence, simply write all the numbers in digits!

Les plongeurs ont trouvé 3 vases antiques et plus de 500 pièces d’or.

The scuba divers found 3 ancient vases and over 500 gold coins.

Finally, if a single number is used at the start of a sentence with no other numbers used in the same sentence, it should be written in letters.

Vingt-quatre variétés de pain sont vendues dans cette boulangerie.

Twenty-four varieties of bread are sold in this bakery.

You’re all set to use cardinal numbers. Let’s move on to ordinal numbers.

How to use ordinal numbers in French?

Ordinal numbers are used to rank things in space or time, and to describe the arrondissements(districts) in large cities. They are formed by dropping the final "e" of the cardinal number, and adding -ième. When writing French ordinal numbers using digits, add -e, which is the equivalent of -st or -th in English.

La troisième saison de la série “Les Fleurs du paradis” est très populaire.

The third season of the series “Flowers of Paradise” is very popular.

Le musée Yves Saint Laurent se trouve dans le 16e arrondissement de Paris.

The Yves Saint Laurent Museum is located in the 16th district in Paris.

Exception!
  • For the numbers ending in "x" like deux(two), six(six) , and dix(ten), just add -ième.

  • The spelling of fifth and ninth change to cinquième and neuvième.

  • “First” and “second” have special forms! Keep reading to learn more!

Cultural note

To write the names for arrondissements, French people use the roman numerals a lot. Check out our discussion of Roman numerals in French to discover more uses!

La place de la République se situe dans le Ⅲe arrondissement de Paris.

The Place de la République is located in the third district of Paris.

How to say first and second in French?

The words for “first” and “second” in French are premier and second. Here are some other tips for using these words.

  • Premier and second are the only ordinal numbers that change form for gender: le premier(the first), la première(the first), le second[seuhgo(n)](the second), la seconde[seugo(n)d)](the second).

    Agathe est arrivée première !

    Agathe arrive first!

  • Premier(first) is the only ordinal number used for giving dates in French:

    Nous sommes le premier mars

    It is March the first

    Nous sommes le deux mars.

    It is March second

    the two of March

  • There are two ways to say “second”.
    Deuxième is invariable and is only used when we are ranking a list of more than two items. Second(e), [seuhgo(n)] or [seuhgo(n)d], which takes an -e in its feminine form, is used when only two items are ranked.

    Il y avait dix chevaux en course. Chardon bleu est arrivé deuxième.

    There were ten horses in the race. Chardon Bleu came second.

    J’ai fait une course avec Éric. Il est arrivé premier, et moi seconde.

    I did a race with Eric. He came first and I came second.

    You are now officially a master of French numbers! 📜 Time to recap.

In a nutshell

When using cardinal and ordinal numbers in French, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Learn the basic numbers one to 19, the words for each multiple of tens, and the big numbers like cent (hundred) and mille(thousand).

    • Keep in mind that 70 is “sixty-ten,” eighty is “four twenty,” and 90 is “four-twenty-ten.”

    • Use et(and) only for 21, 31, 41, 51, 61, and 71.

  • When writing numbers in letters, keep a hyphen between each word.

  • Approximate numbers are formed by removing the final -e in and adding -aine, followed by de + noun. They are frequently used in France.

  • Cent and vingt only takes an “s” when no other numbers follow, but mille never takes an “s.”

  • Use ordinal numbers to rank and order items. They are formed by adding -ième to the numbers.

Now it’s time to practice all your new skills with our French numbers activities! Happy learning!

Downloadable Resources

Elevate your language-learning journey to new heights with the following downloadable resources.

What are French cardinal and ordinal numbers~Table of French numbers from 0 to 100What are French cardinal and ordinal numbers~Activities

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