In this blog, we’re looking at the number system in English, and also some expressions and idioms using numbers.

In English, we have two types of numbers. These are **cardinal numbers** (1, 2, 3, 4, 5 etc.), which we use to count and say how many of something there are; and **ordinal numbers** (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th etc.), which tell the position of something in a list, which we use for things we think of as fitting into a sequence. Let’s look at cardinal numbers first.

**Cardinal Numbers**

The cardinal numbers are 1 (one), 2 (two), 3 (three) etc. For a fun list going from 1 up to a vigintillion (1 followed by 63 zeros), go to mathisisfun.com.

Cardinal numbers are normally used when you:

**count things**, e.g. I have three sisters / there are thirty days in June.**say how old you are**, e.g.**give your telephone number**, e.g. Our phone number is 021 4551522**give years**, e.g. She was born in nineteen seventy-five (1975)

Numbers are usually written in the singular form, e.g. *two hundred Euros* (~~two hundreds Euros~~), *several thousand people *(~~several thousands people~~). We can use the plural with *dozens*, *hundreds*, *thousands*, *millions*, and *billions*, but only if there is no other number or quantifier (e.g. a few / several) beforehand, e.g. *hundreds* of Euros, *thousands* of people.

1-99: Remember to use a hyphen (-) when you write the numbers between 21 (twenty-one) and 99 (ninety-nine).

100+: In British and Irish English, we say “and” after 100, e.g. 127 is one hundred *and* twenty-seven. We still say “and” even if there is no hundred, e.g. 2,001 is two thousand *and* one. In American English, you do not need the “and”, e.g. one hundred twenty-seven, two thousand one.

We can say either **one** hundred or **a** hundred. It is the same rule for **one** thousand / **a** thousand and **one** million / **a** million. (But remember we can only say “a” at the **beginning** of the number)

1,000+: With long numbers, we usually divide them into groups of three which are divided by a comma (,) e.g. 5000000 (5 million) is normally written as 5,000,000. We do **not** use a period (.) or other symbols, so 5.000.000 and 5’000’000 are not correct.

## Special numbers

Zero: We have different ways of talking about nothing!

We can say “**zero**” if we are talking about maths or science, eg. *Water freezes at zero degrees. *

When giving telephone numbers, we can say “**oh**” for the number 0. (021 4551522 is “**oh**, two, one, four, double-five, one, five, double-two.) In American English you can use *zero* instead of *oh *here.

In British and Irish English, but not so much in American English, we can say **nought** when we are giving numbers including zero. So 0.25 is “*nought point two five”. *And we can say **nil **if we are talking about scores, e.g. *Cork City won the match by two goals to nil. *

We also have informal slang terms for zero such as **zilch** and **zip**, e.g. *How much money have you got? Zilch – I haven’t got any. *

A billion: (1,000,000,000)

In English this number now is a *billion*. In the past, however, it used to be *a thousand million* and “a billion” used to be 1,000,000,000,000. American influence over the twentieth century caused the English-speaking world to accept their billion with 9 zeros instead of 12.

This can be very tricky because many countries count a billion as 1,000,000,000,000. This number in English is a *trillion*.

Because the numbers have changed, there is still occasionally some confusion with English speakers. If we need to be clear, we can always go back to saying *a thousand million *or *a million million**!*

Numbers smaller than 1

Forming fractions is quite similar to forming ordinal numbers (SEE BELOW). 1/6 is *one-sixth, *7/10 is *seven-tenths*. The exceptions are ½ which is one/a *half** *and ¼ which is one/a *quarter* (in American English one/a *fourth) .
*

If we combine a whole number and a fraction (e.g. 1 ½ ) , we think of the number 1 ½ as **one idea** and don’t separate it. We say *one and a half lemons* (NOT ~~one lemon and a half~~)

For very big fractions we can say x *over *y. E.g. 37/73 can be either *thirty-seven seventy-thirds*, but this sounds complicated, so we can also say *thirty-seven over seventy-three. *

We say “point” for the decimal point and do not use a comma. The numbers after the decimal point are said like a telephone number, so 0.2657 is *nought/zero point two six five seven*.

#### OK, we’ve looked at the basic cardinal numbering system in English. You can test yourself with a short crossword here if you want!

## Ordinal Numbers

You can create most ordinal numbers by adding **-TH** to the end of a cardinal number (e.g. six → sixth / 6th, seven → seventh / 7th). The main exceptions are 1 (first / 1st), 2 (second / 2nd) and 3 (third / 3rd)*. *

Ordinal numbers are normally used when you:

**give a date:**My birthday is on the 27th of January. (Twenty-seventh of January)**put things in a sequence or order:**Liverpool came second in the football league last year.**give the floor of a building:**His office is on the tenth floor.**have birthdays:**He had a huge party for his twenty-first birthday.

You can find a good list of numbers by clicking on the links to My English Pages and also Woodward English

## Words we use with numbers:

Doing basic calculations, we use symbols such as +, -, x, ÷ etc. If you would like more, there is a list of common mathematical symbols here.

We use + (plus) to **add**, so 10 + 6 = 16 is *ten plus six equals sixteen*

We use – (minus) to **subtract**, so 10 – 6 = 4 is *ten minus six equals four*

We use x (times / multiplied by) to **multiply**, so 10 x 6 = 60 is *ten times / multiplied by six equals sixty*

We use ÷ (divided by) to **divide**, so 10 ÷ 6 = 1.666 is *ten divided by six equals *one point six six six

## Number idioms and expressions:

Look at the title of this blog. What does it mean? Well, *a dozen* means 12, and half of 12 = 6, so *six of one and half a dozen of the other *means that two things are the same. For example, *Would you prefer the red or the green car? Well, I need the car to drive, and the colour isn’t important, so it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other, really. *In other words, the read car is exactly the same as the red car for my purposes.

To see number expressions in context, here is a text using expressions with the number one. You can find the original as well as an MP3 of this at http://www.manythings.org/voa/words/39.html.

Today I will tell about expressions using numbers. Let us start with the number one. Numbers can be tricky.On the one hand, they are simply numbers. On the other hand, they have meanings.I for oneuse these expressions a lot.

Many people consider themselvesnumber one, the most important person. They are alwayslooking out for number oneandtaking care of number one. It is as if they are theone and onlyperson on Earth. Some people however, are not so self-centered. My brother is such a person. It is true – no joke. I am not trying topull a fast oneon you.

First, you have to understand that my brother isone in a million.He is such a nice person. All his friends like him. They consider himone of the boys. Recently, my brother had a bad day at the office. It was justone of those days. Nothing went right. So he stopped at a local bar — a drinking place — after leaving work. My brother planned to have a glass of beer with his friends — aquick one– before he went home. But aquick oneturned intoone or two, and soon those becameone too many.

As my brother was leaving, he ordered a last drink —one for the road.His friends became concerned.One by one, they asked him if he was able to drive home safely.

Now my brother is a wise and calm person. He isat one with himself. He recognizes when he has had too much alcohol to drink. So he accepted an offer for a ride home from a female friend.

At one timein the past, my brother had been in love with this woman. She is a great person — kind, thoughtful and intelligent — all good qualitiesrolled up into one. But sadly their relationship did not work. He always used to say “One of these days, I am going to marry this girl.” But that never happened.

For one thing, she did not love him as much as he loved her. It was justone of those things. The situation was regrettable and my brother had to accept it. But even now, he considers herthe one that got away.

However, they are still friends. And because my brother had been kind to her, she felt thatone good turn deserves another.He was good to her and she wanted to help him in return. So she drove him home.

If my brother had driven home from the bar that night, hisnumber would have been up. Something bad would have happened. Thankfully he made it home safely. And, he and the woman areback to square one.They are back to where they started – being friends.

For idioms relating to other numbers, click on the image below.

You can find a list of number idioms and their meanings by clicking on the picture above, or going to http://www.idiomconnection.com/number.html. There are also expressions and phrases at http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/number-phrases.html

There is a quiz to help you practise some number expressions at http://a4esl.org/q/h/9801/sb-idioms.html

We really hope you have enjoyed this blog. Please **comment **and let us know! See you again soon…