Spanish Numbers: The Definitive Guide

In this guide, you’ll learn all about Spanish numbers including:

  • Spanish numbers for counting (1, 2, 3…)
  • Ordinal numbers (1st, 2nd, 3rd…)
  • Fractions (1/2, 1/3, 1/4…)
  • Multiples (2x, 3x, 4x…)
  • Unusual numbers (1, 21, 100…)
  • Applications (dates, quantities…)

You’ll also learn about common errors and a Spanish number controversy.

The number #1 in Spanish

Before we talk about all of the numbers in the Spanish language, we need to stop and talk about the number one (1).

One is the most interesting number in Spanish because it has three forms, where most numbers have only one or two.

In addition, any number ending in one such as twenty-one (21), seventy-one (71), or two thousand four hundred and sixty-one (2,461) also has three forms.

So, what makes the Spanish number one so special?

When we use Spanish numbers in a sentence, we can either use them like an adjective or a pronoun.

When we switch between these two options, similar to other Spanish words that describe quantity such as algún vs alguno, we need to decide between three forms.

Let’s see this in action.

Firstly, here are a few examples of the number one behaving like an adjective:

English: I have one brother and one sister..
Español: Tengo un hermano y una hermana.

English: We only need one idea for the project.
Español: Solo necesitamos una idea para el proyecto.

Note there aren’t different words for ‘one’ and ‘a’ in Spanish, e.g. ‘una idea‘ could translate as ‘one idea’ or ‘an idea’. We can only distinguish between ‘one’ and ‘a’ or ‘an’ in Spanish through context.

Next, here are some examples of the number one behaving like a pronoun:

English: How many cups do you have?
Español: ¿Cuántas copas tienes?
English: I have one.
Español: Tengo una.

English: How many countries have you lived in?
Español: ¿En cuántos países has vivido?
English: Only one.
Español: Solo uno.

As you can see with this last example, when we want to say ‘one’ and this represents a masculine noun, we need to remember to say ‘uno’.

But, if we have a noun in our sentence, we need to drop the ‘o’ (e.g. ‘un libro’, ‘un artículo’ etc.) And if it is feminine, we don’t need to change forms.

Numbers ending in one

When any number ends in one, the change between forms is identical.

In addition, we don’t need to pluralize larger numbers ending in one, as we do with the majority of adjectives in Spanish.

But, we do still have to match the gender of numbers ending in one when the noun is feminine.

Here are some examples:

English: There are forty-one people on the bus (41).
Español: Hay cuarenta y una personas en el autobús.

English: How many guests are coming to the wedding?
Español: ¿Cuántos invitados vienen a la boda?
English: Two hundred and sixty-one (261).
Español: Doscientos sesenta y uno.

But, note there are numbers that end in the letter ‘o’ that we don’t need to match for gender or plural.

For example:

English: We need four knives and five spoons (4, 5).
Español: Necesitamos cuatro cuchillos y cinco cucharas.

Beyond the number one, and numbers ending in one, there are a few other numbers that change form, we will discuss these in more detail later in the article.

Un vs unos, una vs unas

The last thing we need to discuss before moving on is the plural forms of the number one: unos and unas.

As you saw a moment ago, when we have a large number ending in one, we need to stick with the singular form of one.

For example, the following doesn’t work:

English: There are fifty-one examples in the homework (51). 
Español: Hay cincuenta y unos ejemplos en la tarea. ⊗

So, how then do we use unos and unas?

If we don’t need an exact number, we can use unos and unas for approximations.

There are, in fact, two basic scenarios in which we can use this plural form of one.

The first is for a small and non-exact number, this situation is best translated into English as ‘a few’ or ‘some’.

Here are some examples:

English: We spend a few weeks in the mountains every winter. 
Español: Pasamos unas semanas en las montañas cada invierno..

English: I’m going to have some drinks with friends tonight. 
Español: Voy a tomar unas copas con amigos esta noche.

The second situation in which we can use the plural form of one is for making larger numbers approximate quantities.

We can do this by combining unos and unas with a larger number. This use translates into English as ‘some’ or ‘about’.

For example:

English: I’m only going to wait about twenty minutes (20).
Español: Solo voy a esperar unos veinte minutos.

English: There are about forty questions on the test (40).
Español: Hay unas cuarenta preguntas en el examen.

Note the word order here and how we must put unos and unas before the number we want to approximate.

Now that we have discussed the number one in detail, next let’s look at the numbers between zero (0) and twenty-nine (29).

Numbers #0-29

After the changes that occur with the number one in Spanish, another interesting observation about Spanish numbers is that all numbers from zero to thirty are each only one word.

While English starts to split numbers into two words after twenty, this one-word pattern continues in Spanish up to thirty.

We’ll discuss the number thirty in the next section. But, for now, here is a list of the numbers zero through to twenty-nine:

# Número
0 Cero
1 Uno / un / una
2 Dos
3 Tres
4 Cuatro
5 Cinco
6 Seis
7 Siete
8 Ocho
9 Nueve
10 Diez
11 Once
12 Doce
13 Trece
14 Catorce
15 Quince
16 Dieciséis
17 Diecisiete
18 Dieciocho
19 Diecinueve
20 Veinte
21 Veintiuno / Veintiún / Veintiuna
22 Veintidós
23 Veintitrés
24 Veinticuatro
25 Veinticinco
26 Veintiséis
27 Veintisiete
28 Veintiocho
29 Veintinueve

Note again, just like the number one, the number twenty-one has three forms.

Here are some examples of these numbers in action:

English: How much is a haircut?
Español: ¿Cuánto cuesta un corte de pelo?
English: Eighteen euros (18).
Español: Dieciocho euros.

English: She is turning twenty-one today (21).  
Español: Hoy cumple veintiún años. 

English: How many steps are there between here and the door?
Español: ¿Cuántos pasos hay entre aquí y la puerta?
English: Twenty-one (21).
Español: Veintiuno.

English: They need twenty-eight tables for the conference (28).
Español: Necesitan veintiocho mesas para la conferencia.

A common application of these numbers is telling the time, where we often use 24-hour time in Spanish.

Here are some examples:

English: What is the time?
Español: ¿Qué hora es?

English: It’s 5:22 pm (17:22).
Español: Son las diecisiete veintidós.

English: It’s 9:07 pm (21:07).
Español: Son las veintiuna siete.

English: It’s 1:15 pm (13:15).
Español: Son las trece quince.

Beyond thirty, we’ll likely need to combine more than one number in Spanish. We’ll discuss this next.

Numbers #30-99

For any number between thirty and one hundred, apart from multiples of ten, we will need to combine two numbers using the Spanish word ‘y’.

Here is a list of numbers from thirty to ninety-nine:

# Número & Número
30

40

50

60

70

80

90

Treinta

Cuarenta

Cincuenta

Sesenta

Setenta

Ochenta

Noventa

y Uno / un / una

Dos

Tres

Cuatro

Cinco

Seis

Siete

Ocho

Nueve

Note you can see here the pattern with the number one continues.

Here are some examples of these numbers in action:

English: There are forty-four countries in Europe (44).
Español: Hay cuarenta y cuatro países en Europa.

English: Barcelona Football Club plays fifty-one matches in a season (51).
Español: El Fútbol Club Barcelona juega cincuenta y un partidos en una temporada.

English: A normal golf course has eighteen holes with a par of seventy-two strokes (18, 72).
Español: Un campo de golf normal tiene dieciocho hoyos con un par de setenta y dos golpes.

A common application for numbers up to ninety-nine is describing phone numbers. While we can list each digit of a phone number separately in Spanish, it’s common to list phone numbers in double digits.

For example:

English: My phone number is 55 60 31 47 29. 
Español: Mi número de teléfono es cincuenta y cinco, sesenta, treinta y uno, cuarenta y siete, veintinueve.

Notice the use of ‘y‘ in Spanish with numbers up to ninety-nine. It can really help to think about these numbers as ‘forty and four’ or ‘seventy and two’. Thinking this way will also help you understand numbers over one hundred.

Numbers #100-999

When we reach the number one hundred, we find more Spanish numbers, similar to the number one, that have multiple forms.

All of the multiples of one hundred have both a masculine and feminine form.

And, the number one hundred itself has two forms: as the number one hundred on its own or ‘one hundred and something’. I’ll provide some examples below in the section cien vs ciento to show you how this number works.

Here is the list of Spanish multiples of one hundred for talking about any number up to one thousand:

# Número
100 Cien / ciento
200 Doscientos / doscientas
300 Trescientos / trescientas
400 Cuatrocientos / cuatrocientas 
500 Quinientos, quinientas
600 Seiscientos, seiscientas
700 Setecientos, setecientas
800 Ochocientos, ochocientas
900 Novecientos, novecientas

The first and most important thing to discuss for numbers above one hundred is the placement of the Spanish word ‘y‘ (and).

We need to think carefully about where to place the word ‘y’ in three-digit Spanish numbers because it is different from English.

In short, we cannot follow the number one hundred or a multiple of one hundred with ‘y’.

Take the number 135.

In English, we place the word ‘and’ between the 1 and the 35 (one hundred AND thirty-five). But, in Spanish, we already have ‘y‘ between the 3 and the 5 and so we need to avoid adding another ‘y‘ between the 1 and the 3.

So, we need to think differently in Spanish for numbers above one hundred. We need to think “one hundred, thirty and five”.

Moreover, if we don’t have a multiple of ten from thirty to ninety combining with a number from one to nine, we need to drop the ‘y‘ from the number entirely.

For example:

English: Two hundred and nine (209).
Español: Doscientos nueve.

Here are some more examples:

English: One hundred and one dalmatians (101).
Español: Ciento un dálmatas.

English: This book has four hundred and eighteen pages (418).
Español: Este libro tiene cuatrocientas dieciocho páginas.

English: He is one hundred and seventy-nine centimeters tall and weighs seventy-two kilograms.  
Español: Mide ciento setenta y nueve centímetros y pesa setenta y dos kilos.

English: There are two hundred and fifty-three restaurants in the city (253).
Español: Hay doscientos cincuenta y tres restaurantes en la ciudad.

Again note the position of ‘y’ in this last example and the lack of ‘y’ for ‘ciento un’ and ‘cuatrocientas dieciocho’. 

Cien vs ciento

For the number one hundred, if you just want to say exactly one hundred then you’ll need ‘cien’.

For example:

English: There are one hundred years in a century (100).
Español: Hay cien años en un siglo.

English: How many students are there in the school?
Español: ¿Cuántos alumnos hay en la escuela?
English: One hundred (100).
Español: Cien.

English: I’m now feeling one hundred percent (100%).
Español: Ahora me siento al cien por cien.

In contrast, if you want to say a number between one hundred and two hundred then you’ll need ‘ciento’.

For example:

English: There are one hundred and ninety-five countries recognized by the United Nations (195).
Español: Hay ciento noventa y cinco países reconocidos por las Naciones Unidas.

English: The highest score that can be thrown in one round of darts is one hundred and eighty (180).
Español: La puntuación más alta que se puede lanzar en una ronda de dardos es de ciento ochenta.

English: We have one hundred and forty-three female students in the school (143).
Español: Tenemos ciento cuarenta y tres alumnas en la escuela.

Note with this last example, you can see that ‘ciento‘ doesn’t match the noun ‘alumnas‘ (female students). But, other multiples of one hundred do need to match gender, we discuss this next.

Gender and the multiples of one hundred

In addition to thinking carefully about the word ‘y’ for numbers above one hundred, we also need to think about gender.

For any multiple of hundred, excluding one hundred itself, we need to match the gender of the object we are counting.

Here are some examples:

English: The car is speeding at two hundred and six kilometers per hour.
Español: El coche va a doscientos seis kilómetros por hora. 

English: We have two hundred and fifteen female actors and two hundred and six male actors in our talent agency.
Español: Tenemos doscientas quince actrices y doscientos seis actores en nuestra agencia de talentos.

Note how we have to match ‘doscientas’ with female actors and ‘doscientos‘ with male actors.

Numbers #1000 and above

Above one thousand, we have a few additional changes that we have to get used to.

With really large numbers, we sometimes have to use the preposition ‘de‘ and we have to switch between singular and plural forms.

We also have a translation problem with numbers like a ‘billon’ and a ‘trillion’ caused by the etymology of these words and a transition that occurred in the 20th century. I’ll explain this in the section below.

Here is the list of numbers above one thousand:

# Número
1,000 Mil
100,000 Cien mil
1,000,000 Un millón
100,000,000 Cien millones
1,000,000,000 Mil millones
1,000,000,000,000 Un billón

I mentioned earlier that one hundred in Spanish is cien on its own, or ciento + ‘#’ for ‘one hundred and something’.

There is an exception to that rule which occurs when we combine one hundred with other large numbers ending only in zeros.

When we want to say ‘one hundred thousand’ or ‘one hundred million’ in Spanish, we need to use cien.

But, for ‘one hundred and something thousand’ or ‘one hundred and something million’, we have to use ciento.

For example:

English: There are one hundred thousand residents in this town (100,000).
Español: Hay cien mil residentes en este pueblo.

English: The car costs one hundred and twenty-five thousand pesos (125,000).
Español: El coche cuesta ciento veinticinco mil pesos.

Again, as you can see, if we want to follow the number one hundred with anything other than zeros, we need to say ‘ciento‘, otherwise, we need ‘cien‘.

1,000,000 and the preposition ‘de’

For the number one million, there is also a strange rule that we have to be careful with.

If we want to say there are one million or two million ‘things’, then we need to use the preposition ‘de’.

But, if we have any number above one million that is not a multiple of one million, then we drop the ‘de’.

For example:

English: One million euros was last year’s lottery prize (1,000,000 €).
Español: Un millón de euros fue el premio de la lotería del año pasado.

English: One million two hundred thousand euros is this year’s lottery prize (1,200,000 €).
Español: Un millón doscientos mil euros es el premio de la lotería de este año.

Again note the difference between ‘un millón de euros’ and ‘un millón doscientos mil euros’ with and without the ‘de’.

In addition, for the numbers two million and above, we need to use the plural form ‘millones‘.

For example:

English: There are almost nine million inhabitants in Mexico City (9,000,000).
Español: Hay casi nueve millones de habitantes en Ciudad de México.

English: There are seven million eight hundred thousand inhabitants in Bogotá (7,800,000).
Español: Hay siete millones ochocientos mil habitantes en Bogotá.

Note that the rule with ‘de‘ still applies for multiples of one million as you can see with these two examples.

Billions and trillions

For larger multiples of one thousand above one million, we run into a translation problem.

To figure out how to translate the English words ‘billion’ and ‘trillion’ into Spanish, we first need to quickly discuss the history of short and long scales.

Throughout the centuries two forms emerged for naming large numbers above one million: the short and long scales.

If we take the number one following by nine zeros (1,000,000,000), in the short scale, this number is named ‘one billion’, and in the long scale this number is ‘one milliard’ or ‘one thousand million’.

Then if we look at the number one followed by twelve zeros (1,000,000,000,000), in the short scale, this number is named ‘one trillion’, and in the long scale this number is ‘one billion’

The United States started with the short scale in the 1700s while the long scale was being used in British English up until the 20th century. In the 1970s, the UK formally switched to the short scale and most other English-speaking countries followed suit.

However, the rest of Europe as well as most Spanish-speaking countries and regions still use the long scale to this day.

This is why it is helpful to look at the history of the long and short scales to figure out the naming of the larger Spanish numbers and why English and Spanish can be different.

Here are some examples:

English: Eight billion people live on planet Earth.
Español: En el planeta Tierra viven ocho mil millones de personas.

English: Apple has surpassed 2 trillion in market capitalization.
Español: Apple ha superado los 2 billones de capitalización bursátil.

Note that it is possible to find the short scale in use in some Spanish-speaking regions. But for most regions, you’ll find the long scale is more common.

Spanish ordinal numbers

When you want to list the order of a sequence of objects, you’ll need one of the Spanish ordinal numbers (números ordinales).

These numbers allow you to say phrases like ‘first place’, ‘third floor’, or ‘second door on the right’ in Spanish.

But, note there is a really important difference between English and Spanish ordinal numbers:

  • The ordinal numbers above 10 (10th) in Spanish are not commonly used in spoken Spanish.

Instead, you will either find a cardinal number (11, 12, 13) in Spanish where we would use an ordinal number in English (11th, 12th, 13th), or you’ll find a rewording of a phrase such that a cardinal number is the best option.

I’ll give some examples below to demonstrate this.

But, first, here is the list of the first ten ordinal numbers in Spanish:

# Número Ordinal
1st Primero, primer, primera
2nd Segundo, segunda
3nd Tercero, tercer, tercera
4th Cuarto, cuarta
5th Quinto, quinta
6th Sexto, sexta
7th Séptimo, séptima
8th Octavo, octava
9th Noveno, novena
10th Décimo, décima

Note that the Spanish ordinal numbers for first (1st) and third (3rd) have three forms like the number one:

  • Primer / tercer (masculine adjective)
  • Primera / tercera (feminine adjective / feminine pronoun)
  • Primero / tercero (masculine pronoun)

Also, note that the remaining ordinal numbers have both a masculine and feminine form.

In addition, you’ll need to keep in mind that when we use these numbers like Spanish adjectives, they have to go before the noun.

Here are some examples:

English: María works on the third floor (3rd).
Español: María trabaja en el tercer piso.

English: José finished second in the race (2nd).
Español: José terminó segundo en la carrera.

English: My house is on the fourth street on the right (4th).
Español: Mi casa está en la cuarta calle a la derecha.

English: The ninth novel in the series is the best (9th).
Español: La novena novela de la serie es la mejor.

English: Which is your car?
Español: ¿Cuál es tu coche?
English: The third one (3rd).
Español: El tercero.

Again, note the matching of gender, as well as the pronoun (tercero) and adjective (tercer) forms.

Next, let’s look at a few of these examples with ordinal numbers above 10.

How to avoid Spanish ordinal numbers above 10

Since we rarely hear ordinal numbers above 10 (10th) in spoken Spanish, we need to know how to talk about the order of a large number of objects in a different way.

The Spanish language has two basic solutions:

  1. Use a cardinal number where we would use an ordinal number in English
  2. Reword a phrase such that the cardinal number is the most obvious choice

In the first case, here are a few examples:

English: She finished in the race in twenty-fifth place (25th). 
Español: Terminó la carrera en el puesto veinticinco (25).

English: We live on the twelfth floor (12th). 
Español: Vivimos en el piso doce (12).

English: Ferdinand II was king of Aragon during the fifteenth century (15th).
Español: Fernando II​ fue rey de Aragón durante el siglo XV (quince) (15).

English: This year we are celebrating our forty-third wedding anniversary (43rd). 
Español: Este año celebramos nuestro cuarenta y tres aniversario de boda (43).

As you can see with these examples, a simple solution in Spanish is to just use a cardinal number instead of an ordinal number. Note that we have to be careful with the word order as the cardinal number in Spanish can come after the noun.

Also note that below 10, we can hear Spanish natives using both options.

Take a birthday example:

English: My birthday is the third day of the month (3rd). 
Español: Mi cumpleaños es el tercer día del mes (3rd) / Mi cumpleaños es el día tres del mes (3).

Note there is some regional variation here, and I suggest you ask a native of the Spanish country you are most interested in to see which option they prefer.

In the second case, Spanish natives may reword a sentence to avoid a large ordinal number.

For example:

English: Colombia is the twenty-ninth largest country in the world by population (29th). 
English: Colombia is among the twenty-nine largest countries in the world by population (reword – 29). 
Español: Colombia está entre los veintinueve países más grandes del mundo por población (29).

English: This year we want a better result than twentieth in the competition (20th).
English: This year we want to be in the top twenty in the competition (20). 
Español: Este año queremos estar entre los veinte primeros de la competición (20).

Note with this last example if we want to say top 10 or top 20, we can use the phrase ‘los diez primeros‘ or ‘los veinte primeros‘.

Spanish fractions and multiples

In this section, we’ll discuss Spanish fractions, multiples, and a controversial aspect of this topic that Spanish mathematicians and linguistics debate, and how we should think about it as Spanish students.

Fractions in Spanish

When it comes to fractions in Spanish, there is a set of new vocabulary that we can use for specific fractions such as ‘a half’ or ‘a third’.

But, there are also a couple of ways that the Spanish language has made things easy for us.

Firstly, just like English, if we want to say ‘a fourth’ or ‘a fifth’ of something, we can simply take the Spanish ordinal number for ‘fourth’ (cuarto) or ‘fifth’ (quinto) and add the article ‘un‘.

But, in addition, we can also use the phrase ‘cuatro veces menos‘ (four times less) or ‘cinco veces menos‘ (five times less) like a division. This can be a handy alternative if we can’t remember the ordinal numbers in Spanish.

That said, phrases like ‘cuatro veces menos‘ can be controversial as linguistics and mathematicians weigh in on their accuracy in certain circumstances.

I’ll provide some examples below in the section on the controversy to highlight how Spanish students should think about it.

But, first, we’ll look at all of our possible options.

Here is the list of the most common Spanish fractions:

# Español
1/2 Medio, media (+ nombre), la mitad (de)
1/3 Un tercio (de) / una tercera parte (de)
1/4 Un cuarto (de) / una cuarta parte (de)
1/5 Un quinto (de) / una quinta parte (de)
1/6 Un sexto (de) / una sexta parte (de)
1/7 Siete veces menos o siete veces menor
1/x x veces menos o x veces menor

As you can see from the table, for smaller fractions than one-seventh it is more common in Spanish to use the phrase ‘(number) times less’ (x veces menos o x veces menor).

For fractions larger than one-seventh, we can use all three forms interchangeably.

For example:

English: We paid a third of what it is worth (1/3).
Español: Pagamos un tercio de lo que vale.
Español: Pagamos una tercera parte de lo que vale.
Español: Pagamos tres veces menos de lo que vale.

That said, Spanish natives will tend to use the forms provided in the table as a preference. This means for larger fractions, they will likely avoid ‘tres veces menos‘.

In addition, if we want to say two-thirds or three-quarters, we can simply replace the ‘un‘ with ‘dos‘, ‘tres‘, or any other number required for the fraction.

For example:

English: We have to give two-thirds of the cake to our neighbors (2/3).
Español: Tenemos que dar dos tercios del pastel a nuestros vecinos.

English: We have three-quarters of gasoline left (3/4).
Español: Nos quedan tres cuartas partes de gasolina.

As I mentioned earlier, there is a controversy here. But it is easier to explain the controversy after we have discussed multiples, which is what we will look at next.

Multiples in Spanish

Just like Spanish fractions, with Spanish multiples, there is some new vocabulary such as the Spanish equivalent of ‘double’ or ‘triple’.

But there are also phrases that we can use to express the same ideas.

Here is a list of the most common Spanish multiples:

# Español
x2 El doble (dos veces más)
x3 El triple (tres veces más)
x4 Cuatro veces más o cuatro veces mayor
(el cuádruple)
x5 Cinco veces más o cinco veces mayor
(el quíntuple)
x6 Seis veces más o seis veces mayor
(el séxtuplo)
x7 x veces más o x veces mayor

As you can see from the table, we can also use phrases such as ‘tres veces más’ and ‘el triple’ interchangeably.

But you’ll likely hear the options in brackets less often.

Here is an example to see these words in action:

English: A rabbit runs five times faster than a human (5x).
Español: Un conejo corre cinco veces más rápido que un humano. 

English: Our output this week is quadruple last week (4x).
Español: Nuestra producción de esta semana es el cuádruple de la semana pasada.
Español: Nuestra producción de esta semana es cuatro veces más que la semana pasada.

Note that we often follow the words doble, triple, etc. with ‘de’. But we generally use ‘que’ after the phrases ‘cuatro veces más‘, ‘cinco veces más‘ etc. for making comparisons.

Now we can talk about the controversy with these phrases.

The controversy with fractions and multiples in Spanish

When Spanish mathematicians and linguists look at the phrase ‘tres veces más’, they can argue that there are two mathematical functions here: a multiplier (veces) and an addition (más).

This means that when we use the phrase, it could imply that we take our original size, multiple by three and then add that to the original size, leaving us with an object that is four times the size of the original object, instead of three times.

For example:

Español: Ese edificio es tres veces más alto que mi casa.

Now we could potentially interpret this in two ways in Spanish, and here are the English translations:

  1. That building is three times taller than my house.
  2. That building is three times above my house (e.g. 4 times taller).

And, to make the problem as clear as possible, if we say my house is 4 meters tall:

  • Does ‘tres veces más‘ imply that the building is 12 meters high (3 times my house) or 16 meters high (three house sizes above my house)?

To avoid this problem, mathematicians recommend that we stick to the phrases ‘el doble‘, ‘el triple‘ etc. because then there is no ambiguity.

But, the main problem is that the Spanish words for 8 times (octuple in English), or 12 times, or 24 times bigger aren’t commonly used by natives speakers, similar to English, which means we have to stick with the phrase ‘x veces más‘ above a certain multiple.

So, how should we address the problem as Spanish students?

The first thing to ask is how important is the comparison…

  • If you are talking about a large sum of money, or providing an important report where exact quantities matter, it’s probably best to say exactly what the number should be and avoid phrases like ‘cinco veces más‘ or ‘cuatro veces menos‘.
  • If, on the hand, you are simply making a comparison for a story where exact quantities don’t matter (e.g. there were 10 times the number of people on the second day, we had to walk 3 times as far, or that was 5 times easier, etc.), then feel free to use any of the phrases provided in the tables above.

So, most Spanish students probably don’t have to worry about this controversy for telling a story or making a general comparison. But, we have had students in our school deal with situations such as construction projects in Mexico, and in that case, exact numbers are essential.

Spanish number applications

There are a lot of potential applications of Spanish numbers that we could discuss:

  • Time
  • Calendar dates and years
  • Weather
  • Age
  • Weights and mass
  • Height, length, and distances
  • Speed
  • Quantities
  • Prices
  • Arithmetic
  • Telephone numbers
  • Street addresses

But, most of these applications translate well between English and Spanish where literal translations are okay. I’ve also included a number of these applications in examples throughout the article.

So, rather than discuss them all in this section, we are going to focus on the situations where literal translations don’t work well and where we often hear mistakes from Spanish students.

1. Dates

When it comes to Spanish numbers, the most common mistakes we hear from students in our Spanish classes occur around calendar dates.

Firstly, in English, we often refer to dates with ordinal numbers (e.g. the ‘first’ of August, the ‘twenty-fifth’ of May, etc.).

In addition, when we are making plans in English, we always use the preposition ‘on’ (e.g. we are leaving ‘on’ the sixth of June).

In Spanish, we should avoid ordinal numbers for dates and either drop the English preposition ‘on’ or translate it to the Spanish equivalent of ‘the’ (el).

For example:

English: We are going to arrive on the 7th of June.
Español: Vamos a llegar el siete de junio (7).

English: The concert is on the 16th of November. 
Español: El concierto es el dieciséis de noviembre (16). 

So, for calendar dates in Spanish, try to shift your thinking to “we arrive the seven of June” or “is the sixteen of November”.

2. Quantities of people

Another common number application that doesn’t translate well is describing a group of people.

If you want to book a table in a restaurant or refer to the size of your family or friendship group, you need to be careful with this translation.

In English, we often use the phrase ‘there are # of us’ (e.g. there are 4 of us) but in Spanish, we need to avoid a literal translation here.

Often the best translation of a phrase like this will be ‘somos‘ (we are), ‘son‘ (they are), or even just ‘los #’ (the ‘number’).

For example:

English: How many people are there for the booking?
Español: ¿Cuántas personas hay / son en la reserva? 
English: There are six of us (6). 
Español: Somos seis.

English: How many people are in your band?
Español: ¿Cuántas personas son en tu banda?
English: There are four of us in the band (4).
Español: Somos cuatro en la banda.

English: The two of us went on the trip (2).
Español: Los dos fuimos al viaje. 

Note that literal translations are possible here:

English: There are five children in my family. 
Español: Hay cinco niños en mi familia.

But the moment we add the phrase ‘of us’ or ‘of them’, e.g. ‘there are 3 of us’, then we should stick with ‘somos tres’, ‘somos cuatro’, ‘somos cinco’ etc.

3. Quantities of things

When I write these articles I often spend a lot of time digging around the Real Academia Española (RAE) and their publications to find the ‘official’ recommendation for the use of the particular vocabulary, phrases, or grammar that I want to talk about.

In this section, I’m going to discuss an observation that I have made but have not found a good reference for anywhere. I’ve looked in all of my grammar books, the RAE, el diccionario panhispánico de dudas, and all of the other resources we use on a regular basis.

But, I cannot find anything ‘official’ on this topic.

Instead, through the network of teachers in our Spanish school, we have reached out to a few language professionals in Spanish language institutes. And, they told us that the most common use here is actually grammatically incorrect.

But, just like English, when something ends up in common use, in turn, it then becomes grammatically acceptable.

So much so that we can find this use in renowned publications such as national newspapers in Mexico or Spain.

So, here is the idea…

When we give a number to a noun like ‘the score is…’, ‘the number of guests is…’, ‘the average is…’ then we should probably include the Spanish preposition ‘de‘ before the number.

For example:

English: The number of guests is eight (8).
Español: El número de invitados es de ocho.

English: The score is twenty-two (22).
Español: La puntuación es de veintidós.

English: The temperature is thirty-four degrees (34).
Español: La temperatura es de treinta y cuatro grados.

This use of the preposition ‘de‘ doesn’t translate well between English and Spanish. It reminds me of the personal a, where it occurs a lot in Spanish but we don’t have a good equivalent in English.

That said, you can say all of the above sentences without the ‘de’ in Spanish which translates more smoothly from English. And, as our colleagues have informed us, this is technically grammatically correct.

But, Spanish natives are much more likely to go for the version with ‘de‘. So I suggest that this is something you should try to get used to.

Your turn

As you can see this is a big topic and there is a lot to cover.

Like everything I discuss on this blog, you don’t need to master it all in a day.

Instead, your goal should be to take something you haven’t seen before and incorporate it into your Spanish repertoire. Practice it with a friend, add it to your set of flashcards, or use it in one of our Spanish classes,

Then come back and look for something else and repeat the process.

How else can you use Spanish numbers in a sentence?

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Reader Interactions

34 Comments
  1. bill says

    Wow Andrew, Once again we owe you a debt of gratitude for so generously sharing all your hard work. Very much appreciated.

  2. Vernon Anderson says

    I was surprised there was no comment on the metric system where the use of fractions is obviated. I was puzzling how to say we had a twentieth of an inch of rain, when I realized it would be uno o dos millimetres.

    • Andrew Barr says

      Hola Vernon, yes, this is a good point!! I didn’t consider the metric system vs the imperial system for this article. Most of the Spanish-speaking world is on metric, so it definitely helps to know it! 🙂

  3. Les Klen says

    This is a most timely review. Just yesterday I made flash cards of the ordinals between 1-10. This article takes it so much deeper. Thank you Andrew.

  4. Christine says

    Hola Andrew,
    Qué sorpresa, y es muy interesante. No me di cuenta, los españoles usaban el reloj de veinticuatro horas. ¿Verdadero o Falso? – RSVP por favor.
    Saludos cordiales,
    Christine

  5. debbie says

    Andrew, really appreciate all of your work. Please note in English, the #135 should be properly pronounced: “One hundred thirty-five”. There should not be an “and” after the hundred. This is a spoken error that occurs all the time with English speakers! In English the “and” is only used after the decimal point.

    • Andrew Barr says

      Thanks for sharing Debbie! My understanding is this is regional in English. In the UK, the “and” is always used in 3-digit numbers. In the US, it is used sometimes but not required. That said, it is common enough throughout the English-speaking world that it is worth all Spanish students taking some time to think about the translation of 3-digit numbers.

  6. Candace R Edwards says

    I wish I still had the grey matter to retain and use all you share with us, Andrew. You really are a wonderful teacher. Your enthusiasm for your subject is obvious. I always feel ‘enlivened’ after reading your posts. Sadly my mind has a mind of its own anymore. Keeps me always busy … though not necessarily productive. 🌿🤔🙄😳😝🤪👍😊

  7. Trish Young says

    Outstanding article Andrew. I love the new format that you have used in this article and hope you will continue using it for future articles.
    Your explanations provide me with the answers to questions that would take me so much time to research on my own and for this I am eternally grateful.

    With thanks
    Trish

  8. Belinda Lowis says

    I always savour your lessons and save the emails in a dedicated Andrew Barr folder.
    Today I am especially intrigued by a Spanish dictionary of doubt.

    Not sure that I don’t need one of those for English !

  9. Chris Hargreaves says

    Hi Andrew thanks for this really useful article . I have a couple of queries about how some numbers are written and spoken.
    130,125,110 Euro lottery win in Spanish – I have seen it written as 130.125.110 ie in English we use commas whereas in Spain it is usually full stops (Period in US English). Also for the decimal point – eg 1.25 (one point two five) we use the full stop but in Spain its a comma. I’m not sure how the following numbers would be spoken in spanish 130.125.110 and 1,25? Do people speak the punto y comma?
    Also Siglo XV is fifteenth century but is this more often siglo quince or siglo décimo quinto?

    • Andrew Barr says

      Hola Chris, thanks for the questions! In terms of the full stops and commas, these are generally written but not spoken, they also change throughout the Spanish-speaking world. For Siglo XV, both options are possible but “siglo quince” is more common and I will add this example to the article!! 🙂

  10. Graham Taylor says

    Same as Russ – I thought this was going to be an easy one. One question though, concerning the dividing of phone numbers into double digits. This completely threw me the first time the receptionist at the Centro de Salud wanted to verify my number. My Spanish mobile number has nine digits, like this: 680 xx yy zz, so how do I deal with the first three?
    Thanks.

    • Andrew Barr says

      Thanks Graham, it’s a good question! In general, like English, we can go in single digits or a 3-digit if we want to, the rules aren’t 100% fixed. Two digits are the most common but if it’s an odd number we have to make a switch.

  11. Jean Broderick says

    Wow! This topic contains so much, and I have been confused for a long time with how to state fractions and ordinal numbers. Your explanations are great and I will study, repeat, study and repeat some more in hopes of mastering them.
    That being said, I teach a few small, basic level Spanish classes and sometimes my enthusiasm gets the better of me. My husband advises me, “Don’t try to get your students to drink from a fire hose.”
    I feel that your lesson on numbers could have been broken into 3 or 4 lessons, and we’d still feel quite satisfied. And just think – you could go on vacation with the time you saved!! 😃
    PS – I agree with Debbie’s comment (above). I was taught that it was incorrect in English to insert “and” between numbers except following a decimal. My dad taught me to write checks in this manner to avoid confusion = Two hundred thirty seven (dollars) and sixteen (cents.) = $237 and 16/100.
    Thanks for all your obvious hard work and your passion.

  12. Garry Taylor says

    Andrew, without doubt you are a fantastic teacher. You convey the whys behind the hows and that make it go in, thank you so very much

  13. Denis Lavoie says

    Thank you for you clear and thorough explanation…now, if I can only remember to use all the rules in the right contexts…

    Cheers.

    • Andrew Barr says

      Thanks for the feedback Denis!! 🙂 My suggestion is to just pick one thing that is new to you and practice that, then come back and pick something else.

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