What are Spanish numbers?
Today’s Spanish numbers belong to an Indo-Arabic based decimal system the same as English numbers. Before this Spain used Roman numbers. In the 900s the Indo-Arabic system came to Europe and was adopted in most countries including Spain. Learning Spanish numbers is similar to learning numbers in any language.
There are small differences between Spanish and English numbers. The most noticeable is the use of a period (.) to separate thousands. In English, numbers are separated by a comma (,)
And the reverse is true for decimals. English use a period and Spanish uses a comma
So, if something cost two-thousand five-hundred pesos and eighty cents it looks like this
Another difference is the word billion, which unless you are very rich or traveling a very long distance you probably won’t be using often. In Spanish, the word for billion is ‘thousand millions’ (mil millones). The Spanish word ‘billón’ is what American English calls a trillion. Other Romance languages such as Italian use similar wording.
How to learn Spanish numbers
Numbers in most languages are built around the first nine numbers, 1 – 9. These are the foundation numbers. All Spanish numbers are based on these first nine numbers. again similar to most Romance languages such as French, So, this is what you need will learn first.
You will be tempted to learn these first nine numbers in order but don’t do it that way! I can’t stress this enough.
If you learn the numbers in cardinal order 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. you are actually learning to count, which is great, but when you learn to count it makes it hard to recall a number in the middle of the order without going through all the other numbers first.
Since most of the numbers we use are not in order, prices, change, phone numbers, addresses, age, you will want to be able to recall any number quickly without having to count your way through all the other numbers first.
So, when you are learning 1 – 9 learn them randomly, maybe such as 3, 8, 5, 1, 9, 2, 7, 4, 6, any pattern but consecutive order.
Most language apps, programs, and classes teach numbers in cardinal order and you may be thinking of learning this way too, but it’s a mistake.
To make learning the fist nine numbers easier and less time consuming, start looking for numbers and when you see a number say it. It’s that simple. Numbers are everywhere so you will rapidly learn these first nine numbers.
The ‘hard’ numbers
The next set of numbers, 10 – 19, are what I call the ‘hard numbers’. I use this term for most, but not all, European languages because for some reason the names of these numbers changes from the foundation numbers and any pattern or rule that exists almost always has an exception to the rule. In many languages, such as German, the numbers ten through nineteen are very easy to learn because they are just a combination of the word ten and the word for the ones place. Spanish has no such luck.
This set starts with 10 – diez after which there is somewhat of a pattern for 11 – 15. Eleven through fifteen all end in ‘ce’.
- 11 – once
- 12 – doce
- 13 – trece
- 14 – catorce
- 15 – quince
Starting with 16 and ending with 19 Spanish settles into a lovely, easy to learn and easy use pattern. The pattern is ten-six (16), ten-seven (17), ten-eight (18) and ten-nine (19).
- 16 – dieci séis
- 17 – dieci siete
- 18 – dieci ocho
- 19 – dieci nueve
Twenty through ninety-nine
This large set of numbers is really quite easy to learn because there is a logical and consistent pattern. With, of course, a small quirk.
For this set, all that is required is to learn the words for the tens place and then insert the correct foundation number (1 – 9).
The tens names are
- 20 – veinte
- 30 – treinta
- 40 – cuarenta
- 50 – cincuenta
- 60 – sesenta
- 70 – setenta
- 80 – ochenta
- 90 – noventa
To say 31, for example, you say ‘thirty and one’ – treinta (30) y (and) uno (one): treinta y uno.
30 – 39 looks like this:
- 30 – treinta
- 31 – treinta y uno
- 32 – treinta y dos
- 33 – treinta y tres
- 34 – treinta y cuatro
- 35 – treinta y cinco
- 36 – treinta y seis
- 37 – treinta y siete
- 38 – treinta y ocho
- 39 – treinta y nueve
Thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty, and ninety follow this pattern. Twenty is the exception but it’s an easy exception. For 21 – 29 omit the ‘y’ (and). 20 – 29 look like this
- 20 – veinte
- 21 – veintiuno
- 22 – veintidós
- 23 – veintitrés
- 24 – veinticuatro
- 25 – veinticinco
- 26 – veintiséis
- 27 – veintisiete
- 28 – veintiocho
- 29 – veintinueve
Not so difficult.
Hundreds, thousands, and millions
Unless you are doing something specific that requires very large numbers you really won’t need to learn anything past the millions. And once you have the foundation words, hundreds, thousands, and millions are quite easy to learn.
One-hundred is ‘cien’. Two-hundred is simply two (dos) hundreds (cientos) ‘doscientos’, 300 is ‘trescientos’, 400 is cuatrocientos, etc. Of course there is an exception, 500 is quinientos.
Thousands work the same way. The word for thousand is ‘mil’. One-thousand is ‘mil’, 2,000 is ‘dos mil’, 3,000 is ‘tres mils’, etc. Again million uses the same pattern. The word for million is ‘millón’. One million is ‘un millón’, 2,000,000 is ‘dos millones’, 3,000,000 is ‘tres millones’, etc.
Now you can say, for example, 9,876,543:
Nueve millones ochocientos setenta y seis mil quinientos cuarenta y tres
Nine million eight-hundred seventy and six thousand five-hundred fifty and three
And if you are wondering, the word for 0 in Spanish is ‘cero’, but seldom does the word zero come up.
5 steps to learn Spanish numbers
- Do not learn the numbers in consecutive order
- Learn the foundation numbers (1 – 9) first
- Learn the pattern for numbers 20 – 99
- Learn the ‘hard’ numbers 11 – 19
- Learn the words for hundred, thousand, and million