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Mille, Million, Milliard: Big Numbers in French

Numbers are an essential feature of every language, and learning them usually just involves a good amount of memorization. In his latest video, Lionel provides an excellent and comprehensive review of numbers in French and explains how some of the more complicated ones are constructed. This lesson will supplement Lionel’s expert counting knowledge with some additional number facts. We won’t spend time going over the basic French numbers, since Lionel did such a great job with that. Instead, we’ll focus on the big numbers (above 100) and on decimals.

Although there are quite a few numbers above 100 (cent), you really only need to know a few of them for the rest to fall into place. Besides cent, there’s mille (a thousand), un million (a million), and un milliard (a billion).

When dealing with the word cent, the most important thing to consider is whether or not it takes an s at the end (and thus becomes plural). It never does in the 100s, since you only have one hundred: cent un (101), cent vingt (120), cent quatre-vingts (180), etc.

Cent vingt-huit personnes ont été relogées ce soir.

One hundred twenty-eight people were rehoused this evening.

Cap. 20, Le Journal: La Coupe du Monde - Part 2

Once you get into the multiple hundreds, however, you do need an s after cent, except when cent is followed by another number. So if your rent is neuf cents dollars ($900) and your landlord is nice enough to raise it by only $50, your new rent will be neuf cent cinquante dollars ($950).

You won’t have to worry about adding an extra s to the word mille, which always stays singular:

En France, huit cent cinquante mille personnes sont atteintes de la maladie d'Alzheimer.

In France, eight hundred fifty thousand people are affected by Alzheimer's disease.

Cap. 19, TV Sud: Alzheimer - L’efficacité des Jardins de Sophia

But once you reach the millions, things get a bit trickier. Once again, an s is required when you’re talking about multiple millions (deux millions vs. un million). But unlike cent and mille, when you’re talking about one million, you need to say un million. That is, the word million never stands alone, yet you never say un cent or un mille as we would say "one hundred" or "one thousand" in English: 

Si j’avais un million de dollars, je parcourrais le monde.

If I had a million dollars, I would travel the world.

You might be wondering why there is a de in un million de dollars but there isn’t one in neuf cents dollars. That’s another rule for million: when the word is followed by a noun, you need a de in between. Note that all three of these million rules are also true for un milliard (a billion).

Numbers aren’t always as neat as 1,000,000 and 950. How do you deal with more unwieldy quantities like 950.23 or 3.6 in French? Take a look at this sentence from our video on the booming number of film shoots near the small town of Saint-Cyr-du-Gault:

En deux mille onze, la région a consacré deux virgule deux millions d'euros

In two thousand eleven, the area devoted two point two million euros

Cap. 22, TV Tours: Hollywood sur Loire!

You may know that virgule means “comma.” So why is it translated as “point” here? The answer is that French deals with decimals in a slightly different way than English does. While the above number would be written 2.2 million in English, in French it would be 2,2 millions

The general rule is that where English uses a period when writing numbers, French uses a comma, and vice versa. So while “one million” in English is 1,000,000, in French it’s 1.000.000. Alternately, un million can also be written 1 000 000, where the periods are replaced by single spaces.

What would you do with un million de dollars or deux virgule deux millions d’euros? Even if you aren’t a millionaire at this point in time, at least you now have the vocabulary to count to a billion in French!

Vocabulary

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