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Describing Numbers

Aim: This page is to help you speak and write numbers correctly.

Background: Many Hong Kong students have problems speaking English numbers correctly. This may be because English does not have a single word for 一萬 and uses 'ten thousand'. There are also differences in larger numbers; e.g. 一億 is one hundred million. Click here for a program that translates Chinese numbers into English. English also uses commas, hyphens and 'and' in descriptions of numbers; e.g. 98,765 = 'ninety-eight thousand, seven hundred and sixty-five'. Also, American and British English use slightly different descriptions.

On this page:

  • the rules for writing and speaking numbers,
  • a calculator which converts a number you put in into words, and
  • an exercise to make sure you understand.

The rules for describing numbers are not very difficult. Here they are:

Rules:

  1. The British English system goes like this:
     
    1. Units; e.g. 1 = 'one'; 4th='fourth' (not 'forth'); "A postage stamp for a letter to a Hong Kong address costs less than nine dollars".
       
    2. Tens; e.g. 10 =  'ten'; 13 = 'thirteen'; 14 = fourteen; 14th = fourteenth (not 'forteenth'); 40 = 'forty' (not 'fourty'); 44 = 'forty-four' ; 44th= 'forty-fourth'; "A meal for one person in a fast-food restaurant costs about twenty-five dollars".
       
    3. Hundreds; e.g. 100 = 'one hundred'; 999 = 'nine hundred and ninety-nine' ; "Valentine's Day dinner costs hundreds of dollars".
       
    4. Thousands; e.g. 1,000 = 'one thousand'; 8,765 = 'eight thousand, seven hundred and sixty-five' ; "My new mobile phone cost over two thousand dollars".
       
    5. Ten(s) of thousands; e.g. 10,000 = ten thousand (一萬); 98,765 = 'ninety-eight thousand, seven hundred and sixty-five' ; "After ten years of working experience I expect my salary to be over twenty thousand dollars".
       
    6. Hundred(s) of thousands; e.g 100,000 = 'one hundred thousand' (十萬); 987,654 = nine hundred and eighty-seven thousand, six hundred and fifty-four' ; "My father's car cost over one hundred thousand dollars".
       
    7. Millions; e.g. 1,000,000 = 'one million' (一百萬); 9,876,543 = 'nine million, eight hundred and seventy-six thousand, five hundred and forty-three' ; "My parents' flat cost over two million dollars".
       
    8. Tens of millions; e.g. 10,000,000 = 'ten million' (一千萬); 98,765,432 = 'ninety-eight million, seven hundred and sixty-five thousand, four hundred and thirty-two' . "A luxury flat on the Peak costs over ten million dollars".
       
    9. Hundreds of millions; e.g. 100,000,000 = 'one hundred million' (一億); 987,654,321 = 'nine hundred and eighty-seven million, six hundred and fifty-four thousand, three hundred and twenty-one' ; "A large company's turnover can be several hundred million dollars".
       
    10. Billions; e.g. 1,000,000,000 = 'one billion'; 9,876,543,210 = 'nine billion, eight hundred and seventy-six million, five hundred and forty-three thousand, two hundred and ten' ; "The turnover on the Hong Kong stock exchange is over a billion dollars every day".
      Note: in British English one billion used to be 1,000,000,000,000, but now the American system is commonly used, so one billion = one thousand million.
       
    11. Trillions; e.g. 1,000,000,000,000 = 'one trillion'; 9,876,543,210,987 = 'nine trillion, eight hundred and seventy-six billion, five hundred and forty-three million, two hundred and ten thousand, nine hundred and eighty-seven' ; "The Gross National Product (GNP) of some advanced countries is over one trillion dollars each year".
       
  2. The commas go every 3 digits, starting from the right; e.g. 1,000,000,000
     
  3. In writing, the commas are in the same places as the commas in the numbers.
     
  4. The word 'and' comes after the word 'hundred', if the digits before the next comma are not 00; e.g. 100 = 'one hundred'; 110 = 'one hundred and ten'; 101 = 'one hundred and one'.
     
  5. Do not use plurals in exact numbers; e.g. 'two million'. Only use plurals for inexact numbers; e.g. "Company turnover was hundreds of millions of dollars".

Calculator
Instructions: Fill in a number in this box, press the 'Show me the Words' button, and the program will apply the above rules and tell you the number in words.

calculator
 

Exercise

  1. Write the number 14 in this box in words:

      
     
  2. Write the number 44 in this box in words:

     
     
  3. Write the number 888 in this box in words:

     
     
  4. Write the number 1,234 in this box in words:

     
     
  5. Write the number 1,004 in this box in words:

     
     
  6. Write the number 1,044 in this box in words:

     
     
  7. Write the number 12,340 in this box in words:

     
     
  8. Write the number 44,444 in this box in words:

     
     
  9. Write the number 876,543 in this box in words:
     
     
  10. Write the number 7,654,321 in this box in words:

     
     
  11. Write the number 9,876,543,210 in this box in words:


     
     
  12. Write the number 8,000,000,000,001 in this box in words:

     

Your score is: out of 12.

 

Last updated on: Monday, March 09, 2015