start with the good news: there is (almost) no difference between the way that
we write numbers in Spanish and the way we write them in English. The bad news
is that when we use numbers in conversation, they definitely aren't pronounced
the same way. But whether you've picked it up from Sesame Street or
Dora the Explorer you probably already know at least a handful of
Spanish numbers. Keep reading to learn more.
A "cardinal number" is just a fancy term for a numbers
we use in counting things (or indicating times, dates, or ages).
Let's take a trip through the Spanish cardinal numbers from
cero (0) to un trilión (1,000,000,000,000,000,000)
noticing some interesting quirks along the way.
Fun Fact: Cinco is the only Spanish number
word with the same number of letters as the number it represents.
The first 10 numbers (as well as zero)
all have unique names:
The next five also have unique names:
*Note: There are two acceptable options for writing the
numbers 16 through 19. The "old-school" way is to simply say "ten
and six," "ten and seven," etc. The newer method is to combine
those words into one word. At that point the "z" in diez becomes a "c" and the "y" becomes an "i." Both versions
are pronounced the same way. The shorter, combined word is preferred nowadays.
After that the numbers come in combinations. You are literally saying
"ten and six," "ten and seven," "ten and eight,"
/ diez y seis*
diecisiete / diez
dieciocho / diez y ocho
/ diez y nueve
Veinte means "twenty" and from that point on the pattern is very similar to
sixteen through nineteen: you are literally saying "twenty and one,"
"twenty and two," etc.:
*Note: Once again it is also preferable to condense these
numbers down to one word by replacing the trailing "-e"
and the "y" with an "i." Twenty two, twenty three, and twenty
six will also need an additional accent mark.
veintiuno / veinte y uno*
veintidós / veinte y dos
veintitrés / veinte y tres
veinticuatro / veinte y cuatro
veinticinco / veinte y cinco
veintiséis / veinte y seis
veintisiete / veinte y siete
veintiocho / veinte y ocho
veintinueve / veinte y nueve
After veinte comes treinta and the same pattern is followed:
*Note: After the twenties we no longer condense our numbers
into one word.
treinta y uno*
treinta y dos
treinta y tres
All of the numbers in the forties, fifties, sixties, seventies,
eighties, and nineties work the same way as in the thirties:
cincuenta y uno
ochenta y cinco
Technically ciento means "one hundred" in Spanish, but its shortened form, cien, is preferred when there are exactly 100 of something:
ciento / cien
one hundred one
one hundred two
one hundred three
You may have noticed there is no longer any y." This is
because the "y" is only used to separate the 10's place from the 1's
place. If there is nothing in the 10's place, we don't use "y."
ciento treinta y cinco
one hundred ten
one hundred twenty
one hundred twenty-one
one hundred thirty five
Ciento is followed by:
two hundred fifty
"One thousand" in Spanish is mil. And we don't
say "un mil;" it's simply mil:
one thousand five hundred
After the thousands comes the 10s and 100s of thousands:
*Note: In compound numbers, Use ciento if the number that follows is smaller than 100. Use cien if the number that follows is larger than 100.
ciento treinta mil
one hundred thousand
one hundred thirty thousand
two hundred thousand
three hundred thousand
Next, a thousand
thousand is a million or un millón. When we move from one million
to two million, the millón becomes millones:
un millón doscientos mil
one million two hundred thousand
*Note: This is not actually so much of a difference in languages
as it is a difference in ways of counting very large numbers. Historically there
is some disagreement even between English-speaking countries as to what exactly
a "billion" represents.
Bonus: see Long and short scales
Now things get a little weird. Adding three zeros to a million in English
gets us to a billion. But in Spanish it's a mil millón, or
a thousand million*. This throws the rest of the chart out of synch with what
we might expect as well:
dos mil millones
Cardinal Numbers as Adjectives
you're simply counting numbers (like in "Hide and Seek" while your friends are
hiding) the list above is accurate. However, much of the time when we use a number
we follow it up with a noun, e.g. "six cars," "24 tables,"
"38 houses," etc. When we do this we're actually using the number as
an adjective and some interesting things need to happen.
First of all uno
gets shortened to un when it comes before a masculine noun, and likewise
numbers ending in "-uno" are shortened to "-ún" (note
the accent mark). Ciento is also shortened to cien when
(and only when) we're dealing with exactly 100 of something. For example:
ciento tres coches
as with other adjectives, we need to make our numbers agree in gender with
the nouns that they modify. However, this only happens with numbers ending in
"-uno" and words ending in "-ientos" (all of the "hundreds"
words from 200 to 900). For example:
Every part of a number that can agree with the
gender of the noun should agree. For example 654,321 tables would be written out
as "seiscientas cincuenta y cuatro mil trescientas veintiuna
Decimal Points and Commas
You may have noticed the
strange looking decimal points in the right hand column above. This is not a typo.
The majority of Spanish-speaking countries do the opposite of English-speaking
countries when it comes to decimal points and grouping thousands: commas are used
for decimal points and periods are used to separate the groups of zeros. The number
"21.7" would be written "21,7" in Spanish and would be read
"veintiuno punto siete."
While we use cardinal numbers to count things, we use "ordinal numbers" to put things in order
(such as the order in which runners finish a race). Here are the Spanish ordinal numbers :
onceavo / undécimo / decimoprimero
doceavo / duodécimo / decimosegundo
- When used as adjectives, all of the ordinals agree in gender
with the noun they modify, therefore "-o" endings change to "-a"
with feminine nouns. For example: la segunda casa, su tercera
novia, mi última tarea.
- The ordinals primero and tercero are shortened to primer and tercer when used with masculine nouns. For example; en primer lugar, en
tercer grado. This is only true of primero and tercero.
- When an ordinal prefix ending in "-imo" is combined with "octavo" one of the o's is dropped to avoid repeating the same sound, e.g. "decimoctavo."
- Ordinals are not typically used with dates; use cardinal numbers instead: "Hoy es el quince de enero."
- We often use a sort of shorthand abbreviation for ordinals in English 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. We can do something similar in Spanish 1º, 2º,
3º, etc. (or 1ª, 2ª, 3ª, etc. if feminine)
express Spanish fractions the following way:
a whole (1/1)
three quarters (3/4)
five sixths (5/6)
six sevenths (6/7)
seven eighths (7/8)
eight ninths (8/9)
nine tenths (9/10)
nine hundredths (9/100)
nine thousandths (9/1000)
From "un cuarto" on we're using the same words as we did
for the ordinals.
Note: Multiples can also have masculine and feminine forms: cuádruplo, cuádrupla.
We use "multiplicatives" to make multiples out of a number. Spanish multiples are similar to the English:
Precentages are written the same way in Spanish as they are in English. When spoken, "percent" is por ciento.
6 por ciento
6 percent (6%)
75 por ciento
75 percent (75%)
99 por ciento
99 percent (99%)
Fun Numbers Facts
- When writing
checks in Spanish it is acceptable (and a good idea) to write "un mil"
rather than the grammatically correct "mil" to ensure that no one alters
the check amount.
- Writing "two or three" in Spanish looks like
this, "2 o 3," and could possibly be confused with "203."
Because of this the "or" is somtimes accented to avoid confusion: "2 ó
3." (As handwriting is being replaced by technology, the need to do this is diminishing.)