January 23, 2012

#03-007: How to Say Big Numbers

red boxes depict numbers from one (nearly invisible) to one billion, in multiples of ten
How to make a billion

Note: Most of us can write big numbers--say, thousands, millions, or billions--but saying them out loud can be a challenge. Learn how in this lesson.

Get Ready: What's the biggest number you know how to say? Do you know anything past one billion?

Lily, a Chinese student, asks her American friend Becky, for help in the Common Room of their dorm.

Lily: Hi, Becky. Could you help me with some math for a few minutes?

Becky: Me help you?! But Lily, you're a math genius!

Lily: Well, maybe, but I'm having some troubles saying big numbers in English.

Becky: Oh, so it's an English problem! That, I can help with!

Lily: Thanks. So, in my country <writing on the whiteboard>, we put the comma here, so numbers look like this <points to "1,0000">.

Becky: Oh, you have the comma in the wrong place!

Lily: Wrong for you, maybe, but not for us. This is "one wan."

Becky: OK. For us it looks like this <writes "10,000"> and it's "ten thousand."

Lily: What about bigger numbers?

Becky: Well, we write numbers in groups of three. Let's look at this <writes "342,685,197">. So just look at the first group of three; how do you say it?

Lily: "Three hundred and forty-two."

Becky: Right! The next group?

Lily: "Six hundred and eighty-five."

Becky: And the last?

Lily: "One hundred and ninety-seven."

Becky: Perfect. Now, count the commas from the right.

Lily: There are two.

Becky: The first one from the right is named "thousand" and the second is named "million."

Lily: I see. And the next would be "billion," right?

Becky: Exactly! So, starting from the left, you'd say...

Lily: "Three hundred and forty-two million, and six hundred and eighty-five thousand, and one hundred and ninety-seven."

Becky: Great! But don't say "and" so much. Better would be "Three hundred forty-two million, six hundred eighty-five thousand, one hundred and ninety-seven."

Lily: Got it. What about zeroes?

Becky: Good question. Ignore them!

Lily: What do you mean?

Becky: Well, what's this? <writes "000000001">

Lily: That's "one."

Becky: Right. So in this number <changes numbers so the previous number now reads "302,600,007">, just don't say the zeroes unless they're part of another number, like "three-hundred two" or "six hundred."

Lily: Let me try, then: "Three hundred two million, six hundred thousand, and seven."

Becky: You got it!

Lily: Thanks for your help, Becky. Now I just have to practice!


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_and_short_scale

Practice: Practice saying these numbers. Remember to count the commas from the right and "name" them properly.

  1. 27,193
  2. 4,009
  3. 120,407,920
  4. 900,000,001
  5. 1,356,790,200

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for January 23, 2012

This lesson received 182 visits on my old site between January, 2012, and July, 2021.

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice:
    1. twenty-seven thousand, one hundred [and] ninety-three
    2. four thousand [and] nine
    3. one-hundred twenty million, four-hundred seven thousand, nine hundred [and] twenty
    4. nine million [and] one
    5. one billion, three hundred fifty-six million, seven hundred ninety thousand, [and] two hundred