The intricacy of numbers


Numbers! This is perhaps one of the first things you learned in Spanish, but let’s take a little more advanced look at these.

Be certain that you never say “un mil” if you want to say one thousand. This is expressed simply by mil. It’s a common error of non-native speakers, and you’ll want to avoid it. And remember that twelve hundred will be mil doscientos, more like one thousand two hundred.

Ordinal numbers (such as first, second, third) are very seldom used after 10, unlike the common English usage. Think of terms such as the sixteenth century. In Spanish you would simply say el siglo diez y seis. However, you would say el segundo siglo (that one falls in the first 10 category). Also remember that primero and tercero become primer and tercer before a singular masculine noun, such as el primer piso and el tercer piso. These also become feminine in front of a feminine noun, la primera silla, la tercera invitación.

1. Be on the alert for the abbreviation of N with a very small O off to its corner. N° This is the symbol used in Spanish for número.

2. Longer numbers are not usually said in the abbreviated form often said with numbers in English. The year 1492 would not be said as catorce-noventa y dos, but rather as mil cuatrocientos noventa y dos. For longer telephone numbers, it’s common to group them into units of two such as 692.2922, seis, noventa y dos, veintinueve, veintidos.

3. Fractions – un medio, un tercio, un cuarto, un quinto. If not used in a mathematical sense, you can say un kilo y medio, media naranja (a romantic term also used to describe your “better half”!).

Mathematical calculations: To add – Dos más tres son cinco. To subtract – Siete menos tres son cuatro. To multiply – Dos por diez son veinte. To divide – Veinte dividido por cinco son cuatro.

On percentages you must use a definite or indefinite article, el veinte por ciento de la población or un diez por ciento.